Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image (Florida): Defective Pipes Could Burst And Flood Homes

UPDATED: 4:42 pm EST November 26, 2007

PALM BAY, Fla. — Thousands of homes in Central Florida contain defective water pipes that could burst at any time. A huge lawsuit has provided millions of dollars for homeowners to replace the pipes but most consumers are not covered or don’t even know they can apply for the funds.

Patty Van Zweden is a victim of polybutylene water pipes. It’s a hard plastic pipe, usually colored gray, used by home builders for nearly 20 years as a cheap alternative to copper. But by the late 1980s, plumbers found the poly pipes failed at alarming rates. At Van Zweden’s Palm Bay house, a pipe burst in the master bath when nobody was home.

“The water was through the entire bathroom… and out into the floor,” said Van Zweden.

“Worst case scenario, it completely blows out and floods your house,” said Orlando Gatell, a plumber.

In a massive class action lawsuit against pipe makers Shell Oil and Dupont in the early nineties, attorneys claimed polybutylene became brittle from chlorine and could burst suddenly. The joints were especially problematic. The settlements provided nearly a billion dollars to cover re-piping and repairs nationwide but only for homeowners who had a leak.

But despite the lawsuit and settlement, a lot of homeowners who could apply, like Ted Dockstader of Melbourne, never did. After a bathroom poly pipe blew open, Dockstader’s repair bills came close to $10,000.

“Then to find out it was plumbed with a defective product is very disheartening,” he said.

If your home was built between 1978 and 1995 there’s about a one in four chance the pipes are behind your walls. In Central Florida, between 20,000 and 30,000 homes have polybutylene piping.

“It’s a time bomb waiting to go off. Sooner or later that chlorine will eat through the pipes and cause it to go off,” said Hank Goldberg of Certified Building Inspections.

Class action funding to pay for new pipes has expired for many older homes. But if you’re like Patty Van Zweden with at least one leak, and your house was built since 1992, there’s time left. She’s already filled out a claim form.

“I’m 80 percent sure we’re covered,” she said.

You can look for the gray pipes under your sink or near the toilet. But sometimes there’s copper outside that is hooked to poly pipes behind the walls. So if you’re concerned, contact a plumber or home inspector. A complete home re-pipe can easily cost $3,000 to $5,000 and is not covered by insurance.

Some homeowners are still eligible for funds from the polybutylene class action lawsuit and you can find that information at The Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center and Spencer Class.

The Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center

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