It costs as little as $10, lurks beneath hundreds of household kitchen and bathroom sinks across Australia, and could cause thousands of dollars’ damage if it is not checked regularly.
Flexible braided hoses accounted for more than one in five water damage claims lodged by Australian households in 2016, according to new research released by general insurer IAG.
Flexible braided hoses accounted for more than one in five water damage claims lodged by Australian households in 2016, according to IAG. Photo: Supplied
Commonly known as a flexi hose, these versatile rubber pipes armoured in braided layers of stainless steel, are popular in modern home fitouts because they can be bent into shape. They started to be installed about 15 years ago, and their use is now extremely widespread in contemporary residential construction and renovation.
But the research from IAG, drawing on 15,000 “escape of water” claims over 12 months, suggests that they can become a “ticking time tomb” under the sink.
The pipes, manufactured by a wide range of companies, appear to have a limited life span. A decade after a house is built, the risk that a pipe will burst, flooding a home, increases significantly, according to IAG. Most claims came from the owners of properties that were built between 11 and 30 years ago.
A broken flexi hose. The pipes appear to have a limited life span. Photo: Supplied
Consider the example of Sydney retiree Robert Blanchard. He had lived in his 20-year-old two-storey brick veneer for 16 years with no incident, and no idea he ever had flexi pipes installed in his upstairs ensuite.
But as he walked in the back door one day last November, he looked up to discover the ceiling had collapsed and water was cascading down the walls.
By the time he raced to switch off water at the mains, several walls and ceilings had been ruined along with all the floating timber flooring across the ground level. His home, seen below after everything was stripped out, was uninhabitable.
“I was in terrible shock,” Mr Blanchard said. “All due to a burst braided hose. I never took any notice of it … New taps were installed, but we didn’t even know braided hoses had been installed.”
Uninhabitable: Sydney retiree Robert Blanchard didn’t realise flexi pipes were installed in his upstairs ensuite until it was too late. Photo: Supplied
Claims were most likely to be for kitchen and bathroom damage, according to the IAG study, such as ruined furniture, water-stained walls, soaked carpets and even severe structural damage.
“Our research shows that flexible hoses only last around 10 years and as they’re typically out of sight and out of mind, it’s not something you’re probably thinking about replacing,” said Cheryl Chantry, Executive General Manager, Short Tail Claims for IAG.
“We are now finding a rise in damaged bathrooms and kitchens due to flexible hoses bursting. Over time, they can deteriorate and become a ticking time bomb in your home.”
Plumber Don Arscott from Melbourne 24 Hour Plumbing, said he started noticing burst braided hoses about five years ago, but now sees three or four every week.
He has been plumbing for 42 years and said pipes always used to be made of copper, which lasted much longer.
The braided hoses available today came with a 10-year warranty, he added, but many installed over the past decade only had five-year warranties and would now be close to bursting.
“Warning signs include bulging or rust spots on the braided metal,” he said.
Most flexi hoses will have an expiry date printed on the collar of the hose, Ms Chantry said.
“The challenge is a lot of people may not be aware to start with that the flexible braided hoses are in their house and underneath bathroom sinks. They may not be aware that they have a lifespan and they need to be switched over by a properly qualified plumber every 10 years. They should also be looking out for visible signs of wear and tear on the hose such as corrosion, or fraying of the metal.”
While Ms Chantry said that all pipes should be inspected within their 10-year warranty period, she said their research suggested that pipes eroded even faster when people stored household chemicals under the sink.
Mr Blanchard is back in his home, with its all-new floors, walls and ceilings. The new plumbing in the ensuite is a flexi hose. But he isn’t complacent. “They’re fine now that they’re new, but I will be looking at them every five years.”