Understanding Risk Exposure Related to Plumbing Materials and Installation
Plumbers, like other contractors, face risk exposure as part of the job. But unlike some other trades, plumbers have to deal with water and water-related damage, which can amplify those risks.
Most states require plumbers to carry insurance, but there are still numerous questions about when the risks should be borne by the plumbing contractor, the homeowner or the product manufacturer. No matter the insurance policy, there are a number of steps plumbers can take to reduce the risk of failures.
When a call comes in for a plumbing product failure, the first place you may want to look is to the product warranty. Each manufacturer’s warranty is unique, so it is important consult the specific manufacturer(s) involved. Before making a claim, look beyond the large print at the top of the warranty to fine print and exclusions in those warranties.
Warranty exclusions are typically intended to ensure that responsibility for a failure lies with the person or company in the best position to control that risk, but there are some cases where the risk can be nearly impossible to control and manufacturer warranties are increasingly moving to exclude those cases, shifting the risk back to the contractor.
Warranty Exclusion: Installation Error
Every warranty in the industry excludes failures caused by installation error. That’s why the most important thing plumbers can do to minimize their liability is to follow the piping manufacturer’s recommended installation procedures.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no idiot proof plumbing system. The average PEX design and installation manual is over 50 pages long with detailed, nuanced procedures that are often not followed in the field.
It’s also important to note that not all PEX is the same, there are multiple manufacturers and multiple types of PEX (A, B & C) and at least 9 ASTM standards for PEX fittings. For each combination of PEX type, joining method and manufacturer there are unique installation procedures that must be carefully followed to avoid potential future issues.
With FlowGuard Gold CPVC, it is equally important that installation instructions are carefully followed. For service plumbers, proper installation and handling procedures are especially important. Fortunately, the FlowGuard Gold team provides easy access to installation training materials including our on-demand training webinar and links to the PPFA installation procedures and our manufacturing partners’ installation instructions such as the Charlotte Pipe Plastics Technical Manual.
Warranty Exclusion: Building Material Compatibility
Another common warranty exclusion involves exposure to incompatible building materials. Compatibility issues in metals are commonly known to plumbers – such as dissimilar metals and electrolysis, but plastics such as PEX and CPVC can be subject to incompatible chemicals as well.
While installation errors are always controllable by the installing contractor, the ability to control the risks associated with incompatible building materials depends on how available information on compatibility is to the contractor.
Various PEX installation guides include recommendations against contact with chemicals ranging from closed-cell insulation, organic chemicals, strong acids, strong bases, solvents, petroleum distillates and even adhesive tape. Each PEX manufacturer has unique recommendations on which chemicals may pose a risk and none provide a list of common building materials that may contain those chemicals.
FlowGuard Gold CPVC is backed by the FBC System Compatible program, which helps ease the burden associated with researching and selecting ancillary building products for use with FlowGuard Gold CPVC by identifying building products that are known to be compatible and those that are known to pose a risk.
Warranty Exclusion: Water Conditions
While plumbers can certainly control the risk of installation error; and have varying quantities of information available to help control the risk of incompatible building products; there is little that a contractor can do to control the influence of water conditions on a plumbing system. Unfortunately, most warranties from PEX and copper piping manufacturers contain exclusions for damage to the system caused by water conditions. This means that if the pipe fails due to damage caused by the water flowing through it, the warranty does not cover damages or repairs.
The natural question you may ask is how could water damage pipes that are designed to carry water? The answer lies in the disinfectant chemicals used in water treatment processes that remain in the water as it travels to the home.
The two most frequently used chemicals in water treatment are chlorine and chloramine. These chemicals can interact with copper and PEX piping material to cause corrosion and degradation. After a certain amount of time, pinhole leaks and pipe failure can result.
Because PEX and copper have incompatibility issues with chlorine-based water disinfectants, the manufacturers protect themselves against failures caused by these chemicals through these exceptions in their warranties. Unfortunately, because it can be nearly impossible to control water chemistry, there is little that plumbers can do to limit the risk of a chlorine-induced failure in PEX and copper. If you use these materials, you may not get help from the manufacturer if the homeowner comes back to you or the general contractor complaining about corrosion or pin-hole leaks in their relatively new home.
There is one material that does not suffer from chlorine compatibility issues: CPVC. As a chlorinated compound, CPVC is immune to degradation from chlorine based water disinfectants.
Understanding Risk Helps You Limit Risk
With PEX and copper systems, one of the most common causes of widespread failures is due to incompatible water conditions which are both outside of your control and excluded from the manufacturer warranty, putting plumbing contractors at increased risk.
With FlowGuard Gold CPVC the leading causes of failures stem from failure to follow the installation instructions, including the use of incompatible chemicals. These failures are easy to avoid by making sure that new construction and service plumbers are trained on using the system.
No plumbing system is perfect, but a key advantage when using FlowGuard Gold CPVC is that it provides more control of plumbing system risk. While PEX and copper can fail due to factors outside the plumber’s control – such as aggressive water conditions and chlorine-based disinfection – the risk factors for FlowGuard Gold CPVC are controllable through proper installation.
This information does not represent, nor should it be used as, legal advice or guidance. Contact a lawyer if you have specific needs related to plumbing system liability.