Buying a house built in the 1980’s – 1990’s

Buying a House Built in the 1980's or 1990's
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This article is one in a series of articles written to inform buyers of various items that may be found during an inspection. This is an excerpt from our white paper series “Insider’s Guide to Buying a Home Built in the 1980’s”. Over the years technologies and materials that went into the construction of a house have evolved. Occasionally certain products or materials were found to be problematic and should be replaced. The problems range from leaks to fires, and these important items should be indicated on your home inspection report.

If you are buying a house built in the 1980’s or 1990’s, there are a few things that may be indicated on your home inspection report. These items should be considered to be potential problems, and a licensed professional should be consulted to evaluate the systems, and be sure they are safe for the house and your family.

Polybutylene plumbing is a type of plastic tubing that was used in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was hailed as a great improvement in plumbing for several reasons. First, it was easier and cheaper to install than traditional copper plumbing. Second, it was going to make corrosion a thing of the past because PB plumbing is not affected by the corrosive nature of Southern California water.

Polybutylene plubing can fail and flood your house
Polybutylene plumbing can fail and flood your house

The problem is that the connections failed and caused millions of dollars in property damage collectively. As a result, a massive class-action lawsuit was filed and a huge settlement was reached. Many people who had this type of plumbing installed were entitled to a cash payment to help them have their house re-plumbed with copper. Unfortunately, many homeowners did not take advantage of the settlement (or spent it on other things) and a lot of this type of plumbing exists in San Diego.

If your home inspector finds this plumbing, expect them to suggest a re-pipe of the house, or at the very least a total evaluation of the plumbing system by a licensed plumber. This type of plumbing was widely installed in San Diego in developments built in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  For more information please visit

Another component that was installed in the 1980’s was recalled due to the risk of fire. Horizontal furnaces were installed in the attic to save space. Due to concerns about emissions, NOx rods were installed in some of these furnaces.  This picture shows a furnace that was

Just one of many furnaces that were recalled due to fire hazards

just one of many furnaces that were recalled due to fire hazards –

the subject of a recall. The furnaces were manufactured with metal rods over the burner ribbons called NOx rods. The rods were intendedd to reduce harmful emissions from the furnace is a similar wat that a Catalytic Converter reduces emissions from your car. The problem is that the NOx rods in the furnace eventually became brittle because they become red hot each time the furnace turns on. Eventually the rods deteriorate to the point that they break. Unfortunately red hot rods would fall through the bottom of the furnace and set the house on fire. Please see the in-depth article about Premiere Horizontal Furnace Recalls for more information.

Many furnace look like the recalled units but do not have the NOx rods inside. Due to the stigma of these furnaces, many heating contractors will refuse to work on these units for liability reasons.

Another component that is part of the heating and air conditioning system that failed is the flexible duct. Prior to the 1980’s duct work was rigid, and wrapped with insulation. A new flexible duct was intruduced that eased installation. This new flexible duct has a plastic tube that is held open with a ciol of wire similar to a large spring. The tube is then wrapped with insulation, and the whole assemply is further wrapped with a plastic sleeve. The plastic was not tested for resistance to UV damage, and even though it is in an attic, light still filters in through vents.  Sunlight filtering in through a gable vent has deteriorated the grey plastic sleeve of the duct. This has allowed

Heating duct that has failed due to UV exposure.

the fiberglass insulation to fall away from the clear plastic tube that makes up the actual duct. While no air is escaping the duct, the lack of insulation reduces the efficiecny of the HVAC system. This condition can sometimes be repaired, but duct replacement is most likely the solution.

These are a few of the problems that we commonly find in house built in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Not all houses have these components. Please be aware that home inspectors do not report on recalled items. There are so many recalls that it is not possible for an inspector to know them all. Be sure to discuss any items of concern with your inspector at the time of the inspection.

For more information about home inspections in San Diego, please visit our website at