Team 10: Faulty pipe creates nightmare for homeowner in Rancho Penasquitos

Residents find out their neighbors had same issue
Posted at 5:50 PM, Aug 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-04 21:24:32-04

SAN DIEGO - A Rancho Penasquitos couple is finding out faulty materials were used to repair a broken water pipe under their front yard, leaving them with a homeowner's nightmare.

It started when the water meter in front of Rosalee and Mark Conley's home filled with water. The water spilled into the street, which concerned the Conleys since they try to respect California's drought by conserving every drop they can.

The Conleys thought the city of San Diego was responsible for the leak, but learned when a water department supervisor went to their Rancho Penasquitos home that it was their problem.

The leak was actually coming from beneath the Conleys' front lawn. They contacted a plumber, and it was only then that they learned the blue pipe buried in their yard had major flaws.

"The problem is, according to a plumber, it's a plastic-type of pipe called PEX that should not have been used in here because it was not designed for what they used it for," said Mark Conley.

Team 10 found out the pipe wasn't PEX but was made of another material no longer approved for residential water lines.

City inspectors looked at the pipe and told Team 10 it's made of polybutylene. Polybutylene was the material of choice for homebuilders in the 1980s, when the Conley's home in the Crestmont subdivision of Rancho Penasquitos was built.

It has since been discovered polybutylene can be broken down by water treatment chemicals like chlorine. California Plumbing Code no longer approves its use.

When the plumber dug a trench across the Conleys' yard, the couple was reminded by several neighbors that the same thing happened to them.

"In the last five years, everybody's popped," said Eric Arseneau, who lives right across the street.

Arseneau pointed out the area where his yard was also torn up to replace the broken-down pipe.

"It's something that I pretty much expect to happen to everybody," said neighbor Don Carlson, who also happens to sell real estate in the area. "This was built during a period when they were experimenting with different kinds of materials … Copper was very expensive, so they were trying various nylons and plastic lines and I don't think the gamble paid off in the long run."

An online search uncovered a $950 million settlement that helped some of the more than 6 million homeowners with polybutylene pipes pay for repairs. The problem for the Conleys is the deadline to apply for any settlement funds passed in 2009.

Now, the Conleys are stuck with a bill that tops $6,000. Then there's the water bill.

"I haven't seen the water bill from this time yet," Conley laughed. "I've still got another month left in the cycle before I see the water bill."

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors offers advice on how to find out if polybutylene pipe is in your home. Click here to learn more.