What Is the Best Type of Plumbing Pipe?

Surely, if you are building a new home or remodeling an existing home, you are buried under the weight of innumerable selection choices that must be made, everything from cabinets, countertops, carpet, tile, window treatments, etc. The very last thing that you probably want to spend time haggling over is the material used in your bathroom piping. Nevertheless, it just may be important to you and a choice that you wish to consider yourself, rather than just leaving it to the discretion of your contractor.

Believe it or not, plumbing systems have been around for thousands of years; the early Greeks used clay sewage pipes, the Roman had lead aqueducts and our early colonialists used hollowed out logs. Plumbing pipes today can be made from a variety of materials including several versatile plastic-types (PVC, CPVC, PEX) that have become useful throughout the world because of their lower cost and ease of installation. Their multitude of quick connecting fittings make almost any configuration possible. While they have become a popular replacement of copper, brass, steel, and old polybutylene pipe, they have some disadvantages, such as leakage or bursting when freezing. More traditional materials can have their own benefits, depending on the exact application.

All the available materials today for use in plumbing pipes (copper, plastics, brass, steel and concrete) have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. You can make a more appropriate and informed choice of the best materials for your plumbing project by working with your well informed local plumbing professional in narrowing down these choices, based on the specific needs of your individual project.

Identifying Polybutylene Plumbing

Polybutylene is a type of pipe that was used for the interior plumbing systems in millions of homes built between 1970 and 1995.  Estimates vary, but somewhere between 6 million and 10 million homes were built during this period with polybutylene plumbing.  Polybutylene was used for the interior water distribution lines throughout the house.  In addition, it was often used for the water supply line from the municipal water main to the house.  It was not used for drain lines or sewer lines.

Polybutylene pipe was popular because it was inexpensive, easy to work with, corrosion resistant and seemed to be very durable.  Unfortunately, it was discovered that polybutylene pipe reacted with chlorine in the public drinking water supplies and became brittle.  After a few years, the pipes would develop fractures and begin to leak.

However, some homes have never had a problem with their polybutylene pipes. One challenge of polybutylene is that it is impossible to tell if a pipe is about to fail by visual inspection.  There is some indication that some polybutylene pipe leaks were caused by improper installation techniques, but again a visual inspection will not reveal whether the installation was proper.

To be sure whether or not you have polybutylene pipes in your home, you need to be able to see the piping.  In some homes, copper stubs were used to connect faucets, toilets, and other fixtures.  The short copper pipes were connected to polybutylene hidden in the walls, floors and ceilings.  The same can be true for polybutylene water service lines.  A short section of copper pipe was used where the lien enters the home and the rest of the line buried in the yard is polybutylene.

Interior polybutylene is usually gray, but can be white or black. Exterior polybutylene used for water service is usually blue, but can be gray or black.  If you suspect you have polybutylene pipes in your home, talk to a plumber who specializes in polybutylene pipe replacement.  He or she can confirm whether or not your pipes are polybutylene and help you understand your options.