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Old 03-06-2010, 00:14   #1
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Incompetent Plumber Recourse

Hi folks...

I'm not sure if this is the place for what is more a legal question than anything, but it is definitely plumbing-related. I've come to realize that problems introduced by a terrible holding-tank installation job have cost me dozens of hours, delayed cruising by months, and ruined the quality of life aboard at times. I'm wondering if the community here has any suggestions on recourse.

The local business in question said it would "make good" if any issues came up, but that was not honored. I'm not posting this as a rant, and am (with great difficulty) resisting the temptation to name names. Basically, here's the story:

My boat came with a somewhat byzantine plumbing system with two Lavacs, a non-functioning Lectra-San, four Y-valves, and a small holding tank. I decided to split the system, making the forward half a very straightforward affair with Lavac plumbed straight to a new tank, deck pumpout, and macerator pump to the existing local through-hull.

The plumber clearly didn't enjoy his work, which should have been my first clue. The component choices are mostly good and the system worked, but here are four problems that I have had to chase down and fix...

1) botched spinweld on the tank, resulting in observable leakage. I fixed this with a heat gun and butter knife.

2) sloppy cleanout port installation... instead of the proper machine screws that came with the kit, he cut an oversized hole and shot in sheet-metal screws. This bulged the tank material and made sealing impossible (I originally thought he had left off the gasket and actually got him to send one, but turned out to not be the problem). You can see the bubbling in one of the photos when I did a pressure test with detergent... I took the assembly apart, shaved down the bulged plastic, and re-assembled with generous goop (nothing bonds reliably to poly, so I used Bag Balm).

3) inadequate sealing of an old sewage hose running back to the Lectra-San (still there, pending removal)... instead of using an insert and clamp, he just screwed in a plug. This leaked so badly when the aft system generated pressure that it streamed into the space under the settee.

4) lousy hose clamping at the macerator, causing a drip that I just noticed. No wonder I have not yet been able to get rid of the smell after a year and a half!

I'm not a combative sort, and I wrote the guy with a somewhat pointed reminder that he had promised to take care of any mistakes... but, well, that went nowhere. Is this sort of stuff just par for the course in this industry? For $80/hour, I really expected someone to do a much better job than I would have been able to do myself. A good lesson, of course, but it still rankles.

Any suggestions? Is there a point in going through the psychic energy sink of getting legal, or do I just consider it part of the cruising education, finish fixing it, and move on? This is of course a reputation-based economy, and a bit of bloggage would probably have an effect on his business... but that doesn't really fix MY problem and I really hate flame wars.

Many thanks for any suggestions...
Steve
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Old 03-06-2010, 02:53   #2
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My lousy plumber...

I had a lousy plumber too. He put the holding tank in the wrong place, failed to install a large enough through hull outlet, didn't do the clamps properly, misaligned the pump out tube, mucked up the breather tubes, took way too long to do the job and failed to provide any ventilation for the holding tank space.

It smells, sometimes overflows and annoys the heck out of me but I'm not going to do it again.

Seriously, maybe your setup and components were unknown to a land based plumber. He probably needed the work and did the best he could.

I don't know how much it all cost but if we're not into megabucks it may be best to smile and walk away.

Looking at my local Fair Trading website where you might run into difficulty is with the very non standard installation. If they told you "No worries, we'll do a good job." you could have a case, but if they told you that there could be problems and you agreed with that then it's going to be harder.

Unless you think they could come back and fix it properly I'd suggest asking for a partial refund. If they refuse then you could try talking to your local version of Fair Trading and see what they say.
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Old 03-06-2010, 03:27   #3
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Most states have a small claims court to address this type of situation. Usually easy and cheap to initiate and no lawyers required. Put together all documents, bills, photos of the problem, etc and go to court. I would probably give the guy one more chance and give him written notification by registered letter of your intentions. Then if he doesn't follow through with his promises, follow through with the claim and bring the letter to court as well.

I've been involved in two, once when someone hit my car and didn't pay for the damages and once when the shop I worked for was sued by a client claiming a problem with a computer repair we did. Won in both cases. No legal mumbo jumbo, you just present your side of the story in plain English.
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Old 03-06-2010, 04:09   #4
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Sorry about your troubles Steve. Bottom line is the local Better Business Bureau or small claims.

You first have to figure out what are your damages and what you want in restitution.

Another strategy I employ is no pay until the job is done, inspected and tested or progress payments made after each step.

PS - Thanks for not naming names...
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Old 03-06-2010, 04:47   #5
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Going legal will be waste of time and psychic energy, I can tell you as a lawyer (non-practicing). Sometimes you get screwed with bad work and you just have to write it off and move on.

Threatening legal action, however, might be worth trying. But best of all would be simply to go to the guy and have a pointed and open discussion with him, clearly and firmly stating what you expect him to do to make it right, and trying to agree with him that it will be so done. The calmer and more objective your arguments are, the better supported with photographs and evidence, the more effective they will be. I think few businesses that are not really fly by night operations will be able to resist such an approach. I have not ever encountered a service provider in the marine industry, in some decades of sailing, who refused to at least attempt to correct shoddy work (I wish I could say I had never seen shoddy work, but . . ).

On the other hand, it seems from your post that you've already fixed it all anyway? Or virtually all of it? If so then why bother? What are you after? Just move on.

Be sure, however, to warn all of your friends. Do name names, as long as the information you disseminate is scrupulously objective, true, and not ranting or, indeed, slander. You have an obligation to save others from the same fate. You are not doing the world any favor, by keeping the information to yourself.

In your blog just make sure and name at least three names of service providers who did great work, for every bad one, however, for the proper karmic balance. We often forget to thank the many people who do good things for us, and concentrate only those who did something bad, and this is deeply wrong.
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Old 03-06-2010, 05:47   #6
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My advice: Double clamp the hose on the pump, and screw the pump down properly. Make a stainless backing ring for the cleanout, complete with threaded holes that will allow you to torque the thing down 'til it seals. Lastly, try one of the new poly plastic glues to get a better seal on that botched fitting. Stay far away from lawyers, and learn your lesson. I've seen your handywork, and you're a much better plumber than that guy will ever be...C
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Old 03-06-2010, 06:04   #7
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Originally Posted by Christian Van H View Post
I've seen your handywork, and you're a much better plumber than that guy will ever be...C
+1

get it done and move on..
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Old 03-06-2010, 09:48   #8
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if the plastic welded fittings are cracked it sounds like you need a new tank. the inspection port should be welded too. hose needs to fit all the way onto the barbs. did he not use good marine sanitary hose? i just finished doing my system and it was time consuming and expensive.
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Old 03-06-2010, 09:55   #9
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If a plumber is charging $80 per hour, how much more than that are you earning?
If your not earning that much, and you obviously have the skills to fix his poor work, then the best answer is to do the work yourself. Save money AND get it done right first time.
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Old 03-06-2010, 10:55   #10
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First, I would get a second opinion on what is wrong and how much its going to cost to fix. Then go back to the guy and tell him he can either fix it, refund that amount or you will go on the interent and start naming names !!!
Next, throw that butter knife out.

Here is a link to some stuff I used on my hot tub plastic tubing that I let freeze one winter that works great.
Plast-aid® multi-purpose repair plastic for your repair solutions.
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Old 03-06-2010, 14:28   #11
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Here is a link to some stuff I used on my hot tub plastic tubing that I let freeze one winter that works great.
This stuff looks awesome! Thanks Surya!

http://www.plast-aid.com/video/Intro...lastAid_BB.mov
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Old 03-06-2010, 15:17   #12
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OK, I can't resist. There are only three things you need to know to be a plumber.
1. Water runs down hill.
2. Sh*t stinks.
3. Don't bite your fingernails.

Seriously. It sounds like you have a good grasp of what is wrong and how to fix it. A little help from the forum should get you over the rough spots.

Going after the guy in small claims might work, but the amount your are likely to recover is unlikely to compensate the hassle of pursuing that course.

It may have been an expensive lesson but is one we all get eventually. Whenever possible, do it yourself. If you don't have the tools or skills, then at least participate in the build and/or repair so you will know how to fix it.

Good luck.

George
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Old 03-06-2010, 15:32   #13
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bad plumbers

It is an unfortunate fact of boating life that most boat owners take no interest in the care and feeding of their boats. This fact allows unscrupulous Marinas to take advantage of the unsuspecting boat owner. Crawling around in a cramped bilge is at best an unpleasant task thus the 80 to 120 dollar an hour yard rate they charge. This high rate is no guarantee of competance. It is ultimately up to the paying customer to ensure the work is completed to your satifaction. Having said that, money should not change hands until you are satified.that the work was done as per agreement.
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Old 03-06-2010, 16:50   #14
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Wow, I love this forum. Thanks for all the cogent suggestions!

I'm inclined to keep the legal option as a last resort... that whole scene is a major turn-off for me, and the real damages in terms of hourly rate would probably only be a fraction of the 21-hour total. To be fair, some of that was stuff that would have been hard for me... like making the hole through my steel deck for the pumpout (the hard part would not be the drilling, it would be getting it together to actually DO the surgery!).

I think the way I'm trending, partly in response to some of the excellent comments above, is to just go ahead and fix it myself... documenting all the way. I've already blogged about part of this, and the next installment along these lines will be considerably less kind (though of course still objective and honest... name-calling is unnecessary when the truth is damning enough). This is probably easier than the hassle of trying to get the guy to clean up his mess, and when it's over I'll know that little corner of the boat better.

A few specifics...

The butter knife was just a handy poker — the real tool there was the heat gun. It softened the polyethylene on the botched spinweld quite nicely. The cleanout fix might be tricky, as he made the hole too big for the specified bolt circle to have much sealing surface, but I can probably conjure something. The silly screw-in cap attempt to seal an old sewage hose is something I haven't tried to fix, as the Lectra-San is going to be pulled anyway (numerous attempts to get it to pass sufficient current all failed, and it's dubious to begin with). And that recently discovered pathetic hose connection to the macerator pump is just pure carelessness... shouldn't be hard to fix (and I hadn't noticed the half-fast bolting - thanks, Christian). Also, I had not heard of plast-aid... looks like something to add to the goo inventory along with butyl tape and other modern balin' wire equivalents.

Ironically, the real lesson here is not so much about specific marine plumbers to avoid, but is a reminder of something that has become more and more clear as I give my life over to this project: Nobody is going to care as much about your boat as you do, and even if they did, they are unlikely to be nearby when it suddenly needs attention in some idyllic anchorage. DIY is not just a money-saving concept; it's a life-saver.

Thanks again for the excellent commentary. I'll pop back in with updates as they occur.

Fair winds (as opposed to foul breezes from a holding tank),
Steve
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Old 03-06-2010, 19:10   #15
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Ah, a footnote... a picture I forgot to include shows a fifth problem (the first one I discovered, and trivial to fix). I got two full turns out of a loose dip tube fitting...
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