Polybutylene piping, also known as PB or Poly B, is a plastic material used for water service and distribution piping. PB piping was used in houses from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. PB service pipe is often blue but may also be black. Distribution pipe is usually blue-gray in color but cream color is possible, especially in early installations. PB piping can sometimes be identified by the marking “PB 2110.” The PB piping in the photograph was distribution piping in the crawl space of a house we inspected.
Reported problems: Some PB piping from the 1980s was prone to leakage at the fittings, with the blame placed on design / manufacturing defects or faulty installation. A class action lawsuit regarding PB was settled in the 1990s and settlement funds have been exhausted. PB piping is known to degrade when exposed to sunlight and chlorine in the water will weaken the tubing walls. Later versions of PB are usually less problematic.
Are Virginia home inspectors required to look for polybutylene piping? Not according to Standards of Practice from the Commonwealth of Virginia, InterNACHI (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) and ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors). The InterNACHI SOP specifically lists PB piping as an item the inspector is not required to look for and the other two SOPs do not mention PB at all. All three SOPs require the inspector to inspect the plumbing system so hopefully the presence of PB piping will be noted.
Will my inspector look for and report on polybutylene piping? It depends on the inspector you hire. Nothing in the SOPs prohibits the inspector from looking for or reporting on PB piping. This is one of the questions you can ask your prospective home inspector when you interview them. At Premier Inspections LLC we search for PB piping on every inspection. We’ve done inspections where PB piping had been replaced but the PB fittings left in place. We had to look a little harder, but we found the PB fittings and alerted our client.
What will my inspector say if they find polybutylene piping? Again, it depends on the individual inspector. First of all, the inspector needs to be able to recognize PB piping and confirm that it is indeed PB before they call it out as such. If the inspector is not careful (or is inexperienced) they could confuse polybutylene piping with blue PEX plastic water piping. Inspection report comments for PB piping vary widely from inspector to inspector. Here are our comments when we find PB piping during an inspection: (1) ATTENTION - MONITOR: Monitor closely for change in condition and need of repair by qualified licensed plumber. Polybutylene piping or fittings. Some early versions of polybutylene piping developed leaks because of defects with the pipe material. No evidence of leaking at time of inspection. In addition to close monitoring, recommend evaluation by a qualified licensed plumber. (2) ACTION - REPAIR: Recommend repair by a qualified licensed plumber. Polybutylene piping or fittings with active leak at time of inspection. PB piping and fittings from some manufacturers developed leaks because of defects with the pipe material and fittings. Determining if this particular piping and fittings was materially defective is beyond the scope of this inspection.
In all instances the inspector should be seeking to educate the client, not alarm them.
Conclusion: Having PB piping in your home is not the end of the world. It just needs to be closely monitored or repaired, whichever is appropriate.