Michael Leavitt & Co Inspections, Inc.
PLEASE NOTE: I am a home inspector and many of my clients have been affected by the failed water heater dip tubes. This information has been compiled for their benefit. There was a now expired nationwide dip tube class action settlement program that required that persons affected properly file claims on or before December 31, 2000. After that date no more repairs are required to be made by the manufacturers under the terms of the class action settlement . The court order approving the settlement only provided for dip tube repairs until December 31, 2000. If you are the owner of a water heater that would have been covered by the class action settlement and you did not file a claim in a timely manner, then the manufacturers will not handle your claim or provide services related to the failures or issues with your water heater's dip tube. The only exception to this are the units that are still under manufacturer warranties. If your water heater has a failed dip tube and it is over 5 years old, then replace the unit and flush the hot water piping and fixture system.
MY ADDED OPINION: Water heaters are now built with designed obsolescence. Most have a five year warranty and are designed to last 5 years and a day. The manufacturers make money selling water heaters and the plumbers get paid to install them. If your unit is over 5 years old, then don't throw good money after a worn out unit. The days of the water heater that will last 20 or thirty years are long gone. 8 to 12 years is a long life for modern units with earlier failures becoming more common. Changing the water heater alone is not enough when dip tubes fail. The hot water plumbing and fixture systems also need to be flushed to clean the plastic debris from the failed dip tube.
Below are some great information articles on the topic.
Is it a dip tube failure?
You may have a dip tube failure if:
Q. Why does my shower run out of hot water after just a few minutes when it used to take 10 minutes or longer?
A. This condition could be related to a lot of issues. First, it could be due to sediment build-up in the water tank, a turned down thermostat or quite possibly it could be due to dip tube failure.
Q. What is dip tube failure?
A. The dip tube is the plastic inlet tube in your water heater that brings the cold water into the bottom of the water heater. This allows the upper part of the tank to hold only hot water and prevent incoming cold water from mixing with existing hot water. When the tube breaks off it mixes cold water into the hot water and this greatly reduces the efficiency of the unit and the duration of hot water exiting the unit. The majority of the dip tubes manufactured between1993 and 1997 were made of plastic that quickly became brittle from the hot water. Along with cooler and shorter showers is the issue of clogged aerators from the plastic particles that are then distributed through the system. This can cause a dramatic drop off in the water flow from showers and faucets due to the clogging from the particles.
Q. Are the plastic parts from the broken dip tube toxic?
A. No. All reports so far indicate that the small white plastic particles are not toxic.
Q. Does the deterioration of the plastic dip tube make the water toxic?
A. No. All reports so far indicate that it does not make the water toxic.
Q. What is the average time before a dip tube fails?
A. Failure depends on the water temperature and the water chemistry. The higher the water temperature, then the quicker the deterioration. Soft water and aggressive waters will increase the rate of deterioration. Most owners are reporting a 3 to 5 year lifespan before the broken dip tube signs appear.
Q. Which water heaters are affected?
A. Almost every water heater sold in the United States from 1993 to 1997, regardless of whether they were gas fired or electric.
Q. Will the manufacturer replace the dip tube in my heater?
A. That depends upon how old the water heater is and the warranty provided by the manufacturer. You should call the manufacturer to find if you have any coverage. As for the class action, it is long past.
DIP TUBE FAILURES - EXTRACTED FROM THE WEEKLY HOME INSPECTION INDUSTRY ONLINE NEWSLETTER THE MONDAY MORNING MESSENGER
This weeks Technical Tip deal with a topic that I had never before given much thought to. It was originally spurned by my sister-in-law who was struggling with her landlord to get more hot water in their unit. When she inquired with me as to what the reason for short hot water supply I gave her all of the standard answers.....
None of these questions resulted in an answer. The landlord had been out to the property within the last week, drained the unit and flushed the sediment. None of this made any difference. It was then that I received some information from another inspector. More internet searching yielded a new condition/solution to me. The following is the article that I authored for my newspaper column, as well as the resource info that I used to compose my piece.
Dip tube failures can cause cold showers
The all too familiar story was recounted, "I take my normal shower and there is only about 4 minutes of hot water. What is wrong with my hot water heater?" This can be very frustrating for consumers who don't understand how typical hot water heating systems work. Although this could be extreme sediment build-up in the water heater tank, improper installation, or a turned down thermostat, new information shows that it could very well be a failed dip tube inside the hot water heater.
Perfection Corporation is the manufacturer of 90% of the dip tubes used in domestic manufactured water heater units. This includes most of the popular brands used in Utah such as: Bradford-White, A.O. Smith, and Rheem. Perfection Corp. says that a small percentage of their plastic dip tubes produced between 1993 and 1996 have been found to fail. When the dip tube fails, the amount of usable hot water is significantly reduced.
A dip tube is a pipe which brings cold water into the water heater. Cold water enters the top of the heater and runs down through the dip tube to the lower portion of the tank. The cold water is discharged low in the tank so that the electric heating element or gas flame can more efficiently heat the cold water. This allows the entire upper portion of the tank to hold only hot water.
When the dip tube breaks off up higher in the tank it improperly allows the cold water to discharge into the top portion of the tank rapidly cooling off the hot water. This creates a very short supply of hot water, thus a very short hot showering time.
The Perfection Corp. was made aware of this condition back in 1996 and they remedied the condition in the dip tube manufacturing process. Much to their credit they also notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission when they realized what was happening but the CPSC did not issue a recall. Russ Rader of the CPSC said in a Supply House Times article, "We looked into the dip tube issue a while ago and did not find a safety hazard that would warrant further investigation."
Perfection Corp. reports that there have been 11,555 returns on the 24 million water heaters that could be involved. That is a very low percentage of failed dip tubes. It appears that the only people who are really concerned with the situation are those that can't take long hot showers or baths.
The water heater manufacturers are very helpful to those experiencing low amounts of hot water. The units in question are still under warranty and so needed repairs are made without financial burden to the consumer or the repairmen. Ultimately the Perfection Corp. is the one paying the final bills.
I called a large professional plumbing supplier, BJ Plumbing in Orem, to inquire with them if there were any consumer complaints being made to them. BJ Plumbing carries Bradford White water heaters and deal mainly with professional installers. They have not had a single complaint or report, but they said that the repair is a pretty simple one. Once identified as the cause, the dip tube is easily replaced within the existing unit. Rarely is it necessary to replace the entire water heating unit for a low hot water supply symptom.
Along with the dip tube replacement, it is very important that the tank be drained, the home's interior supply lines flushed, and the faucet aerators cleaned. When the dip tube fails it allows the plastic particles to spread throughout the supply system. Along with the lack of hot water is the low volume symptom at the faucets. A key indicator of dip tube failure is to remove the faucet aerators and look for small plastic particles clogging the screen.
To identify if your water heater is part of the group that could be affected, try to figure out how old the unit is. If you have been in the home since 1993 and have never upgraded it, then it is older and not in the targeted drip tube failure category. However, since water heaters generally carry a 5 or 6 year warranty you should be preparing for the inevitable upgrade of the entire unit. The typical lifespan of water heaters is 8 to 12 years, but I have seen some last 2 years and others over 25.
The manufacturing date of the unit is usually concealed within the serial number found on the label on the outer case of the water heater. The manufactured year is usually identified in the first 4 digits of the serial number.
It is sometimes difficult for the most seasoned inspector to make out the date from the info on the label, so other clues are sometimes relied upon. For example, if the unit is avocado green in color you are looking at a unit that has far exceeded its projected lifespan and was likely manufactured in the 1970's. If your unit is avocado green, forget about upgrading the dip tube and strongly consider upgrading the water heater unit before it fails.
When a water heater fails it can be a messy experience. Sometimes they just quit heating. That is an easy diagnosis and a straightforward upgrade for a plumber. This condition is usually realized first thing in the morning as the shower is drawn for the home's breadwinner while preparing to leave for work. Although irritating, no major physical damage is done.
The more common water heater failure involves a tank failure. This means a potentially messy situation. Some Utah homes are well designed so that a ruptured water heater flood runs directly towards and into the basement drain. Many homes have drains, but because of poor design the water soaks into surrounding carpeting on the roundabout way to the drain. This increase the damage because the unit needs to be replaced, walls can wick up moisture, and the carpet and padding needs to be taken up and dried.
The worst situation occurs when the tank ruptures and there is no floor drain. This turns the basement into a swimming pool, but at least it is heated. Homeowners are well advised to budget and plan for water heater upgrades before the tanks rupture. So if your dip tube has failed you should console yourself with the fact that your water heater challenges could be a lot worse. Dip tubes are easily and pretty inexpensively replaced.
(Michael Leavitt is certified by the American Institute of Inspectors. He is the owner of Michael Leavitt & Co Home Inspections and serves Utah County and beyond. Column suggestions or inspection questions are welcomed by visiting his website at www.TheHomeInspector.com, or by calling his office at 225-8020.)
Here is a claims rejection memo found on the A.O. Smith water heater site found at http://www.hotwater.com/DipTube/Diptube2.htm...
January 1, 2001
Re: Dip Tube Claims
In response to your inquiry regarding dip tube related problems with your A. O. Smith water heater, I am sorry to say that our company is not allowed to help you at this time. Here is an explanation why.
Certain water heaters manufactured by A. O. Smith Water Products Company between August 1993 and March 1997 contained potentially defective dip tubes that were manufactured by Perfection Corporation of Madison, Ohio. A dip tube is a plastic tube that runs from the cold water inlet at the top of the water heater through the inside of the tank and delivers cold water to the area in the water heater where it can be heated. The dip tubes in the affected water heaters were potentially defective because of problems associated with the polypropylene formula and manufacturing processes employed by Perfection in manufacturing the dip tubes. The defect caused dip tubes to fail prematurely by disintegrating inside the water heater. Symptoms of failure include the loss of hot water, decreased water pressure, and the presence of dip tube particles in hot water lines as well as places where dip tube particles could be trapped, such as faucet and shower head aerators and dishwasher and washing machine filters.
A. O. Smith Corporation and the other major manufacturers of water heaters in the United States purchased defective dip tubes from Perfection Corporation. In 1999, A. O. Smith, the other water heater manufacturers, and Perfection Corporation were sued in a number of class action lawsuits around the country. Those class actions and all claims related to property damage caused by defective dip tubes in water heaters manufactured during the relevant time period have been resolved through a class action that was brought in the U. S. District Court in the Western District of Missouri Division, in Kansas City, Missouri captioned Paul Heilman, et al. v Perfection Corporation, Rheem Manufacturing Company, American Water Heater Company, Bradford White Corporation, A. O. Smith Corporation, Lochinvar Corporation and State Industries, Inc.; Case No. 99-0679-CW-W-6.
The water heater manufacturers, the plaintiff attorneys, and the representative class members entered into a settlement agreement in that class action and the settlement was approved by the U. S. District Court. It provides that the following forms of relief were available to owners of affected water heaters and that all necessary work would be performed at no cost to the water heater owner:
The terms and conditions of the settlement agreement provide that all claims related to property damage caused by dip tube failures in water heaters covered by the settlement were to be resolved by an independent claims administrator and not by the water heater manufacturers. The Garden City Group of Crawford & Company was agreed upon by the parties and approved by the Court to act in that capacity. The water heater manufacturers gave full power and authority to the Garden City Group to resolve all claims as provided in the settlement agreement.
Each person who owns an A. O. Smith water heater that contains a dip tube manufactured by Perfection Corporation and was purchased during the relevant time period is a “class member” a member of the class of individuals who were entitled to benefits under the class action settlement. A. O. Smith water heaters that are included in the class action can be identified by their serial number. The first letter of the serial number is either “M” or “G”. The second letter is “A” through ”M” and identifies the month of manufacture, with “A” representing January, “B” for February, etc. The letter “I” is not used in that system. The next two digits identify the year of manufacture. So water heaters with serial numbers beginning with MH93 or GH93 through MC97 or GC97 are included in the class action. If you own an A. O. Smith water heater with a serial number that falls within that range, you are a class member.
The remedies provided in the class action settlement are the exclusive remedies that are available to class members for property damage caused by defective dip tubes. Class members are prohibited from taking any separate legal actions to recover damages for property damage caused by defective dip tubes in water heaters covered by the class action unless they filed a proper election to be excluded from the class.
Class members began receiving benefits under the settlement agreement in November 1999. The settlement agreement provides that the last date for filing claims for relief under the settlement agreement was December 31, 2000.
A. O. Smith and the other water heater manufacturers went to great length to give notice of the class action settlement to class members. As a group, the water heater manufacturers spent millions of dollars taking the following actions to provide notice:
In addition, there were numerous stories about the dip tube problem and the class action settlement on radio and television news and consumer affairs programs, including feature stories on 20/20 and Good Morning America. Consumer Reports magazine also chronicled the dip tube situation.
Before the class actions were filed, A. O. Smith did its best to make sure that owners of A. O. Smith water heaters were able to get defective dip tubes replaced and related plumbing repairs made at no cost to them, even though the problem was caused by the actions of Perfection Corporation and not by A. O. Smith. When the class action lawsuits began and the settlement was put in place, A. O. Smith was required to give the Garden City Group full authority to make decisions regarding dip tube related repairs caused by the defective dip tubes in A. O. Smith water heaters.
The class action settlement provided an opportunity for owners of affected water heaters to have their dip tube related problems fixed at no cost to them. A large number of class members have taken advantage of the program and the water heater manufacturers have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for dip tube repairs in addition to the amounts they spent to have repairs made before the class action began. However, the class action settlement program has ended and, except for people who properly filed claims prior to December 31, 2000, no more repairs will be made under the program. There are many legal issues involved that make it impossible for A. O. Smith to continue to make such repairs outside of the class action settlement agreement. Therefore, if you are an owner of an A. O. Smith water heater that is covered by the class action settlement and you did not file a claim within the required time period, it is unfortunate, but A. O. Smith is not able to provide services to replace your water heater's dip tube or make related plumbing repairs.
You should be advised that even though Perfection Corporation manufactured 100% of the defective dip tubes that led to the class action, it has not paid for any of the repairs that have been made under the settlement agreement. To date, those costs have been paid entirely by the water heater manufacturers.
Thank you for your inquiry.
A. O. Smith Water Products Company
|I found this reply on a bulletin board found at http://www.loveplumbing.com/wwwboard/messages/4279.html. It makes for interesting reading and reflects the interesting lawyer perspective on the dip tube issue.
Posted by Bud...Suncoast Plumbing Inc. on May 22, 1999 at 15:38:33:
In Reply to: Dip Tube Problems? posted by Garrett M. Hodes on May 19, 1999 at 09:06:13:
Garrett: I have compiled a list of 76 incidents of water heater dip tube failures over the last 11 months. Each of the customers that have had this type of failure have been contacted by the Attorneys handling the class action suit.
Although no specific dollar amount has been mentioned in the settlement, I understand additional compensation is available for mental anguish...loss of services do to no hot water...whiplash injuries sustained as a result of muscle spasm induced by "The cold water reflex finding" (Hardman vs Self)...loss of standing in the community...public humiliation...loss of self esteem...causation of large black birds to circle residences that were devoid of hot water as a result of this failure...dingy laundry...and several results that are much to personal and graphic to detail in this forum. The client attorney bond in this issue is extremely strong. I have promised not to discuss any of this with anyone, and he has promised to make us both wealthy through this class action assault on the manufacturers of the water heaters...their suppliers...distributors...wholesalers ...retail outlets...plastic manufacturers...tubing fabricators...etc.
This is going to be the first big "Class Action Suit" of the 21st Century.
The Firm handling these claims has a web site but I have been cautioned about revealing it for reasons that should be obvious. But the name that comes to mind is Grimm, Spechter and Skroom.
Melvin Belie once said "I don't chase ambulances, I get there before the accident"
Please contact our office if you would like any additional information on this issue....Bud
Please contact me if you have had the dip tube in your water heater replaced or if you have noticed white plastic particles in your faucet aerators or showerheads or have had a disruption in your hot water supply due to a dip tube problem
|The City of Highland Park, Illinois provided the following information at http://www.cityhpil.com/govern/dept/publicworks/waterheater.html regarding the white particles that many homeowners were finding in their water.
Water Division Explains White Particle Presence
When residents find particles in their plumbing fixtures, they often bring them to the Water Plant Laboratory for examination. Typically, the material proves to be rust particles. This is normal, because water mains are made of cast iron, and the pipe’s surface rusts over time. Eventually, the rust flakes, and finds its way into household plumbing systems. While harmless, rust can clog the screens in faucets. The City’s annual hydrant flushing program serves not only to test fire hydrants, but also to flush out rust accumulation in City mains.
About 2 years ago, residents began submitting unusual off-white particles, which they removed from their faucet strainers. Accumulation occurred rapidly, necessitating weekly cleaning. Coincidentally, all of the homeowners reported that they owned new hot water heaters. Since the particles were not reddish in appearance, rust was immediately ruled out. The suspicion was that this was either calcium carbonate (‘hardness’ mineral naturally found in Lake Michigan) which had accumulated in the hot water heater (just as it will in a tea kettle left to boil dry) or breakdown of the hot water heater’s sacrificial anode. Such anodes are aluminum or magnesium rods which are built into hot water heaters to prolong the life of the steel tank. When cracks develop in the tank’s glass lining due to high temperatures, rust would quickly destroy the shell. Anodes prevent this by deteriorating instead. This results in a deposition of calcium carbonate and oxides of the anode’s metals in the bottom of the hot water heater. These are often light in color often a mottled white-gray-green.
This new substance, however was uniform in color. Tests designed to confirm normal suspicions failed. Unlike calcium carbonate or metal oxides, this material was insoluble, even in the strongest acids. Eventually, it was determined that an inferior substance had been used in the hot water heater manufacturing process. Specifically, the company which supplied a component of hot water heaters, the ‘dip tubes’, changed from metal to plastic (polypropylene). A dip tube’s function is to direct incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank to avoid mixing with (and chilling) the hot water as it is drawn from the top.
All hot water heater manufacturers (A.O Smith, State Rheem etc.) were affected, because plastic ages quickly in a heated environment. In this case, it crumbled into a soft white semi-gelatinous mass, and the deteriorated product floated to the top of the tank and out to the faucet. Now that the mystery substance has been determined, residents should consider if the following conditions are present in their own homes:
A "Yes" answer to most of these confirms dip tube failure. Local plumbers are now familiar with this problem, and will replace the faulty tube with one constructed from more durable material. In fact, some hot water heater manufacturers are providing replacement tubes, and partial reimbursement for plumber costs.
|NOTE: These numbers are no longer in use due to the expiration of the recall programs.
Dip Tube Hot-Line Phone Numbers:
Dip tubes still will occasionally fail and they can be replaced without full replacement of the water heater. Your best bet is to call a reputable plumber to upgrade the dip tube and flush the plumbing system.
|MORE GREAT DIP TUBE INFORMATION|
Changing the Way Real Estate is Inspected in Northern Utah!