Dear Barry,

Our home is 10 years old. When we bought it, the sellers disclosed that a leaking water line below the slab floor had just been repaired. We called the plumber who did the repair and he said there was no evidence of further problems. With this assurance, we bought the home. But a month later, another leak developed under the slab. The plumber open the floor and this time found numerous pinhole leaks. He advised us to re-pipe the house. We called the builder, but he said the pipes were installed to code, in a protective layer of sand, and he was not liable. Finally, our homeowner’s insurance and home buyer’s warranty refused to pay. What could have caused these pipes to deteriorate in only one decade, and how can no one be liable for this condition? – Dinah

Dear Dinah,

Copper water piping is generally resistant to corrosion, but there are two conditions that can override this positive quality:

1) Direct contact between copper and galvanized steel pipe can cause electrolysis, a natural interaction of dissimilar metals that promotes corrosion. To prevent this, dielectric fittings are needed wherever dissimilar metals are adjoined.

2) Some types of soil have unique chemistries that are corrosive to copper piping. In areas with such soil, approved plastic piping has been an acceptable solution.

As to liability for the current state of deterioration, no one truly appears to be at fault. The contractor has said that he set the piping in a protective layer of sand, as required. The plumber who repaired the first leak apparently found no other deterioration, and further evaluation would have involved breaking more of the slab. As for the insurance companies, homeowner’s policies cover damage cause by leakage, but not the leaking itself. And home buyer’s warranties do not cover preexisting conditions.

Unfortunately, you were on the receiving end of this unforeseeable problem, and it doesn’t seem that anyone can truly be blamed.

Dear Barry,

My home is built on a large lot in a major city. I’d like to subdivide it to build three more houses. When I called the city planning department, they said I have to go to City Hall for that kind of information. They directed me to their Web site to make an appointment, but the site always seems to be inaccessible. Do you know of any resources where I can get the information I need online? – Karen

Dear Karen,

Knowing whether a particular property can be legally subdivided involves too many variables to get a simple yes or no answer from a Web site. Before rendering a verdict, the city will want to see detailed drawings showing precisely what property changes you have in mind. Before you’re done, you’ll probably visit City Hall more than once. By the time you satisfy all their demands, you may feel that you’ve been screened for a national security clearance. So gear up. You’re about to do business with a large convoluted bureaucracy, and that can be an ultimately frustrating, as well as educational, experience; far too complicated for an online visit.

Your initial fact-finding mission to City Hall may kill half a day, but you’ll get some answers and a general taste of the demanding process that lies ahead.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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