WHAT DOES POLYBUTYLENE PIPE LOOK LIKE?
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We usually think of polybutylene pipe as being plastic and gray in color. It does come in some other colors, such as blue, white, and black. Look at the photo to the right. It shows four different pipes above a water heater.
BLACK GAS PIPE - This pipe is used for natural gas piping.
COPPER - Copper is easy to identify due to its color.
POLYBUTYLENE - Look at the gray piping. This home has both copper crimp rings and copper fittings. The polybutylene was used for the water softener upgrade and was only found in this one area as it spliced the added water softener into the original plumbing system.
PEX - The white pipe is white plastic PEX. PEX comes in white, blue, orange, red, and even a more translucent milky white clear. In this home they tapped off the original copper system with PEX to plumb the newly finished basement bathroom and kitchen. We know that it is not white polybutylene because of the year of installation.
All of the piping above has lettering on the outside that identifies what type of pipe it is. There may be some confusion as to whether or not it is polybutylene or PEX. PEX is the plastic piping that came about to replace the polybutylene. As a general rule you can assume that it is PEX if it any color but gray if it was installed after 1998 and polybutylene if it was installed before 1993. The five year transition period could have either piping installed .
Look closely at the photo to the right. You will see that the 90 degree elbows have plastic fittings. Now look at the photo above, you will see that the newer of the two installations uses copper elbows.
- ALUMINUM & PLASTIC - The very first installations included aluminum crimp rings and plastic fittings. The first failures were blames on the joints and the aluminum crimp rings were really suspect.
- COPPER & PLASTIC - The next phase included the upgraded copper crimp rings and the same plastic fittings. Failures still occurred and they then blames the plastic fittings.
- COPPER & COPPER - The third phase dumped the plastic fittings in favor of barbed copper fittings and copper crimp rings. That resolved the leaks at the joints, but failures still occurred in the piping away from the joints. It was at that point that the plumbing industry finally admitted that this piping was not the pipe of the future.
MANIFOLD SYSTEMS - The final phase of polybutylene piping in residential structures included manifolds. The piping composition was altered and the installation process was changed. The smaller pipes no longer were being installed with joints and crimp rings. Instead, the pipe would leave from the manifold and run non-stop carefully bending and wearing through the home to the final plumbing fixture. Each fixture had its own pipe and the only joints were at the manifold and at the fixture. All splicing in walls and concealed areas was avoided and the techniques worked much better. The newer pipe typically had either a fine red or blue stripe running the length of the pipe. The newer pipe and techniques worked and they are excluded from the class action settlements. Public pressure made the manufacturers realize that polybutylene was a dead horse so the industry dropped it from the residential market in favor of the newer plastic PEX (They continued to use it in mobile homes and commercial, just not in normal residential).
MANIFOLD W/PEX PIPE
- PEX - PEX piping is installed using all of the techniques of the final phase of polybutylene. The manifold systems and non-stop bends instead of splices are now the norm. It has not seen the failures of its predecessor and has proven reliable so far.