A U.S. district court judge gave final approval to the class-action settlement that covers repair or replacement of defective dip tubes in millions of water heaters across the country. The final approval solidifies the judge's preliminary approval, granted in November 1999, which allowed manufacturers to begin repairing affected water heaters.

A Kentucky law firm filed a last-minute challenge in mid-April against the settlement's public notification process, claiming it was inadequate. The law firm dropped its charges before the final approval on April 21.

The final settlement provides $175 to homeowners to cover the replacement of qualifying dip tubes and the flushing of a home's plumbing system, and a lesser amount for replacement only. An administrative firm was given the responsibility of processing claims for repairs and assigning contractors to do the repair work.

Homeowners were directed to call Crawford and Co., the administration firm, at 800/329-0561 to file new claims before Dec. 31, 2000. Consumers who already paid for dip tube repairs have until June 30 to file for reimbursement. Contractors were instructed to call 800/876-9280 to qualify as a certified contractor and be made eligible for reimbursement for qualified dip tube-related work. For copies of claim forms and further details of the settlement, contractors can visit www.diptubesettlement.com.

Dip tubes are plastic tubes that distribute cold water to the bottom of a water heater. Dip tubes manufactured and installed in water heaters made between 1993 and 1996 have been reported to break apart in small white pieces that clog faucets, showerheads, appliances and other plumbing-related household products.

Affected water heater brands include Rheem, A.O. Smith, Bradford White, American Water Heater and Lochinvar. State Industries also sold water heaters with the defective dip tubes but stopped doing so earlier than other manufacturers. The dip tubes were manufactured by Perfection Corp. of Madison, Ohio.