Area hardware store owners say new regulations will increase the cost of plumbing products
WILLMAR — A federal safe drinking water regulation that goes into effect early next year will mean higher prices for certain brass and copper plumbing materials and supplies, say area hardware store owners.
Beginning on Jan. 4, 2014, a new national law will amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require all products coming into contact with drinking water to have a 0.25 percent maximum lead content. This rule will affect virtually every component of a water treatment and distribution system from the treatment plant to plumbing fixtures inside homes.
On Jan. 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the “Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act,’’ which revised the definition for “lead free’’ in the Safe Drinking Water Act as it pertains to “pipe, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings and fixtures.’’
The national law, for the most part, replicates California’s regulation governing lead in drinking water, with many of the same test requirements and product exemptions, according to WaterWorld Magazine, Industrial WaterWorld and Water & Wastewater International, an online news and technology source serving engineers, managers, and consultants in the water and wastewater industry worldwide.
In the U.S., all current brass waterworks containing lead will becomes obsolete and cannot be installed or sold after Jan. 4. The new lead-free law will apply to a wide variety of products used in water distribution systems, including meters, pumps, valves, pipes, fittings or fixtures that come into contact with potable water.
The law will mean consumers will pay more for brass and copper plumbing products, says Randy Czarnetzki, owner of Willmar Hardware Hank Express.
Czarnetzki says plumbers and others buying brass and copper plumbing materials were reeling about a year and half ago when a perceived worldwide brass shortage caused prices to jump about 60 percent.
“And now the new no-lead brass has gone up about 40 percent over that increased cost,’’ says Czarnetzki “So the cost of brass is probably more than doubled in the last two years.’’
The increase would add $4 to the cost of a $10 fitting at Czarnetzki’s downtown store. Customers may wonder why prices are going up, but Czarnetzki and other retailers have no choice.
“If I just add $4 to my old retail, my gross profit margin has actually gone down in that process because it’s less profit at the higher cost. But that’s probably what I’ll be doing,’’ Czarnetzki says.
Retailers can continue to sell their existing stock of plumbing fixtures and supplies up until the Jan. 4 date. Czarnetzki says he’ll have to get rid of about $6,000 in inventory. He says the manufacturers are not willing to buy it back.
“Ultimately, if I have to do this and replace all that inventory, I have to raise my prices to recoup that somehow. So the consumer is the one that ends up paying for all that.’’
Czarnetzki has already received some lead-free supplies. The difference between existing products and lead-free products is indicated by color coding on the package and a slight lettering difference on the parts’ serial numbers.
Randy Mord is owner of New London Hardware Hank and also operates a plumbing business. He says plumbers are more aware of the situation than consumers.
“We’ve been slowly getting through it,’’ he says. “I’ll probably have to scrap out some of the bigger stuff that doesn’t get used anymore. A lot of flare fittings don’t get used anymore. By law it can’t even be in the store.’’
“I don’t see it as a big issue except for the cost,’’ he said. “It will cost more and will be passed on to the consumer and as a homeowner.’’
Mord said the new lead-free products will be more expensive. But he says a lot of new houses are being plumbed with PEX (plastic) piping, which is lead-free. Also, fittings, valves and other product are being made with plastic.
Czarnetzki says it would have been nice if regulators had allowed retailers to reduce their inventory by selling product through the market like some other products, “where this one is a dead halt.’’
Czarnetzki thinks everyone is looking for safe drinking water. He recommends homeowners take steps to protect themselves a little bit if they are concerned about lead in their water lines.
“Obviously, if you live in a house that is pre-plumbed, you’re not going to tear out all your plumbing because you’re spooked about lead. It’s just not practical,’’ he says.
“In the mornings, run the faucet to get fresh water through. It’s the water that sits in the pipes overnight that starts to leach a little of the lead. Just flushing the lines and getting the water moving is a good thing for practical use.’’