|Posted by Darrell Hay on October 31, 1998 at 23:42:37:|
by Darrell Hay
Seattle Times collumnist
If you own a home with polybutylene plumbing pipe (usually gray but sometimes black), and if that piping has gray (or white) acetal plastic insert fittings connected with aluminum or copper crimp rings, keep reading. You may have some money coming as the result of the Spencer class-action settlement.
This type of plumbing pipe, often called PB, was installed in a limited number of homes beginning in the late 1970s. Some homeowners have had trouble with leaks. And if you redid the plumbing in your house, mobile home or other structure within the first 15 years of installation - or do so by Aug. 20, 1999 - you could receive 10 percent of the replacement cost, and 10 percent of any past damages caused by leaking.
PB pipe showed great promise because of its inherent flexibility, which reduced labor costs. The product has been sold under the trade names Qest, Thermoguard, Flex-Temp and others.
The Spencer settlement grew out of a national class-action lawsuit (Spencer vs. Shell Oil) filed in Alabama. DuPont, which supplied plastic raw material used to manufacture plumbing parts, agreed to pay $120 million. (There also are some larger settlements related to PB plumbing.)
For further information, call the Spencer Class Facility, 1-800-490-6997, or write to it at: P.O. Box 81448, Atlanta, GA 30366. There also is a Web site, which has photographs: http://www.spencerclass.com
The Spencer class-action settlement does not cover metal insert fittings used in PB systems. If you have this type of fitting, contact: Brasscraft Claims Facility, 3600 Orchard Hill Place, Novi, MI 48376.
What if you have PB pipe on the outside of your home? This is the black (but sometimes blue or white) pipe that brings water from the water meter to your home, regardless of the type of interior plumbing system used. Most houses in our area built in the last 30 years or so have PB water-service pipes.
If you don't have PB, your house has galvanized metal (if the house is older) or copper (if you specifically requested it). This PB pipe also has had its share of troubles, although not of the frequency that the interior systems have had.
If you were just thinking to yourself that for every product failure there is an accompanying class-action suit, you would be right. This one is a biggie, too, since it covers so many potential claimants. Meet the Cox class, a $950 million settlement covering exterior PB plumbing-pipe failures.
If you had a leak in your exterior PB water-service pipe between Aug. 21, 1995, and Aug. 21, 1997, you are eligible for 100 percent replacement cost.
Cox class settlement information is available through the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center, 800-356-3496. The Web site is: http://www.kinsella.com/polybutylene
The center helps consumers get through the legal maze and avoid overlapping claims. Its address is: P.O. Box 869006, Plano, TX 75086-9006.
Do not confuse PB pipe with PVC or CPVC plastic pipes used in many homes. CPVC is a rigid plastic pipe with glued fittings, used more extensively than PB in this area for interior systems. I am not aware of any problems with this material.
Q: I want to add a small water heater near a remote sink. I have heard that you shouldn't feed warm water into a water heater and this has me concerned.
A: This must be one of those pesky Internet rumors. There is no problem feeding warm water into a water heater.
Q: I just read your article regarding gas heating. I am interested in a new house that has propane. I know nothing about this fuel. What am I getting into?
A: Natural gas and propane are very similar in that it is relatively simple to convert from one to the other. You can use the same supply piping and exhaust systems, and most other appliances you may have. To convert you simply change a spring loaded valve and adjust the "water column," which is the gas pressure, to the manufacturer's specs for that type fuel.
You will need to consider whether you want to own or lease the propane storage tank, although you may be contractually obligated for a period of time by whatever arrangements the builder made.
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