5 On Your Side

Poor plastic pipes lead to class-action settlement

Posted July 16, 2008
Updated July 17, 2008

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— Tyjuanna LaBennett is already dealing with a sinking driveway, supported by 10 feet of railroad ties, but that's not the only problem with her Cary home.

“One minute, I’m in my house having breakfast and the next minute, it was flooded,” LaBennett said.

LaBennett’s home had polybutylene pipes, which were used in homes from about 1978 to 1995. The pipes burst, causing her ceiling to come crashing down.

LaBennett said it was similar to a “waterfall.”

Polybutylene pipes are usually gray. The makers of the pipe settled a class-action lawsuit in 1995. As part of the settlement, homeowners who experience leaks within a certain time frame can have their homes replumbed for free. A replumbing job can cost thousands of dollars.

Depending on the type of fittings used, a leak has to happen either within 13 or 16 years of installation, and all claims must be filed by next May, according to the settlement. Unfortunately for LaBennett, her leak didn't happen soon enough to qualify. She paid about $8,000 to have her home replumbed. In addition, part of the damages were not covered by insurance.

“So this poly piping has caused me thousands of dollars worth of damage,” LaBennett said.

Experts are split on the likelihood of a leak and whether it’s worth the expense for owners of homes that have it to go ahead and replace poly pipe even if it hasn't leaked.

But LaBennett is clear where she stands, however. After what she's been through with polybutylene pipe, she thinks homeowners should seriously consider replacing it.

“I can’t tell you how much stress that has caused me … to endure all of that,” LaBennett said.

So far, more than 334,000 people have had their homes replumbed as part of the settlement. More than 15,000 of those customers were in North Carolina. About 20,000 additional North Carolinians filed claims that were rejected.

54 Comments

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  • 1Moms_View Jul 18, 6:47 p.m.

    Our home was built in 1981. We bought it in 1997 and started having leaks about a year later. Unfortunately, we are just short of getting the free repairs, which really stinks.

  • drnc Jul 18, 4:32 p.m.

    Everyone who says the fittings are the problem is correct. Most of the leaks I've had occurred on the hot water side at a coupling or "T". If I were going on vacation or leaving my house for more than a day, I'd turn my water off. These connectors can start to leak or totally fail without warning.

  • kimndarcie Jul 18, 2:51 p.m.

    My house was built in 1991 and has PB pipe, but it's white, not gray. Knocking on wood, but have not had any problems yet related to the PB; they've been related to the work (or lack thereof) on the fittings and spigots done by the original plumbers.

    The home inspector was a good one, BTW recommended by my agent; he gave me the good or bad news about every nook and cranny. I suspect that a lot of the complaints about home inspections come from the failure of the home-buyer to examine or question the report.

    Still standing by my previously submitted assertion on GOLO that home-buyers need to take a class about mortgages, home inspections, and other things before being allowed to close a real-estate transaction. We'd have a lot less problems with mortgage fraud, shoddy construction, and "I didn't know the airport was there" complaints.

  • Harrison Bergeron Jul 18, 1:24 p.m.

    Copper. Copper. Copper.

  • Happy Home Jul 18, 1:22 p.m.

    Referring to thisismyname's comment that "you should not use the home inspector that your real estate agent refers to you" is incorrect. There are many good honest agents who are looking out for their client's best interest. It would not make sense for them to refer an incompetent home inspector because if their client is not happy with their service then they won't refer that agent to others. And agents NEED referrals. By the way I am not a real estate agent. I am a home inspector who relies on referrals from agents. I am thorough and competent and it bothers me when people make comments like Thisismyname.

  • ThisIsMyName Jul 18, 10:05 a.m.

    When I owned a house with PB I had 2 leaks and found out about the lawsuit. The person on the phone told me my leaks didn't qualify because they were at the fittings. I don't know if she was right or wrong, but I ended up replacing fittins myself as they leaked with PB to Pex fittings. I've done this for a friend of mine too. When I sold the house I disclosed it had PB. I hope they were able to get it replaced... maybe the lawsuit expanded in coverage... not sure.

  • denverbob234 Jul 18, 9:31 a.m.

    xiading, That last post made less sense than your others. You need to wake up and learn to think. And by the way, 3.5 inch diskettes are history, please don't think anyone is impressed with the little logo in your posts

  • kitcat718 is a college student Jul 18, 9:22 a.m.

    I have this bs in my house. I have lived there 4 1/2 yrs and I am on my 3rd leak. Most insureance will pay for the damage it causes but not the plumbing itself. I do not fall within the 13-16 yr range. The people that had the house before me never had it done. I got the inspection but no one explained to me exactly what ppb piping was. This is my first house, I went in totally unaware. I have definately learned my lesson! I think they should extend this class action to everyone who has it regardless of time period.

  • ThisIsMyName Jul 18, 8:54 a.m.

    Also, there are radius (bend) limitations with Pex (and PB) pipe that I've seen some plumbers exceed.

  • ThisIsMyName Jul 18, 8:51 a.m.

    I've found Pex to be easy to install, but it still needs to be installed correctly, especially the crimp connections. Crimping too tight (tool not adjusted correctly) and other crimping issues can lead to problems down the road. Also, Pex plumbing has pressure and temperature limitations, so I would never set my hot water heater at its highest setting.

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