Dear Barry,

When we bought our house, the home inspector said we have copper water pipes. But when we installed a new dishwasher, we learned that the pipes are polybutylene plastic. Two plumbers have said these lines should be replaced to prevent leakage. Worse still, our insurance company got involved and will cancel our policy unless we repipe the house. The home inspector did not have us sign a contract, so there appears to be no limit to his liability. But we’ve heard that he is no longer in business. If we can track him down, how can we make him pay for the repairs? –Stacey

Dear Stacey,

You apparently hired a home inspector who is not a true professional. Therefore, you may not be able to make him pay for repairs. The fact that he missed such an obvious condition as polybutylene pipe, that he did not have a standard home inspection contract, and that he is no longer in business indicates that he is a "fly-by-night" inspector.

Polybutylene is commonly recognized by home inspectors as substandard water pipe because the lines are prone to cracking and the connections often leak.

Your first step is to locate the inspector, if possible, and to notify him of your concerns. Invite him to your home for a reinspection of the plumbing. You should also get some bids for repiping so that you can document the likely cost of repair. And be sure to get some advice from an attorney so that you will know what remedies are available to you by law.

If the inspector is still available but is unwilling to address the problem, you may be able to get a judgment against him in small claims court. That might not cover the entire cost of repiping, but it could pay a large part of it, assuming that the inspector has any assets to collect.

Finally, if the home inspector was recommended by your agent or broker, that person shares responsibility for the lack of competent disclosure and should be notified accordingly.

Dear Barry,

We are concerned about the safety of our ventless gas fireplace. We use it a lot, and a black film has recently appeared on the glass panel, as well as on our windows. What should we do? –Barbara

Dear Barbara,

The first think to do is stop using the fireplace and report the problem to a qualified fireplace specialist for evaluation and repair.

When a gas-burning fixture produces a black residue, that is a symptom of incomplete combustion and faulty exhaust venting. It means that combustion byproducts are venting into your home, and this is potentially dangerous, depending on whether these byproducts include carbon monoxide.

After your fireplace is professionally serviced, read the owner’s manual before resuming use. The manufacturer’s instructions may advise not using the fixture for periods of more than two hours. The manual may also recommend that a nearby window be kept open while the fireplace is in use to dilute exhaust with fresh air.

Ventless gas fireplaces are vigorously defended by their manufacturers as being incapable of abnormal combustion. In past articles, I’ve expressed the view that no manmade product is, or ever can be, 100 percent foolproof. Your situation appears to support that opinion.

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

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