Bad fittings?

chibimimiJuly 19, 2013

I am an amateur, so I may not use the right terms or give the right details.

We did a major remodel five years ago -- remodeled kitchen, new bath, walls torn out and plumbing re-done. Since then, several of the plumbing joints have failed and spewed water all over the house. They were all on the hot-water lines. Most, if not all, have been T-joints of the same size.

The failed joints were crumbly and fell apart. The (new) plumber and the contractor who did the original work both said they had never seen anything like it. They suggested that our water was the cause. It is well water, and on the acidic side, and had a water treatment system for the past two years. However, the unremodelled part of the house (about 25 years old) has not had the same problem. Also, lots of other homes in the area use well water, not all with a treatment system.

Is it really possible that the well water could have done this? Or is it equally possible that it was a bad batch of fittings?

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I've seen some poor quality copper fittings in the past few years, but nothing that bad. Mostly along the lines of loose tolerances.
Did your plumber give you the bad fittings? Were they brittle to the point of cracking when struck by a hammer?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 1:32PM
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The original post does not identify the piping material nor that of the fittings.
Is this a serious quest for help?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 3:28PM
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Several thousand dollars worth of damage and a lot of disruption is indeed serious. I am sorry that you missed the part of my original post when I said I might not give the right details. Thank you for helping identify what those are.

To answer the questions: The fittings appear to be "some kind of brassish bronze." This description is from my husband, who actually saw the piece. I was not here when the contractor and plumber arrived. The piping is Pex (I think -- the hot water lines are a red plastic).

Randy, there was no need to use a hammer. Or even a feather. The fittings had already crumbled and fell apart in the plumber's hand. Both contractor and plumber said they had never seen anything like it.

The contractor kept the fittings. I think he is also trying to figure out what happened. He is a good man who does good work and stands behind it. But he is puzzled, and the only idea he could come up with is that it is our water. Meanwhile, he had taken photos of all the plumbing before he closed up the walls, so he was able to go back in and replace all the other similar joints. He said they were degenerating, too.

Has anyone heard of a bad run of fittings? Or this happening to anyone else? How bad would our water have to be for this to happen?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 5:09PM
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Having a water treatment system is one thing and having your water properly treated and monitoring that the treatment system is indeed doing what it was intended to do IF the problems in the water were correctly identified and treated by a correctly sized and designed water treatment system is another thing entirely.

So first, you should have a comprehensive water test done to see what the current problems in your water might be NOW cause well water can change.

Second, with that info a water treatment pro can tell you what might be causing the problems with your plumbing.

Third, your plumber should take this up with the manufacturer of the PEX and the fittings he chose to use. If your plumber was ignorant of the water conditions or did not insist on making sure that the treatment system was designed and working properly before choosing PEX and the connectors then the fault is his. The fact that he is puzzled and has not come up with a definitive answer would really concern me.

Replacing the deteriorated fittings with new ones only treats the symptom and does not cure the disease.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 5:31PM
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Thanks, lurker. My husband said the contractor and plumber replaced everything with a different kind of fitting, one that they believe will not erode. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the current plumber is not the one who did the original work and who no longer does work for the contractor. The contractor has taken responsibility for replacing all the other fittings.

The water treatment company has been called and will be out next week.

It's baffling. Water in this area often IS acidic, although when we put in our treatment system, one person who tested it said ours wasn't (the one we went with said it is). There are hundreds of homes around here on wells and not all of them have treatment systems. Yet no one seems to have seen this happening before.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 6:54PM
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"... one that they believe will not erode" just like they didn't believe, or bother to consider, that the original fittings wouldn't corrode, right?

Rather than shoot in the dark the definitive answer is right there to be found, with a minimum of effort and modest cost, and the problem corrected..

I can't stress enough what I already posted... "So first, you should have a comprehensive water test done to see what the current problems in your water might be NOW cause well water can change"

You may have had low pH and it might be even lower now and that's why you're having a problem.

You want that test done by a certified independent lab who has no interest in selling you water treatment or possibly covering up a previous mistake.

It's not baffling and it's common. Your neighbors may and usually do have different water conditions and the test results will vary even across the road. They may not have PEX. They probably didn't use the same contractor/plumber.

Living on a well is more complicated and requires some premeditation when doing plumbing and requires correct treatment and maintenance on the treatment systems cause you want the water to be safe and nice and not to do any damage.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Thank you. As I said, we have contacted the treatment company to do a water test. We will also pursue a test with the one local independent lab, although it might mean taking time off from work to do it. The water has been tested once since the system was installed two years ago -- admittedly, by the company that installed it. How often do you recommend having water tested? The well is drilled and about 500' deep.

I appreciate your expert advice. We have not lived in a house with a well before, so we have no experience with them, nor has anyone before given us any guidance on this, other than "Have it checked every couple years."

In the meantime, I have done more research and found out that many brass Pex fittings are failing due to dezincification. This can apparently happen if your water is chlorinated, high in oxygen or carbon dioxide, slightly acid, salty, or used in a recirculating hot water system, among a long list of other conditions. Ours may be slightly acid and is definitely used in a recirculating hot water system. The symptoms sound exactly like what we have experienced, and in one report the T-joints were specifically mentioned -- which is what failed in our system. There have been class action suits because of it.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 9:46PM
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I'll try this one more time...

Your slightly acidic water should have been treated after the pressure tank and before the softener so very few fittings should have been exposed to that water. Could be that you do have a neutralizer but the pH has gone up in your water. Could be that you have a neutralizer that is incorrectly sized or set up or is not working. Could be that you don't have a neutralizer and that would be unprofessional since you say you have acidic water... but how acidic? What's the pH? I don't know because you haven't posted any details regarding what water treatment hardware you have.

Sounds like you relied on a water treatment company to tell you what you needed and just accepted what they said instead of using a certified lab and then shopping for a water treatment company.

Whatever problems with the water that a competent water test would have shown should have been correctly treated and the water after the treatment hardware should have a neutral pH (neither acidic or alkaline), with ZERO hardness, and any other objectionable contaminants REMOVED.

Whether your water treatment company did competent, complete or incomplete tests or whether they were only concerned with treating the common stuff like hardness and iron and proposed treating only that, or they did advise you of everything they found and you deemed the cost for treatment to high I do not know.

If you take a water sample before the treatment hardware and a sample after the treatment hardware to a lab they will report on the specifics and then we will know what is in the raw water and what is being treated and what is in the treated water. Then we can speak intelligently about water treatment and then know if the water and ineffective water treatment caused the problems with the fittings..

Unless you take control of your situation and provide independent test results and a detailed list of what water treatment hardware you have no one can help you remotely and you may be relying on the same company that may not have corrected your water problem(s) in the first place to solve it for you now.

If I lived on a well I'd test my water ANNUALLY for nitrates and bacteria. I'd make spot tests of the raw water for hardness and iron to see if it had increased which would require changing the settings in the softener if the softener is correctly sized. I'd routinely test the treated water near regeneration to make sure that is holds ZERO hardness and pH consistently .

This post was edited by justalurker on Sun, Jul 21, 13 at 9:22

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 10:31PM
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With that degree of deterioration of fittings containing copper, it is highly likely that the toilets and other fixtures show considerable green/blue staining. That is one indicator of problems that need to be addressed before things get worse.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 1:54PM
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