Monday, August 8, 2011

Simpson Dura-Vent Failure: Dura-Vent or Dura-crap?

Keywords; Simpson Duravent, Dura-vent, DuraVent, Duratech, failure, melting, breakdown, rip-off, scam, chimney failure, lawsuit, consumer report

Herewith a tale of modern woe and Kafkaesque bureaucracy with which to scare your children:

Two summers ago we were told by our insurance company that they needed a chimney inspection on record, if we were to be heating with wood fuel.

"OK" we said, good doobies that we are.

Only problem was, no-one really works as a qualified chimney inspector in the great State o' Maine. The state doesn't issue qualifications. Neither do municipalities. Local fire chiefs will occasionally take a look at your chimney, but they're not really qualified.

We got a little frustrated trying to find someone to do it. One guy and his shifty-looking buddy came out and looked at it and cleaned it and charged us $150, and left us with a receipt that might have been printed up by a child with a potato stamp, and a feeling that our "joint" had just been "cased."

So we called in a "proper" chimney contractor, Mr. Mike Peete, of Peete's Clean Sweep of Newport Maine.

Mr. Peete recommended a complete demolition of all our existing flues and rebuilding from the ground up.

I was sort of expecting he would put a liner in our kitchen chimney, which although cracked here and there, was otherwise sound. But no.

What followed reminded me of "Right Said Fred," by Bernard Cribbens.

"That there chimney's going to have to go."

There was a huge mess and a lot of dust and a massive pile of masonry demo in the back lot, which remains for me to deal with one fine day, but the chimneys were duly replaced with "proper" contractor-installed chimneys. Our insurance company was happy.

We weren't. The two new chimneys cost $3,500 we probably didn't need to spend. As soon as we could we switched insurers. Given what happened later, we were right to do so.

Because less than a year later, I happened into the attic one day, to find the kitchen chimney rusting out aready. The outside chimney followed suit shortly thereafter.

Mike Peete returned my first call but never made it out to the house to look at the problem. After that he stopped returning my calls.

The makers of the chimney, Simpson Dura-Vent, returned my first email and a very legal eagle called me at home, to bring my attention to the warranty where it says that the manufacturers instructions have to be followed completely or the warranty doesn't stand.

I got the manual and of course found a couple of areas where Mr. Peete's installation didn't match the original.

Artistic license, I guess. I wish he'd stuck to the script.

But it's pretty clear to me having inspected the faulty pipe on the bench (and given my engineering background I feel qualified to say), that the product itself is at fault here. It was made in such a way that hot gases from the inside can clearly reach the insulation, through an area just above the join between pipe sections, eventually melting said insulation, and then burning the galvanized coating off the outer layer of metal, eventually causing the rust, as well as extreme structural weakness.

The pipe that looks toppled over in the picture? It is toppled over. It fell over as soon as I disconnected the supports.

I can't imagine that a product as badly made as this hasn't been a problem for the company, but I can't find any record of other failures on the Internet.

A clue lies in the fact that we have two unharmed sections of pipe. It must have been a bad batch of product.

Yet even if my particular batch of chimney sections had some unique fault, there would likely have been others. Why aren't there any? Did the company settle with them and not with me?

I don't have much recourse. If Mr. Peete had followed the manual, I could sue Simpson Dura-Vent. I could sue Mr. Peete for not following the manual, but I'm not inclined to do that -- except for the bad product, his installation was workmanlike and proper. I could make a claim against my own homeowner insurance, let them sue Simpson Dura-Vent, and risk a higher premium, or I could just replace the sections with new ones.

Aimee and I talked it over and decided the best thing to do would be to replace the kitchen chimney with a different company's product, one that looks sturdier, and recycle the good sections of Dura-Vent into the garage for now.

But it's still going to cost me $500. Which is enough to make me want to write it all up on my blog.

If Simpson Dura-Vent doesn't like it, they can pay for my new chimney, then I might take this post down.

It's not like I don't have proof. The pictures speak for themselves.

And that ridiculous insurance company diktat to get an inspection in a state that doesn't have inspectors?

How much more dangerous is the new chimney than the old?

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