KITEC PLUMBING – PART 2 FAILURE CAUSES, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS (It’s Not Just the Pipe Fittings)
Since I wrote my first Blog on Kitec Plumbing in May, 2016, much more information has come out on this issue not only in Sun City Lincoln Hills but also in other developments in the greater Sacramento area. Numerous property owners are now re-plumbing their homes to replace the Kitec plumbing. Who should pay for this re-plumbing is a legal issue. Whether it should be done is the more immediate issue.
Most researchers of the Kitec problem have stated that it is not a matter of if the Kitec will fail, but when will it fail. To try to get a handle on this, I have dug deeper into the reports of what causes the failure and sought to relate the results to our local communities’ risks.
Cause #1: Failing Kitec Pipe Fittings:
The current Kitec litigation arose from failure of Kitec pipe fittings in Nevada and other states where there is high acidity in the water. The fittings connect the pieces of pipe and provide strength at joints. Kitec fittings were made of brass which is a combination of copper and zinc. However, high acid in the water can cause the zinc to disintegrate into a powder – a process called “dezincification”. This weakens the joints which then causes the leaks and damage leading to the lawsuits. These joint problems have been the major Kitec issue nationally.
However, in locations such as Sun City Lincoln Hills, plumbers are not seeing substantial dezincification of the fittings. Instead, they are seeing bursting of the actual Kitec pipe… a systemic problem throughout the entire plumbing system, not just at the fittings. Why is this happening.
Cause #2: Failure of Kitec Pipe:
Kitec pipe is made up of a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of plastic, as pictured above. Plumbers loved this pipe because it was flexible unlike the rigid PVC previously used. However, when the aluminum comes in contact with zinc, corrosion builds up which can clog the pipe and cause it to burst. That zinc appears to be coming from those brass fittings. So even if there is not enough dezincification to cause the fitting to fail, there is enough chemical reaction between the zinc and the aluminum to cause the pipes to fail. A recent report by the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) attributes this as the likely cause of Kitec failures in our area and particularly at Sun City Lincoln.
Unfortunately, weakening of the Kitec piping may not be visible until it bursts. Further, there is the question of whether there may be any forces at work beyond this zinc-aluminum reaction which is causing the failure. Some have suggested that water pressure may be the cause.
Cause #3: Failure of Water Pressure Regulators:
Like most communities, we receive our water from municipal water sources (wells, reservoirs, etc) that pump water to our homes. This water is under high pressure so that there is enough to serve the needs of the many homes that tap into the water supply. After all, we don’t want the water in our shower to stop when someone down the street flushes their toilet. However, the pipes in our homes would burst if they were directly connected to the high pressure municipal supply lines. So at each home, a pressure regulator, also called a “pressure reducing valve” (PRV), is typically installed at the main water line into the home. This reduces the water pressure to the 40-50 psi that is appropriate for homes and home plumbing systems. Unfortunately, these PRVs don’t last forever... their life span is typically 5-10 years. A failing PRV can either block water flow, weakening water pressure significantly; or it can open water flow to significantly higher pressures causing water hammering and bursting of pipes… even non-Kitec pipes.
CONCLUSIONS: From the studies that I have reviewed, I have become convinced of three things:
1) that Kitec plumbing will fail eventually;
2) that here in Sun City Lincoln Hills that failure will most likely be bursting pipes, not leaking fittings; and
3) that the failure of Kitec plumbing will result in substantial property damage far in excess of the cost of replacement.
Also, since Kitec would likely be considered a “pre-existing condition” under home warranty and home insurance policies, there probably would not be any coverage for replacement or repair of Kitec issues.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Based upon the above, these are my recommendations for property owners with Kitec in their homes:
1) Replace if Possible – The Kitec plumbing, including the fittings, must be replaced. Typically this will involve cutting off and abandoning the existing plumbing and installing new plumbing. This can potentially minimize the need to open up walls and ceilings. Numerous plumbers are actively engaged in this process today. A recent estimate I have seen for a Sun City home was in the $10,000 range although, of course, prices will vary based on the home.
2) Inspect Kitec and PRV – If the homeowner cannot afford to replace the Kitec plumbing at this time, they should at a minimum: (1) have their plumbing inspected for existing leaks or corrosion; and (2) have their pressure regulator valves inspected and if defective, they should be replaced. I understand that some property owners with Kitec have had their water pressure reduced to a minimum, such as 40 psi, to reduce water pressure on the joints and pipes.
3) Disclose – Any Seller of a home that has Kitec plumbing, and any real estate agent involved in the sale of a home with Kitec Plumbing, MUST disclose the existence of the Kitec to any prospective Buyer. Failure to do so could make the Seller and the agents liable to the Buyer for any damages caused by failure of the Kitec… or even for the replacement if it has not failed!
For over 20 years, the attorneys of BPE Law have been advising and representing our clients in their business, real estate, and estate planning needs in California and beyond. We have been involved in several Kitec cases and offer a flat fee Consultation for anyone coping with Kitec issues. You can learn more about this and other legal issues through our website at www.bpelaw.com. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you need help now, please call our office at (916) 966-2260 to set up a Consultation.
This article is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be taken as legal advice. Every case requires review of specific facts and history, and a formal agreement for service. Please feel free to contact us if you need legal advice and are interested in seeing if we can help you.