Plumbing Warranty Issues -- Who's Fault Is It? - Plumbing - Contractor Talk

Plumbing Warranty Issues -- Who's Fault Is It?

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Old 05-18-2008, 09:48 PM   #1
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Plumbing Warranty Issues -- Who's Fault Is It?

I'm a residential remodeling GC, with a question for all you plumbers out there regarding warranties on your work.

First of all, let me say that from my POV plumbing is unlike any of the other trades because no matter how educated, skilled, and experienced a master plumber is, there is always a possibility for leaks-- a slip joint connection leaks, a threaded pipe, a sweated copper joint. Hey, that's what testing is for-- fill the sink with water and pull the drain, plug the DWV and fill it with a 10' head, reconnect the existing supply lines, etc. and check for leaks. Inevitably there will be one that requires redoing. It would drive me crazy to be uncertain about my own work. If someone wants me to build them a wall-- I build it, it matches the plans, meets code, is plumb and level, and wont fall down.

And with plumbing, sometimes things break or clog and water goes everywhere. Hey, that's why there's 24 hr plumbing service and not 24 hour electricians (other than the utility companies) or 24 hour concrete workers, etc. Who's fault is it really when a soldered joint pops, a old pipe starts leaking in a new place after being rattled by adjacent repairs or new work, a fixture supply hose ruptures, or a client's under-sink plumbing starts leaking after they've obviously bumped the slip joints askew by stuffing bags, cleaning supplies, and other junk to capacity down there?

The biggest factor for many of these is time. Did a plumbing repair that day cause a small leak in an adjacent section of pipe that becomes noticeable later that evening? Was the under-sink plumbing fine when it was installed and is now leaking 1 week later? Or did a weakly soldered joint blow apart a copper pipe 1 year later?

Brave plumbers, how do you address these situations (or even sleep at night)? Is the small leak in the adjacent section of pipe your fault, or billed as extra work? Did the homeowner bump the under-sink plumbing or did the piping connections not meet at exactly the same angles in a tenuous fashion? Obviously the soldered joint was weaker than the rest, but it held up fine for for a year. Is that faulty workmanship or an inevitable repair that all homeowner's must face. And to top it off, now there is water damage (warped hardwood floors, soaked insulation, damaged personal property), with threats of environmental lawsuits over mold.

Where do you draw the line? On one hand, we should provide good customer service and warranty service if needed as a matter of doing business. On the other hand, we cannot be responsible for someone's entire house for all of time should anything come up. Our company only warranties labor and not materials (which get manufactured more and more poorly). If a fixture breaks, it is not our problem (most manufacturer's carry their own warranties). And unfortunately, excessive handholding or even top-notch customer care is often abused or exploited by customers who take it for granted.

I'm guessing that you all have strong feelings about the quality of your work. Please share.

Much Respect.
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Old 05-18-2008, 10:08 PM   #2
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Re: Plumbing Warranty Issues -- Who's Fault Is It?

I have some opinions based upon a year or two in the biz. (OK, so it's a bit more than a year or two. LOL)

I use the Golden Rule a lot. I know that seems rather vague. But it works for me.

Second, none of this matters if the plumber does not charge enough to cover his warranty work. It has to be figured into his overhead.


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Old 05-19-2008, 09:58 AM   #3
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Re: Plumbing Warranty Issues -- Who's Fault Is It?

I feel responsible. I always have.

There are limits, of course. And there are a lot of factors involved. With materials getting cheaper because of the demand for less expensive plumbing it's hard to make them last or even work when they're first installed.

If there were protective covers on the pipe and someone manages to get a nail into it anyway, it's the fault of the person who put the nail there.

Yes, we test. Even so things can fail. Then you have to determine whether it was workmanship or faulty material. Can a plumber be held responsible for defective copper pipe? No. He can, in my opinion, be held responsible for installing substandard materials such as junk faucets and valves.

So the bottom line is, the plumber must know his material, his workmanship, his limitations. In all the houses I plumbed, I cannot remember ever having to go back because something leaked and damaged property. Knock on wood. In fact, knowing the likelihood of an eventual problem somewhere, it's amazing how well I've done.

I did once have an employee who sometimes did things a bit too quickly, and I had to go back once and remove an expensive cabinet and make a drain repair in the wall. Another time he ran water lines above a garage instead of a heated area and the first winter I had to go back and thaw and move the pipe. No damage resulted from either of these problems since they were caught in time. I was responsible to fix them and did so immediately.

OTOH, I've gone into jobs done by others and made repairs after serious damage had resulted.
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