A Forensic Engineering Approach to Documenting and Analyzing Domestic Plumbing Failures


  • Stephen Knapp, PE, DFE Critical Guidance Engineering




plumbing, product failure, causation, spoliation, nondestrucive, pressure testing, evidence collection, leaking, regulations, subrogation, product defect, design defect, installation, environment, corrosion, dezincification, freezing, insulation, piping, support, mechanical design, San Diego


Forensic engineering analysis of residential plumbing components can be a daunting task, particularly due to the manner in which they may be handled from the onset of a failure event. Usually, a water loss is discovered by a homeowner or tenant of a building where the source of the leak is easily determined. Remediation of a plumbing loss is likely to begin quickly and often compromises the investigation (i.e., the condition of the failed component changes, connections to the plumbing system are removed, etc.). Under most circumstances, the evidence is handled and collected by people without forensic training, such as the occupant or plumber, making spoliation a significant concern. This paper will discuss the scientific processes and evidence handling techniques utilized by forensic engineers to determine whether a product defect, installation defect, environmental condition, maintenance, or wear and tear were contributory factors to a plumbing loss.


Uniform Plumbing Code. 2018. Section 608.3. Expansion Tanks, and Combination Temperature and Pressure-Relief Valves.

National Fire Protection Association. 921. 2017. Chapter 17. Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. Physical Evidence

American Society for Testing and Materials. E 1492. 2017. Standard Practice for Receiving, Documenting, Storing, and Retrieving Evidence in a Forensic Science Laboratory.

American Society for Testing and Materials. E 860-07. 2013. Standard Practice for Examining and Preparing Items That Are or May Become Involved in Criminal or Civil Litigation.

American Society for Testing and Materials. E 1188-11. 2017. Standard Practice for Collection and Preservation of Information and Physical Items by a Technical Investigator.

American Society for Testing and Materials. E 1459-13. 2018. Standard Guide for Physical Evidence Labeling and Related Documentation

American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. 2015. HVAC Applications. Table 4. Comparison of Service Life Estimates.




How to Cite

Knapp, Stephen. 2021. “A Forensic Engineering Approach to Documenting and Analyzing Domestic Plumbing Failures”. Journal of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers 37 (1). https://doi.org/10.51501/jotnafe.v37i1.82.