Our Beaufort, SC, home was built in the 1940s. Originally, it was a one bedroom, one bathroom house. It was added to at some later date, probably between 1978 and 1995, and is now a three bedroom, two bathroom house.
The reason for that 17 year guess on when the house was enlarged has to do with polybutylene (PB) piping, which was used fairly extensively in housing water supply applications between 1978 and 1995. Cheap, flexible, and easy to install, PB was considered the “pipe of the future.” Housing experts believe that between 6 and 10 million homes in the country were built during that period with PB piping. It was a wonderful material. That is, it was wonderful until it was discovered that after 10 to 15 years of life it degraded, cracked, and failed, flooding the houses that used it as water lines.
No one is sure why PB piping fails. Some attribute its failure to exposure to the UV light found in sunlight (meaning that if it had been sitting out exposed to sunlight for a long time before being installed, it is more likely to fail). Others think it is due to local issues, primarily periodic over-chlorination of the water supply. While am no more certain than the experts, I tend to favor the latter explanation. The house two doors down from our Madison, GA, home has PB piping, which has not failed, even though the house is at least 25 years old. At any rate, this being America, there was a class action lawsuit sometime in the 1980s or 1990s which was settled for megabucks. Shell no longer produces the stuff, and presumably all homeowners are happy.
There are two things that cause me not to buy a house: aluminum wiring, and PB piping. Aluminum wiring is like an engraved invitation to have a house fire visit. I always look for it when buying a house. Fortunately, I’ve never found it. PB, on the other hand . . .
The reason why I know that the house two doors down from mine has PB piping is because, 13 years ago, I made an offer on that house, and later withdrew it when the home inspector found PB piping. (PB is gray in color; PVC is white. The piping that I could see in that house looked white. As it turns out, it had been painted white.)
So, a few years ago, when we bought the Beaufort home, I was concerned when the home inspector found some PB piping. The only reason we went through with the purchase of the house was because there was so very little of it: 89 inches, to be exact, with 12 inches of that piping on the hot water heater’s pressure relief valve, a position that caused me no concern. That left 77 inches, half of it running up to the laundry room to the hot water side of the washing machine, and half of it running up to the laundry room to the cold water side of the washing machine. These lines were under pressure, and they worried me so much that I finally resolved to replace them, which I did this week.
I spent some time in the crawl space taking photos, then headed off to the local hardware store, Grayco Hardware and Home, on Lady’s Island. Beaufort has a Lowes, which is nice, but when it comes to a job like this, I needed to talk to someone who knows what they are talking about. Grayco has an employee, Dick something or another, who is a plumber. He looked at my photos, sketched out what I needed to do, and sold me the supplies. I grabbed my goodies and headed back to the house to get dirty (it is a crawl space, after all) and wet (no matter that you shut off the water to the house, when you cut into a water line, you get wet).
There is a rule I follow for all household projects. I call it Batten’s Rule. It is simple: figure as realistically as possible the length of time it will take to finish a project, then multiply it by three. I estimated one hour. I finished it in three.
I am happy to report that all went according to Hoyle. My problems were not with the plumbing fixtures, but with the holes through which I tried to slide the PEX I bought to replace the PB. I hate threading needles, running electrical lines through existing walls, and fitting ½ inch lines in holes that just barely accommodate ½ inch lines. But, eventually, the deed was done, and I was able to take a nice shower before heading off to The Jazz Corner on Hilton Head Island.
Even though it caused me no concern, I even replaced the PB on the hot water heater’s pressure relief valve. The house if completely free of PB piping.
I do not understand why the 89 inches was there in the first place. With all the PVC and copper under the house, that little bit of PB seemed out of place. But no matter why it made an appearance, it is gone, and my quarterly work week at the house has ended.
And now I am back home in Madison, just in time to mow the lawn. It never ends.