Polybutylene is a polymer that is often confused with polybutene, which has a different repeat unit. Polybutylene is created using the chemical formula (C4H8)n, and is often used as a pure resin to replace other materials like metal, rubber, and other engineering polymers. Polybutylene was used extensively in housing construction and water piping between 1978 and 1995, throughout the United States and Canada. However, it was banned from use in 1995 in both countries, and here we’ll go over why it was used as well as why it was banned.
Polybutylene was created to be the “pipe of the future,” and was used as a substitute for copper piping. It was very cheap to create, cheap to install, and believed to be extremely resistant to traditional wear and tear, unaffected by corrosion, and easy to maintain and replace. However, throughout the 1980’s reports began to surface of defective manufacturing and engineering, which was causing the pipes to fail around the country. This eventually caused millions of dollars in property damage due to leaks in homes and underground water supplies. While the manufacturers of the pipes have never outwardly admitted that they are unsound, they have settled in Class Action lawsuits to the tune of almost one billion dollars.
It is believed that oxidants in water supplies react with the pipes and their fittings, which cause them to scale and flake away, eventually becoming brittle. This results in tiny fractures running the length of the pipe, and over time the overall integrity of the entire piping system is reduced. After a certain period of time the pipes are liable to fail without warning, causing tremendous property damage if the problem is not immediately located and contained.
Today, polybutylene has been banned from use, but there are still estimated to be several million homes that still have this type of piping. If you think your home might have polybutylene piping, you can check fairly easily by examining the piping around sinks, toilets, and other water appliances. Compare the pipes you have to photographs of the polybutylene piping online. If you do have polybutylene in your home, you will likely want to have it replaced or at the very least inspected as soon as possible in order to prevent them from failing. Calling your local plumber can help you figure out what steps will be necessary to repair or replace your polybutylene piping.