What to do if your house has polybutylene pipes?

Polybutylene pipe

“What do you mean I can’t get homeowner insurance?”

Unfortunately, this line is becoming more common by the day in Florida. Homes are being bought and sold at a quick pace again, and any house built between 1978 and 1995 probably started out with Polybutylene plumbing pipes. If your house has not been re-piped it has been blacklisted by nearly all insurance companies. This isn’t because insurers want to be mean. It is because there is evidence that Polybutylene fails more often than other types of plumbing.

“That’s ridiculous! My house has 20 year old Polybutylene pipes and I’ve never had a leak!” That may be completely true, but insurance works along the concept of the law of large numbers. This means that information used to figure something out isn’t looked at on a case by case basis. Instead, it’s looked at across all of the available sources. Your plumbing maybe rock solid, but if 7 out of 10 homes have a failure it is the 70% failure rate that matters.

“So what’s the proof? I’m still not buying it.” Polybutylene was considered the pipe of the future back in the 1970’s because it was very inexpensive and easy to install. Time has shown that oxidants in the public water supply – like chlorine – can actually make the pipes brittle and prone to breakage. In fact, the 1980’s saw multiple law suits filed against manufacturers of Polybutylene. The pipe makers never admitted to a product weakness, but they did settle for $950 million in a Class Action case.

“What I’m hearing is that I should not buy that house, and/or my house is unsellable. Can this be true?” That position isn’t entirely inaccurate but it’s worst case scenario. I am aware of one company in Florida who will readily insure homes with Polybutylene plumbing. They are an “Admitted” carrier and they hold a financial stability rating of “A – Excellent” from Demotech, Inc. All of that just means that they are bound by the standards of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (admitted) and an independent review organization says their finances are healthy (Demotech, Inc.). Additionally, it has become very common for sellers to either make concessions for a buyer to re-pipe after closing or to re-pipe the home themselves before the sale.

Polybutylene piping isn’t inherently bad. It does not make you 100% uninsurable. It will not definitely fail. It does, however, put a homeowner at a potentially higher risk for serious plumbing leaks. Insurance isn’t just about fixing problems after they occur. It’s also about trying to anticipate them and stop them and the headache they cause form happening at all. That’s why I definitely recommend and many insurance companies demand re-piping be completed if a home has Polybutylene.

Q. What are polybutylene pipes and why does my insurance carrier dislike them?

A. Polybutylene pipes are a kind of common household water pipe used mainly in the 1980’s.  Insurance professionals cannot say whether the pipes are good, bad or anything other, but it should be noted that nearly all homeowner insurance companies in Florida will not provide coverage for a house plumbed with polybutylene piping.  Many times homeowners don’t know they have polybutylene pipes until they have had a 4 Point Inspection. The companies say that they experience many more claims as a result of broken or leaking pipes in homes with polybutylene.  However, there are insurance carriers that will provide coverage on homes with this type of piping. If you need help finding one of those carriers let us know so we can help.


About the Author

Jason Levine

Jason received a Masters of Science & Management in Risk Management & Insurance from Florida State University. He has been with Harry Levine Insurance for 9 years and handles the leadership of daily operations. He was the 2013-2014 Florida Association of Insurance Agents Young Agent Council's Agent of the Year. Currently serves on FAIA Board of Directors.