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Be sceptical about product lifetime claims

My house is 35 years old, and the water main and supply to the building was plumbed in a new plastic wonder-material. ‘It will last as long as the house is standing’ they said. I do hope they are wrong!

I have now had six holes in the garden in the last 15 years, where the local water utility company has had to repair the pipework, and one under the house that I had to fix. It is starting to become a habit – “Not again Tom…” said my friend (and brilliant information designer) Mark when I posted news of the latest incident on LinkedIn.

Waterpipe_small

There seem to be two related problems:

1) The pipe (a matt black plastic, ‘Alkylene’, I think they said) was not as wondrous as they had thought. A combination of clorine in the tap water and chemicals in the soil led to a far more rapid loss of plasticity (embrittlement) of the pipe than they had predicted, and a badly prepared trench filled with flint applied pressure to the pipe as the ground settled. Result – splits in the pipe wall.

2) You or I might see the problem and replace the whole offending length of pipe. Not so the water utility. They splice in the shortest possible length of replacement pipe only at the exact point of the split. So, as you would expect, it then splits further along the pipe a little while later, and again, and again. So, I asked, why don’t they save themselves a lot of time, trouble, and money and just replace the whole length?  “It’s not company policy.”

I am sure the original pipe suppliers had a convincing story about accelerated life testing proving that the pipe would last for eons. I have no doubt that the groundworks contractors explained how no-one knew more about pipe laying than they did and the pipes were in safe hands.

They were both wrong.

It was a flawed material that was installed badly, and the result is a front garden full of sink marks and a large, ongoing bill for the water utility company.

The morals of this story?:

1) Beware of claims for very long life of products or materials, however well substantiated they seem to be. The people who make the claims probably won’t be around to take responsibility when they are proved wrong. Be sceptical.

2) Look at the big picture when repairing things; spending a little more to repair something properly is usually a much better strategy than doing the minimum possible… over and over again!

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