Pipes froze as they were not buried deep enough
HUNDREDS of homeowners face the prospect of having to replace water pipes into their properties because developers ignored building codes.
The Department of the Environment recommends that pipes should be buried at least 600mm (two feet) underground.
At this depth, the soil acts as a natural insulator and prevents them freezing.
The Irish Independent has learned that service pipes into hundreds of properties froze and ruptured during three weeks of sub-zero temperatures, damage that could have been avoided had the pipes been properly laid.
It is understood that the problem affects properties across the country, including homes in Kildare, Carlow, Galway and Dublin.
Homeowners -- who could have to pay a minimum of €1,000 to fix the problem -- cannot take legal action to recoup the money and no one can be prosecuted because the depths at which pipes are buried are not set out in law.
However, builders have routinely flouted this rule, with much of the ruptured water pipes problem stemming from burst service pipes as opposed to damaged mains.
But no one is responsible for ensuring that the guidelines were followed.
The service pipe from the mains to the house is the household's responsibility, which means that homeowners will be forced to carry out replacement works at their own cost.
One local authority said the problem affected both older and newer properties.
"It appears stopcocks and connections into houses were insufficiently buried," a spokesman for Kildare County Council said. "We have given advice that people should have a look at their stopcock and if it is less than 18 inches below the ground they should take the advice of a plumber."
The Department of Environment document 'Recommendations for Site Development Works for Housing Areas' states that watermain pipes should have a minimum cover of 900mm. Service pipes should have a minimum cover of 600mm.
Yesterday it said the building standards were being reviewed, but that burst pipes were a matter for the property owner.
"These recommendations are best practice and most engineers would be very familiar with them," it added.
Since the 1990s builders have self-certified, where architects state that all regulations have been complied with.
Fine Gael said there was a need to review building codes.
"It's clear that builders and developers have driven a coach and horses through the building regulations," environment spokesman Phil Hogan said. "At the height of the boom there was insufficient staff in local authorities to keep a close watch on standards. The latest weather crisis has clearly demonstrated the need to review the building regulations.
"The type of activity that's gone on was sloppy, low standard and lacked credibility from a consumer point of view."
The Irish Home Builders Association said that "reputable" builders would comply with all standards, and that there was an obligation to comply with the building code.