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Top Five Failed Building Practices: Part 3 of 5 Polybutylene Pipes

Here is the third installment of the five-part series, The Top five Failed Building Practices. You can read Part 1: Aluminum Branch Wiring here, or Part 2: Fire-Retardant Treated Plywood here.

Here is the third installment of the five-part series, The Top five Failed Building Practices. You can read Part 1: Aluminum Branch Wiring here, or Part 2: Fire-Retardant Treated Plywood here.


Part 3: Polybutylene Pipes

The third item on our list of the Top Five Failed Building Practices is Polybutylene Pipes.

Leaky Polybutylene PipesPolybutylene plastic pipes were widely used in houses from 1978 to 1997. There may be 30,000 or more houses in the Washington area with this type of plastic piping, which was developed to replace copper or galvanized steel.

Not all plastic pipes are polybutylene, which is easy to identify because the pipes are usually battleship gray rather than white, the color of polyvinyl chloride plastic pipes, which are accepted as safe.

The problem with polybutylene is that these pipes fail and leak, often at the joints. Sometimes the leaks showed up quickly, but it can also take years for the pipes to fail. That means there are many houses where the pipes haven't leaked but still might.

This pipe cannot be repaired; it must be replaced. As you can imagine, removing plumbing from walls and replacing it with copper is a big, costly job. Estimates for removal and replacement can range from $5,000 to $10,000 and up depending on the size of the house. It's sometimes a difficult repair to justify, though, if there are no leaks yet.

Two class action lawsuits have been settled. For more information on whether you might qualify for assistance under these settlements, see their Web sites or call the settlement administrators. They are Spencer v. Duncan (www.spencerclass.com, 800- 490-6997) and Cox v. Shell (www.pbpipe.com, 800-392-7591).

Next up: Part 4: Federal Pacific "Stab-Lok" Electrical Panels.

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Read Part 1: Aluminum Branch Wiring
Read Part 2: Fire-Retardant Treated Plywood