These two photos were taken during a home inspection in Castle Rock Colorado performed by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. The home was built using polybutylene plumbing and fittings.
Polybutylene, or PB is a form of plastic piping that was used in the manufacture of water supply plumbing from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were a substitute for traditional copper piping in about one out of 5 homes during that era. It is most commonly found in the southwest and western areas of the country. This type of plumbing has been the subject of a number of lawsuits and is no longer manufactured or installed in new homes. It is generally white, gray or light blue in color. The upper photo is a good example. Note the lower photo shows a gray pipe, which is polybutylene and also a bright blue pipe which is a different plastic material currently in use successfully, called PEX. Not all plastic piping is polybutylene.
It is generally believed that ingredients in public water supplies, such as chlorine, react with the polybutylene piping and acetal fittings causing them to become brittle. Small cracking may result in the pipes and fittings and the basic structural integrity of the system is compromised. If this occurs the system becomes weak and may begin to leak causing damage to the building structure and personal property. In some cases, improper installation of the piping and fittings has resulted in leaking and subsequent water damage.
Polybutylene plumbing inside your home can be found in the unfinished areas of basements or crawlspaces, near the water heater, or protruding from the wall into vanities or kitchen cabinets. In some cases however, plumbers used copper “stub outs” where the pipe exits a wall to feed a fixture, so seeing copper there does not definitely mean that you do not have PB.
If you have plastic piping which has developed leaks, or looks like this type of material in the photo on the left, we recommend having a professional evaluation of the condition of the plumbing by a qualified plumbing contractor. They may help you determine what is the appropriate remedy is to address any problems you may be incurring.