From 1978 until around 1995, up to 10 million homes, commercial buildings, etc, were all having polybutylene piping installed. The pipes starting failing because as the chemicals (mainly chlorine) in our water supply, when in constant contact with this piping, caused the plastic to become brittle. The pipes would develop pinhole type leaks, but the thing is, you never knew where the pipe was going to fail. It could be under your sink, leading out of your hot water heater, or in between your walls or floor. Homes were becoming extensively damaged depending on the leaks, that in some cases, insurance companies were cancelling coverage when extensive damage was caused by these pipes.
There was a class action lawsuit against the makers of the polybutylene pipes, but that has long been settled. There are still millions of homes that have polybutylene pipes that have not failed. Is this a ticking time bomb? Will yours fail? What if these pipes are in a home you'd like to purchase, or are in your home and you'd like to sell?
The problem is, you really can't tell what kind of condition the pipes are in by just looking at them, or squeezing them, because the problems start to occur on the insides of the pipes. The failures didn't happen with specific types of fittings either (whether plastic, metal, or manifold type systems).
What should you do?
If you're the seller, your choices are few. You can sell the home as is, and disclose that you know you have polybutylene pipes. Or you can pay a plumbing company to come out and replace them.
If you're the buyer, you can ask the seller to replace them, or give you a credit so you can get them replaced. Are you planning on doing some extensive renovations after you purchase the property? If so, the plumber may give you a discount because the walls will already be opened up to do your remodel, so it may be easier to replace the pipes while they're in there. Or you can take the chance and buy the property anyways, knowing in the future, this will be a repair you're going to have to make.
This is a tough decision for both the buyer and the seller. When in doubt, talk to a licensed plumber who can tell you more about the type of pipes you have and what your solutions would be. My assistant has had 2 pinhole leaks in her plumbing of her rental home. The plumber told her she had PEX pipes, which was the popular alternative to polybutylene pipes, but being in the same chemical family, fails exactly the same way. Sheesh!
Our thanks to Plumbing Express for such great information!