Should home sellers replace polybutylene pipe?
Inherent risks of plastic plumbing

Tuesday, November 14, 2020

By Barry Stone
Inman News

Dear Barry,

Our home has polybutylene water pipes and we're afraid this will prevent us from selling the property. We've never had any plumbing problems, but our neighbors have had several major leaks. Do you recommend replacing polybutylene pipe with copper before selling a home? If not, how will this disclosure affect buyers? --Jim

Dear Jim,

The choice to replace or disclose polybutylene pipes when marketing a home involves two sets of differing concerns: the defect issues with the pipes themselves, and the unique needs and concerns of individual home buyers.

Polybutylene plastic pipe was commonly installed in mobile homes and low-budget housing, mainly during the 1970s and '80s. As you've learned from your neighbors' experience, polybutylene pipe is prone to leakage. This can occur as slow seepage at loose fittings, or as major outpouring from broken lines. A water pipe may simply rupture, causing a torrent to spew wildly within a wall or inside the attic. Surprise leaks can attack at any time or not at all. Polybutylene can waken you with a collapsing ceiling in the middle of the night, or merely worry you over an expected leak that never happens. It's totally unpredictable.

Rarely do sellers pay to re-pipe a home simply for the sake of marketing, but for some people this may be a serious option, particularly if real estate sales are slow. Your primary responsibility as a seller is to disclose all known conditions that might concern buyers, including the potential for leaky pipes. If you choose to re-pipe, that's OK, but keep in mind that many buyers are willing to assume risks that are fully disclosed. Some might insist on a re-pipe or ask for a price reduction on the property. A few, however, might withdraw their purchase offer entirely. On the other hand, you might find a buyer who was planning to remodel the home anyway, in which case major improvements now would be a wasted investment.

In the final analysis, there is no single decision that fits all situations. Re-pipe if you prefer, but if not, be sure to fully inform buyers of the inherent risks of polybutylene pipe.

Dear Barry,

In one of your columns, you discussed the shortcomings of two-prong, ungrounded electrical outlets, common in many older homes. But you never mentioned that these outlets can be replaced with modern grounded outlets. They ground to the box, which should be connected to a ground wire. As an alternative, plug adaptors can be used. The grounding wire on the adaptor can be connected to the screw that holds the outlet faceplate. Do you agree with this method? --Julian

Dear Julian,

Old two-prong outlets can be upgraded only to three-prong outlets if a ground wire is already part of the system. In many older systems, the romex wires contain two lines only, a hot wire and a neutral wire, but no ground wire. In homes where three-prong outlets have been added without a ground wire, the receptacles give the impression of being grounded, when they actually are not. Adaptors are of no advantage in such cases. If there is no ground wire, then the screw on the faceplate is not grounded either.

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