Did the Compression Fitting Fail?

Water Damage Claims and Subrogation

Great care should be exercised when installing compression couplings, as installation errors can cause pipe failure resulting in expensive property claims. To process water damage claims accurately while identifying subrogration opportunities, adjusters need to know the basics of why fittings can fail.

Figure 1 to the upper left is a view of a typical plumbing compression fitting used to splice plumbing pipes. In some installations with long pipes and limited access, replacement of a section of pipe is accomplished with two compression couplings at each end of the replacement pipe.

The following case study illustrates the importance of precise installation. Plumbers repaired a pipe that was leaking, as a result of corrosion, on the third floor in an old historic building.

They removed a section of the pipe and replaced it along with two compression couplings, one at each end. The plumbers finished the work and left. Approximately three days later, one of the compression fittings parted, causing a significant water loss.

The arrow in Figure 2 shows the pipe that had parted from the compression fitting.

Figure 3 depicts the parted pipe and the outline of the compressed rubber seal of the compression fitting. The compression fitting worked its way off the end of the pipe, allowing water to pour down several floors of the building.

Further inspection of the vertical pipe in the basement yields a clue as to the cause of the coupling failure (shown in Figure 4).

The vertical pipe that pulled loose of the coupling (as highlighted by the arrow in Figure 4) terminated at a T fitting with a larger pipe.                                                                                                                                       

The hangars of the larger pipe had deteriorated, thereby rendering the large pipe virtually unsupported other than the support of the vertical pipe that failed. The friction of the vertical pipe through the concrete floors and the deteriorated pipe hangars were the sole restraint holding the large horizontal pipe in place.

Figure 5 illustrates the failure scenario. Figure 5A shows the system with the coupling in place, shortly after the plumbers had left the job site.

Figure 5B shows that the vertical load-carrying capacity of the pipe has been significantly reduced with the usage of the compression fitting. Because of the limited axial-force capacity of the vertical pipe when using compression fittings, the deteriorated hangars failed, shifting the load to the vertical pipe and couplings. The couplings could not support the load, and then slipped and parted.

It should be noted that compression fittings require restraints against axial movement brought on by weight and vibration-related forces. Unlike threaded fittings, compression fittings can seal properly but nevertheless slip out of position as a result of forces on a pipe. In this case, the plumbers failed to properly restrain the repaired pipe when using compression fittings.

Figure 5C shows that a restraint for the vertical pipe and hangar repair should have been performed before job completion. A quick inspection of the pipe in the basement would have revealed the necessity to repair the pipe hangers and restrain the repaired pipe. No defects were noted in the compression fittings that could have caused the failure. Analysis of the evidence suggests that the underlying cause of the failure was improper repair of a water pipe.

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