We discussed cast iron piping failure in an earlier post. Cast iron was used until 1975 by Florida home builders for wastewater pipes. The premature failure of cast iron plumbing has led to innumerable insurqnce claims and to lawsuits. Ironically, by 1978 Florida developers began installing another plumbing “time bomb” in new homes. This time, inside the houses and as the main bringing water into the homes. Polybutylene piping failures, like their cast iron cousins, have been causing water damage galore.
WHAT IS POLYBUTYLENE?
Polybutylene (PB) is a type of synthetic plastic resin. PB is cheap. It’s easy to work with. It resists impact and it’s flexible. Hence, builders saw polybutylene piping as “the pipe of the future”. They began using it instead of copper in new home construction. Especially in Sun Belt states such as Florida. Home builders stopped using PB piping in 1996.
Note that polybutylene (PB) is NOT the same as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This is an important point. The piping failures we discuss here involve only polybutylene piping. PVC piping has no history of unexpected failures.
POLYBUTYLENE PIPING FAILURES
By the 1980 homeowners, insurance companies, and builders began to realize that polybutylene piping systems were prone to failures. By “failures’, we mean water leaks. Leaks that caused serious damage to homes and their contents. The damage claims, of course, were hitting the insurance companies’ bank accounts hard.
Builders responded by updatingPB piping systems in 1983. And again, in 1989. These modified designs used the same PB pipes, but with upgraded joints. In short –it didn’t work. Also in 1989, a totally different design emerged which used flexible pipiing. This allowed “jointless” layouts. Better, but not a total solution.
Turned out that most of these systems were not totally jointless. Rather, they’d have one or two joints where the structure demanded a sharp turn the flexible piping couldn’t make. The PB piping was as prone as always to failure at these joints. And one joint failure is all you need for disasterous water damage.
WHY POLYBUTYLENE PIPING FAILS
The problem with polybutylene (which PVC does not have) is it reacts with chemicals like chlorine that the public water supply commonly adds. These chemical reactions leave tiny cracks in the piping material. In time, the pipe fails and water gushes out.
POLYBUTYLENE PIPING AND FLORIDA INSURANCE COMPANIES
Needless to say, property insurance companies don’t want to insure houses with PB piping. They exclude coverage for PB piping failures, or charge extra for policies that do cover it. The situation is in flux, and the State of Florida is interested.
As experienced South Florida public adjusters, we tell homeowners to act before PB piping fails. The only real solution is to re-pipe the home. This can be costly, in the range of $10,000 or more for a typical 4-bedroom house. If the PB piping failure strikes before this is done, call us immediately. Florida Loss Public Adjusters will review your homeowner insurance policy and recover the maximum allowed compensation.