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Myths About Polybutylene

Myth: Only systems with plastic fittings have problems:
Not true! Systems with metal fittings fail as well. However, it is true that systems with plastic fittings have more components that fail, and our experience tells us that they do indeed fail at a greater rate than systems with metal fittings or manifold-type systems. That said, both metal fitting systems and manifold systems contain polybutylene piping as well as plastic valves, and both of these components are subject to failure. Basically, the distinction is one of "bad versus worse," not "good versus bad."

Myth: Replacing poly pipes costs an arm and a leg:
Actually, replacing poly is about the same cost as recarpeting your home or putting on new roof shingles--providing you use a repipe specialist. A repipe specialist will provide you with the best price combined with the most professional workmanship. To put the cost of a repipe into context (including drywall and paint), it's usually much less than installing vinyl windows or basement waterproofing. It is unfortunate that you need to replace the pipes, but it really is similar to other maintenance items--just one you didn't expect so soon!

Myth: The class action settlement fund will take care of everything if you have a problem:
All things considered, the class action settlements are very generous; the Cox v. Shell settlement was one of the largest consumer settlements in United States history. But, the settlements were a compromise, so neither side got everything they wanted. For example, significant limitations exist on eligibility for free pipe replacement, such as installation date and location of leak(s). (Note: You are strongly encouraged to contact the class facilities directly if you think you have a claim.)

Myth: Poly problems occur because of poor installation:
Installation quality may be a factor in poly leaks, but in most cases installation does not appear to be the primary cause. Factors contributing to system leaks include degeneration of piping and/or fittings, water quality, chlorine levels, poor installation and age. Over time, some or all of these factors may contribute to system failure. So even with perfect installation, polybuylene systems may likely fail at some point as a result of other factors.

Myth: Any good plumber can replace my pipes:
True, any reputable plumbing company can install water supply piping professionally, but the real questions are, "Can they do the whole job for a fair price and at the least inconvenience to me?" A few general plumbing companies will do the whole job by subcontracting the drywall and paint, but a company that specializes in repipes is your best bet. They have the personnel to give you a quality job, and they will do it more efficiently, with less damage and inconvenience, and most importantly, for less cost.

Myth: I inspected my own pipes and they are fine:
It doesn't take a pro to do the "Squeeze Test" (squeeze a pipe or fitting with your fingers: If it falls apart you have a BIG problem). But the "Squeeze Test" doesn't help much because it is very rare that a system becomes so decayed that it gets to this state of advanced degeneration before it leaks (maybe 1 in 1,000). The problem is this: Most failures occur in systems that look fine even to the trained eye, so a visual inspection is almost pointless. Yes, you should test your water pressure, but that is about all you can do.

Myth: The poly in my house has lasted for ten years, so it must be o.k.:
Not true. In most cases it takes years for polybutylene systems to fail. While it may leak within a few years of installation, the majority of leaks start to occur in the 10-15 year time frame.

Myth: You will not have a problem selling your home with poly:
This depends on the awareness of the buyer or prospective buyer. In general, real estate agents tell us that homes with poly sell for less and take longer to sell. Frequently, a home inspector flags the problem, and the pipes are replaced before closing. Unfortunately, we do not know how many prospective buyers simply ignore homes with poly because they recognize it as a potential problem from the start.

Myth: If the pipes do leak, it's usually minor:
How about $138,000 worth of damage from a leak that did not qualify the home for a free repipe. Of the homes we work in that have had a leak, about 80% had some form of structural damage. Frequently, the damage repair entails a sheet of drywall and some paint, or maybe carpet pad replacement, but many leaks have been catastrophic causing thousands of dollars of damage to both the structure and the contents.

Myth: My insurance will cover the resulting damages if the pipes leak:
Absolutely--this is not a myth. Water damage of all sorts is typically covered by most policies, and in certain circumstances the class actions may even assist you. But the problem is that your insurer may decide to increase your premium after a claim (or multiple claims), or worse yet, they may not renew your policy. This can happen with any casualty (such as fire or wind damage), but there is no reason to set yourself up for this type of problem when you can avoid it in the first place.

Myth: My home inspector said the poly "looked" fine:
It may "look" fine, but that doesn't mean much because most of the problems with poly systems are not visible. Basically, a home inspector can look for water leaking RIGHT NOW, he can look for evidence of repairs, and he can look for certain installation no-no's (only where pipes are exposed) such as kinks in the piping. That helps a little, but many things contribute to a poly leak, most all of which an inspector cannot see. What matters most is the useful life of the poly in a home, and an inspector cannot predict this for any poly system.

Myth: The pipe replacement work will practically destroy my home:
That depends. Pipe replacement is serious work, and if you choose the wrong company to do it, they could make quite a mess. However, a reputable pipe replacement expert knows how to minimize damage to walls and ceilings, so the disruption and the time it takes to complete the job is minimized. The average home should take about five days start to finish, and after that you should see no signs of the work ever being done--that is the real test!

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