What is Gas Safe Register?

You need some work done on your old boiler and so you call in the same chap who installed it twelve years ago. He’s a friendly, reliable old fellow and was recommended to you when you first bought your property more years ago than you care to remember.  Since then, he has done all sorts of maintenance work for you.

He is obviously a handy guy to know, but is he Gas Registered?

Does it matter?

Well yes. If he is not Gas Registered, his work could put you and your household in danger and he is almost certainly acting in contravention of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and amendments.

The Gas Safe register was set up by the government in 2009 (2010 in Northern Ireland) with the approval of the Health and Safety Executive and is administered by the private company Capita PLC on their behalf. It replaced the well-known and trusted CORGI initiative and is now the only official registration scheme for gas installers and maintenance engineers in the United Kingdom. Capita PLC holds the contract for ten years.

In order to be Gas Safe registered, a gas engineer needs to be competent.

That competency is obtained by the engineer completing a variety of industry specific courses and obtaining qualifications recognised by Gas Safe.

Registration does not automatically confer on an engineer the authority to work on any gas maintenance procedure. The engineer may only carry out gas work procedures on the specific tasks that the engineer has successfully trained for and is qualified to undertake. The specific areas of competency are printed on the reverse of the engineer’s personal Gas Safe photo identity card.

Businesses that undertake gas installation and maintenance work are also usually Gas Safe registered and receive certification to confirm their status. Along with the individual registration of their employees, this extra evidence enhances their commitment to gas safety and the professionalism of their business.

Gas Safe registered companies and individuals are allowed to use the Trade Mark ‘Gas Safe Register’ brand and have access to a wide range of benefits to enable them to enhance their businesses and promote Gas Safe engineering work.

Engineers must renew their registration annually to continue working legally. Gas Safe regularly inspects the work of registered engineers to check and maintain the high standards of workmanship it expects from them.

Although Gas Safe have managed to raise awareness of the potential dangers involved in having gas engineering tasks undertaken by unregistered operators, the problem still exists. Registered engineers are often called in to remedy the faults and inadequacies that emerge following rogue gas engineering work.

In many cases, householders have succumbed to the financial savings that rogue operators can offer them. Unfortunately, when things go wrong or the unauthorised work is discovered and has not been installed in accordance with current safety or building regulations, the cost of rectifying the faults can be considerably higher than if a registered engineer had undertaken the job initially.

There are also rogue operators who manage to get round the registration requirements by undertaking gas engineering tasks and then getting a registered engineer to complete any necessary paperwork. This of course is illegal but such operators are very good at bluffing attempts by householders to obtain a verification of legitimacy and competency by viewing their registration cards.

Many of these rogue operators can seem very convincing. They often display the Gas Safe logo on their vehicles and paperwork.

In some situations, and faced with the tough economic climate, householders can be tempted to undertake gas maintenance procedures themselves. There are some suitable procedures that are basic and these are often outlined in the relevant appliance handbooks. The law is a little opaque when comes to appliance owners working on their gas appliances. There are areas within boiler housings that are of a plumbing and electrical nature and repairs to those areas might fall within the capability of the householder.

However, many room sealed gas boilers are indeed sealed, and breaking the seal to remove the boiler housing is likely to pose a danger to house occupants following an unprofessional repair and re-assemble.

In general, DIY is not a good idea. It would be very difficult to try to justify saving a bit of money if things subsequently went wrong and other occupants living in the property were put at risk or killed as a result.

Incompetent work undertaken on gas appliances can have catastrophic consequences for those unfortunate enough to be exposed to it. Explosion can wreak devastation on considerably more than just the householder and his property. Whole streets can be wrecked or demolished by incorrectly installed gas appliances. Within the home, loved ones lives can be cut short by the escape of lethal carbon monoxide fumes from badly installed boilers and heaters.

To avoid unnecessary risks, always check to ensure that a gas engineer has a valid Gas Safe Register photo identity card. Ask to see it and check the card to ensure that the engineer is qualified and competent to undertake the work you require doing.

Remember  ”No card, no work!”

In fact, to be really sure you can check the legitimacy of the engineer’s identity and card details online on the Gas Safe Registration website immediately if you have internet access, or by phoning 0800 408 5500.

If you suspect there may be a problem with an engineer’s registration, or lack of it, or you have reason to suspect a registered engineer’s work might not be up to scratch, you should contact Gas Safe who will investigate any problems. They will also inspect any Gas Safe registered engineer’s work free of charge if you request them to.

If the chap you have known for years who usually maintains your boiler and also does other maintenance jobs cannot provide you with a visible validation of competency in the form of a Gas Safe identity card, it would be wiser and safer to leave any gas maintenance and installation tasks to someone suitably qualified.

 

 

 

 

 

Off the Mains Gas Supply

 

With over three million households not connected to the mains gas supply, their alternative choice of energy supplies might seem a little limited. Oil and electricity may often provide adequate replacements for domestic central heating requirements, but for some people, there is nothing that can compare with the clean, bright, hot flame of gas, particularly for cooking and heating.

Most properties that are isolated from the mains gas supply tend to be located in rural areas. For mains gas suppliers, the cost of providing a supply from the nearest mains to isolated homes and communities is uneconomical. The cost to a private resident of doing so would be quite prohibitive.

But then again, there would be no need to. People who live off the mains gas supply do not have to live without the benefits of gas. Gas can be purchased and stored in tanks in a similar fashion to bulk oil supplies, or purchased in cylinders where space for a bulk tank is not available.

LPG, or liquid petroleum gas has been around for over sixty years. During that time, its potential has been utilised world wide as a cooking and heating fuel. In the UK, LPG offers a reliable and cleaner alternative to coal and oil for central heating in domestic properties. It is produced as part of the refining process of oil and gas. Because it can be compressed into a low volume liquid, it lends itself to the easy transportation and storage techniques, which have developed to maximise its potential as a convenient, readily usable fuel commodity.

For rural and isolated communities, LPG can provide a very efficient alternative to natural gas. But in order to utilise it, most domestic consumers will require a gas storage facility. For individual properties, this can take the form of a bulk tank that stores the liquid fuel under pressure. This means that many cubic metres of gas can be stored as a liquid in a relatively small vessel. Where a bulk tank is not an option, smaller capacity cylinders can be considered as an alternative. Two or more cylinders can be coupled together with an automatic changeover valve when one becomes empty to prevent interruption to supply.

For bulk supplies, the property will need adequate space to accommodate the external bulk tank. Where the position of a tank may interfere with the landscape, or appear too unattractive if placed in the property owner’s garden, it is possible to completely bury the tank below ground. The only thing to appear above ground is a small hatch for inspection and to facilitate re-filling of the tank.

These bulk storage tanks can be purchased by the property owner, but the general view is that home-ownership of storage tanks is not advisable and can create inconvenient regulatory requirements for the owner. Regular inspection and insurance implications usually lead homeowners to rent their bulk tanks from their gas supplier. In the past, this led to consumers being tied into contracts with their gas suppliers that prevented them from sourcing more competitive supplies.

Following an investigation by the Competition Commission, it is now possible to transfer ownership of a gas bulk storage tank to a new gas provider in order to take advantage of, and encourage, more competitive LPG pricing deals.

For clusters of rural properties, country estates, small hamlets and off-mains villages, it is possible to install a large LPG tank to service the gas requirements of all local homeowners. The gas is metered to individual properties who are billed independently in accordance with their consumption. However, any unanimous decision to source an alternative supplier of LPG will affect all property owners on the network.

The supplier delivers gas by road in bulk transporters. This can take time to arrange. In order to try to prevent a customer running out of gas, the bulk tank can be fitted with a telemetry device, which allows usage to be monitored remotely by the supplier, who can then automatically arrange delivery of fresh supplies when necessary.

For LPG canisters, delivery is also by road on a refill and return basis. It is also possible for a homeowner to collect their own refills when required.

Installation of bulk tanks and the necessary installation of central heating boilers must be carried out by Gas Safe registered engineers. Sourcing suitable engineers is not a difficulty, but homeowners should check that the Gas Safe registered category for working with LPG is evident on the engineer’s Gas Safe photo ID card.

Conversions of heating systems from oil, coal or electric to LPG are quite straightforward, although a new gas boiler must be sourced. Many conventional gas boilers can be easily modified to run on LPG. All new gas boilers, with a few exceptions, must be condensing gas boilers. These boilers are extremely energy efficient when installed and operated correctly.

LPG is a cleaner fuel than oil, coal and electricity. Combustion produces the lowest carbon emissions. Nineteen percent less than oil, thirty percent less than coal and fifty percent less than electricity. However, with LPG being a fossil fuel, it is not regarded as a totally clean fuel.

Nevertheless, compared with oil bulk storage, there is little risk of ground or water pollution from leakages and the gas burns cleanly with no smoke production when used correctly.

LPG complete systems can be quite expensive to install from scratch, but the fuel costs are considerably cheaper in the long term when compared with other available fuels. LPG is more efficient than natural gas, having a higher calorific value. The calorific value of LPG is around ninety-four mega joules per cubic metre. Natural gas comes in at less than half with thirty-eight mega joules per cubic metre. Because of this, appliances burning LPG need to be adapted to provide more air for efficient combustion.

Of course, running costs for LPG systems are dependent on many factors. These include quality and quantity of building insulation, double-glazing and household consumption patterns and behaviours. However, usually because of available space around a rural property, an LPG system can work very well with renewables such as solar and wind. Combined heat and power systems

(CHP) are particularly well served by the high calorific value of LPG.

All LPG systems require annual inspection and servicing by Gas Safe registered engineers to maintain bulk tank integrity and system safety. A well-maintained system will provide the greatest energy efficiency.

Because LPG is heavier than air, unlike its natural gas counterpart, extra care must be taken to prevent internal gas leakages. Escaping LPG will displace air from the ground upwards and seek out hollows such as cellars and basements. As well as an explosion potential, gas displacement of air can produce a suffocation risk for householders. A well-maintained and regularly serviced system will minimise this risk.

Purchasing LPG from a supplier can be done in a number of ways. One advantage can be the ability to pay for gas on delivery, thus paying before using rather than retrospective payment. There are monthly plans that can be arranged with direct debit payments to spread the yearly energy costs. Most accounts can be operated online giving the homeowner greater control over expenditure.

LPG provides a competitive alternative to natural gas for homeowners unable to access the mains gas network.

Cylinder Thermostats and How to Replace Them.

Hot water storage cylinders are designed to store water that has been heated indirectly by a gas boiler. They can also heat water directly by an internal electrical heating element either solely or as a supplementary heating component.

Both of these sources can operate on a vented hot water system and are thermostatically controlled.

Hot water storage systems that are sealed and under pressure have thermostats that should only be maintained and replaced by specialist, competent engineers.

On a hot water storage cylinder with an electric heating element, the thermostatic control is a serviceable component. It usually forms part of the heating element, which is often fitted at the top of the cylinder. The heating element and thermostat sleeve generally form one unit that is screwed into a threaded opening in the cylinder and tightened to form a watertight seal. These components are designed to be in direct contact with the water in the cylinder.

The thermostatic device fits into the thermostat sleeve and does not have any contact with the water.

Thermostat failure is usually identified by having a hot water supply from the cylinder at a temperature far in excess of the thermostat setting. The water will often boil in the cylinder and the heating element will remain on continually until the householder operates the mains switch.

The water can be heard boiling and excess pressure and steam will be vented into the header and feed tank.

Left unattended, this continual boiling can cause catastrophic failure of a plastic header tank. Often these header tanks are situated in lofts above bedrooms.

Tank failure due to venting boiling water has been known to cause fatal scalding to occupants below whilst sleeping in their beds.

In other situations, a broken thermostat will prevent the water from heating completely.

Replacement cylinder thermostats can be purchased readily from DIY suppliers.

To replace the cylinder thermostat, first isolate the electrical supply by removing the fuse at the main switch-box and also turn off the cylinder heater wall switch. It is always good practice to check that the component is isolated with a voltmeter prior to commencing work.

Locate the cap at the top of the heating element, unscrew the securing nut and remove the cap.

The wiring to the thermostat can be disconnected and the old thermostat removed.

A new thermostat can be inserted and rewired. On top of the new thermostat will be the temperature-setting device. This should be set to give a water temperature of 60 – 65 degrees C.

The cap should be replaced and secured prior to turning the electricity supply back on.

It is always good practice to check that any earth bonds on pipe-work in the vicinity of the hot water storage cylinder are securely in place prior to re-connecting the electrical supply.

Once working, the thermostat must be monitored to ensure that the water temperature reaches and maintains the required level.

On a hot water storage cylinder that is heated indirectly by a gas boiler, the thermostat is generally located on the exterior of the cylinder. A failed thermostat will either prevent the boiler from heating the domestic water supply completely, or will not control the stored hot water temperature effectively.

To locate the external thermostatic device, remove the cylinder thermal insulation jacket if one is in place. Most modern hot water storage cylinders have a foam insulation skin, which forms part of the cylinder and cannot be removed. In this case, the thermostat will sit in a recess cut into the foam to allow direct contact with the cylinder.

In both cases the thermostat will usually be fitted 1/3 of the way up from the base of the cylinder and tightly held in place by a steel band encompassing the circumference of the cylinder. This will need to be slackened to allow the thermostat to be removed.

When fitting a replacement thermostat, it is preferable to obtain a like for like replacement. This will make the process of rewiring the new thermostat considerably easy. If like for like cannot be obtained, it may be necessary to employ the services of a qualified electrician to wire the new thermostat to the electricity and boiler control network.

To replace the faulty thermostat, first isolate the electrical supply by removing the appropriate fuse in the main fuse-box and turning off the local supply switch. Any electrical supply to programmers should also be turned off. It might be a good precautionary measure to turn off the entire domestic electrical supply at the mains switch-box junction. This will prevent any chance of electrocution by unidentified connections to the thermostat.

The old thermostat can be disconnected by accessing the internal wiring connections in the thermostat. These are usually enclosed within a compartment protected with an external cover. When disconnecting the wires, ensure that each wire is marked with some means of identifying the wire and its function. This will ensure that the correct wire is attached to the relevant connection in the new thermostat. This will also ensure that connections to programmers, timers and motorised valves are all made correctly.  A piece of adhesive paper with an identifying mark applied and then wrapped around each individual wire will suffice. It also important to follow the manufacture’s instructions for fitting the new thermostat in case any modifications have been made since the old thermostat was fitted.

Once rewired, the thermostat must be firmly secured to the cylinder with either the existing securing bands or suitable replacements. It is essential that the new thermostatic device is in secure direct contact with the hot water cylinder. The contact area must clean, free from dust and debris and the thermostat must have its contact face completely secured to the cylinder.

With the thermostat setting on the external face of the newly attached thermostat set at minimum or off, the electricity supply can be restored.

Turning the thermostat to an operating temperature of 60 – 65 degrees C should cause the boiler and pumps to start up. This will confirm correct operation. However, the domestic hot water network should be monitored to ensure that correct operation is being maintained.

As always, if the DIY operative is ever unsure about a procedure, or a task is beyond the competence of the installer, professional advice or help must be obtained. Early intervention by a professional when in difficulty will prevent serious damage and expensive repair bills should things go wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

Water Leaks and How to Deal with Them.

It is estimated that the average person uses 150 litres of water a day. That might seem quite a lot, but in comparison consider that over 3 billion litres of water are lost each day in England and Wales by water companies and householders, and that if all loses could be stopped; enough water would be saved to supply over 22 million people.

Water leaks in properties cost millions of pounds in insurance claims each year. Water leaks in flats account for a quarter of all claims and lead to incriminations and bad feeling between neighbours through attributing and contesting liability.

Major water leaks are usually sudden occurrences. They are easily observed and although damaging, the effects of the damage can be limited by prompt action. Turning off the mains supply will stop the flow of water until a repair can be arranged.

Water leaks that are not readily obvious can go un-noticed for a considerable period causing significant damage. Not only is the cost of repairing the damage substantial, where a water meter is fitted, the cost of the leaking water is also registered and subsequently charged for.

It is sometimes the water bill that gives an indication of a water leak, however, low mains water pressure or a combi boiler operating problem might suggest that the plumbing in the property requires a thorough inspection.

Checking all water using appliances and wet heating systems for any visual signs of leakage should be done on a regular basis to identify and rectify problems at an early stage.

Some domestic leaks may actually be part of a safety function and might be observed as a dripping external overflow pipe. This is the classic symptom of a cistern ball cock or worn valve diaphragm or washer problem in a toilet cistern or header tank and is easily remedied by adjustment or replacement.

Left unattended, a dripping overflow pipe can cause substantial damage to external wall surfaces and ground workings.

Worn and damaged flap valves and siphon fittings in toilet cisterns can also cause considerable wastage of water. Replacement components are readily available from DIY suppliers and easily fitted.

Dripping water taps can waste copious quantities of hot and cold water. Leaking hot water taps will cause boilers to operate more frequently adding to heating costs.

A number of faults can cause leaking taps. The first task is to determine the type of tap that is installed. The four main types are bib, pillar, reverse pressure and shrouded head. Worn washers are the usual cause of problems and these are easily replaced. Some taps have ceramic washers, which are designed to be maintenance free, but eventually the washers fail due to scoring and do need to be replaced. It is advisable to take the worn ceramic washers to the plumber’s merchants to ensure correct replacements.

To replace washers in bib and pillar taps the water must be turned off and the pipe drained. The tap valve must be opened fully before dismantling. If the tap is shrouded the shroud must be unscrewed to provide access. The headgear nut can then be unscrewed and the washer replaced.

With reverse pressure taps, the water supply can be left turned on during washer replacement. The retaining nut above the tap body should be loosened allowing the tap body to be unscrewed. Water will escape until the check valve operates. Once free, gently tap the nozzle on the floor to dislodge the finned anti-splash device containing the jumper and replace the attached washer. The tap can then be re-assembled in reverse order.

Continued leaking after washer replacement might indicate a worn seat, which can be remedied by grinding with a re-seating tool. These can be hired from hire companies or purchased from plumber’s merchants. Alternatively, it may be possible to fit a nylon seat that is usually sold with a matching jumper and washer.

Worn ‘O’ rings in mixer taps and on some of the glands of ordinary taps may need replacing. These can be accessed during normal tap dismantling.

Leaks in water pipes are not always readily apparent. Unless you are sure where your pipes run it is very easy to puncture hidden pipe-work in walls or below floorboards with a nail during DIY work. It may be possible to hear a hissing sound as water escapes under pressure, but is more likely that the damage may go un-noticed until a wet patch appears in the ceiling below, or some problem associated with damp occurs at a later date.

Where a nail punctures a pipe, it is best to leave the nail in place until the water supply has been turned off.

Frozen pipes are damaged by water expansion. The pipes can split and joints can be forced apart. The damage will be observed when the ice thaws.

Other reasons for leaking plumbing are mechanical failures due to either deterioration or incompetence. Where a plumber fails to make a completely waterproof joint the slow leak of water will cause future problems.

Temporary repairs to damaged pipes can alleviate the inconvenience until a permanent repair can be facilitated. A length of garden hose can be slit and fitted over a leak in a pipe. This is tightly secured with jubilee clips or twisted wire loops to prevent water escaping.

Alternatively, patching with epoxy putty can provide a convenient temporary seal. The area to be patched should be clean and dry, preferably rubbed with abrasive paper or steel wool to remove any surface grease and dirt. The putty is supplied in two parts which, when mixed together, will begin to harden allowing about twenty minutes to complete the repair. The putty will firmly adhere to most metals and hard plastics giving a fairly long term and durable repair, but it should be considered as only a temporary measure.

With all leaks, prevention is better than a cure. However, with the best will in the world plumbing emergencies will occur. It is essential that householders know the location of the mains stop tap and any system isolation valves. General observation and maintenance of services will prevent many problems from occurring. The insulation of pipe-work against frost and physical damage will contribute towards minimising water loss and household expenditure.

 

 

Gas Cookers and their Installation

Ask any chef or artisan baker what is the best type of fuel for cooking and they will almost unanimously say ‘gas’.

Gas hobs burn hot and are very responsive. The moment the gas is turned down or off; the flame responds immediately, unlike a conventional electric hob, which takes time to heat up, and then retains heat for a long period after the element has been turned off.

Gas ovens retain the old way of baking food. Working without the fan circulation systems of many new electric ovens, gas ovens rely on convection and normal heat circulation patterns. Gas ovens are hot at the top and slightly cooler at the oven base. This gives the user greater flexibility and control in regulating the speed at which various foods in a full oven cook. The user can move food to various temperature levels within the oven. Although these temperature differences are only slight, they can make a considerable difference to the finished products.

When gas burns, water is one of the by-products. This provides a moist heat within a gas oven, which improves cake baking, and produces an appetising lustre on the surface of baked products.

Having made the decision to purchase a gas cooker, the buyer is faced with an impressive range of makes and models, styles and sizes, all designed to appeal to the differing requirements of individual properties and their households.

From the great gas ranges such as Aga and Rayburn, whose function is to provide continuous operation, producing domestic hot water, servicing numerous radiators on a central heating system and providing cooking facilities all in one, to the freestanding cookers designed and produced for the more modest home. Some models are designed to slot into spaces provided in fitted kitchens whilst others are stand-alone units that are designed to be visibly functional.

All these gas appliances need is a convenient gas supply with the exception of the large gas multi functional ranges, which require a dedicated flue system. Many gas cookers also require an additional electricity supply. This operates ignition units or flame monitoring equipment.

The larger multi-purpose ranges require specialist planning and installation into the domestic gas and water system to perform their many tasks efficiently.

General-purpose gas cookers are easily purchased from major high street domestic appliance retailers, or from the growing number of internet-based companies. The homeowner simply needs to decide on an appropriate model that will fulfil the household and property requirements.

Most new gas cookers are supplied without any pre-fitted connections for attaching the appliance to the gas mains. This is because statutory regulations require the appliance to be installed by a competent person. The Gas Safety (Installations and Use) Regulations 1998 give clear advice about this matter and anyone considering trying to install a gas appliance should make themselves aware of the restrictions.

However, from a position of responsibility, getting a new or second hand gas appliance installed into a property for the first time requires the experience of a Gas Safe registered engineer who has been passed as competent to perform the task. They have the experience and equipment to attach the necessary pipe-work and ensure that the appliance is safe to operate. They check combustion, gas pressure, and perform checks on the integrity of the pipe-work.

Getting a gas appliance correctly installed by a Gas Safe registered engineer ensures that the homeowner’s obligations are met in respect of third party safety and will ensure that property insurance remains valid.

Many gas cooker installations are designed to attach to the mains gas supply by a bayonet fitting. This connection can be attached or disconnected by the homeowner at anytime once the gas appliance has been correctly installed by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Disconnection can facilitate cleaning behind the appliance, or the cleaning of the appliance itself. When connecting or disconnecting, a small amount of gas will be released prior to the self-sealing bayonet valve operating. This is quite normal, but the homeowner must ensure that the valve operates correctly at all times and that no prolonged release of gas occurs.

Prior to disconnecting a gas cooker from a bayonet gas fitting it is advisable to disconnect any electrical connections attached to the cooker. Turning the mains gas off is an added precaution.

Gas cookers should be serviced and checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer to ensure that they are operating safely. General cleaning of the appliance and removing food debris or burnt material will prolong the life of the appliance and prevent inefficient combustion during operation. Partially blocked gas jets can lead to the production of toxic gases as a by-product of poor combustion.

Most new gas cookers have special safety and flame failure devices installed that immediately cut off the gas supply if a problem occurs. These devices should never be over-ridden by the householders. If a problem occurs, the appliance should not be used until it has been checked over by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

As with all gas appliances, adequate ventilation must be provided to maintain safe and efficient operation. Good ventilation will help to prevent condensation problems from occurring.

Fitting good quality carbon monoxide detectors and regularly checking their correct operation is a must for any household operating gas fuelled appliances.

Choosing the correct cooking appliance, getting it properly installed and maintaining its safe operation will give piece of mind for the homeowner and ensure excellent cooking performance for the entire household.

 

 

 

Hiring a Plumber.

When it comes to a plumbing emergency such as a burst pipe combined with a seized mains stopcock, then any plumber is a plumber. There is no time to consider qualifications or cost. The emergency demands immediate attention.

However, when it comes to engaging a plumber to undertake more forward-planned work for you, a number of factors should be taken into consideration. These will help to prevent you from falling into some of the terrible pitfalls and disasters that sometimes accompany accidentally engaging an incompetent worker.

To begin with, it is fair to say that a considerable part of a competent plumber’s workload is taken up with the task of putting right someone else’s mistakes. Many DIY enthusiast’s complex projects, or people just trying to save a bit of money, can result in homeowners becoming over confident in their own abilities. However, when things go wrong, they can do so quite spectacularly and with devastating consequences. Putting right the resulting damage can have a devastating effect on their bank accounts as well.

That is not to suggest that undertaking basic groundwork should not be carried out by the homeowner. It would be rather expensive to employ a fully qualified plumber to clear debris from guttering or to carry out other basic maintenance tasks. If such work is beyond the ability of the homeowner due to infirmity or just lack of time, it is far cheaper to employ a competent  maintenance person to undertake the tasks.

For advanced plumbing work, you will need to engage the work of a competent and experienced plumber.

However, do be aware that anyone can call themselves a plumber.

Qualifications and experience go hand in hand, but do not underestimate the capabilities of a plumber who has many years experience but no formal qualifications.

First, carefully review the work you require undertaking. Is it general plumbing or is it gas-heating work that requires the services of a gas registered plumbing engineer? It is important to understand the nature of the work you require undertaking and then to approach the appropriate plumbing service businesses to obtain quotations.

It is wise to avoid engaging a 24-hour emergency service plumber for general work. Their rates are likely to be much higher than those of a general plumber.

Obtaining the services of a local plumber is likely to be much cheaper than using a plumber based some distance from your property. The plumber is likely to cost in the travel time, which will affect the quotation.

A plumber who comes with first-hand recommendations from your friends or family is likely to be a good and experienced operative.

The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers is a long-standing and respected trade association. They keep a list of vetted and approved plumbers who may be suitable in the absence of first-hand recommendations. Their list of plumbers are all suitably qualified and experienced.

It can be beneficial to get to know a local plumber by engaging that person to undertake small plumbing jobs. A plumber who knows you is likely to give you good advice, preferential service and competitive terms should the need arise.

It is always a good idea to get at least three written quotations for the work you require doing. It is important to ensure that these are not estimates.

Plumber’s charges are usually comprised of three elements. A standard call out fee, a subsequent hourly or even half-hourly fee and the cost of materials and replacement parts if required.

When deciding on a suitable plumbing company it can be advantageous to negotiate a flat rate fee, payable on completion of the work. This can provide an element of bargaining power if the completed work does not meet with expectations. It can also ensure that the plumbers stay on the job without being diverted elsewhere.

When drawing up a contract to undertake the work, ensure that the work required is correctly specified. The final cost should not differ significantly from the accepted quotation. Beware of ambiguous small print that may negate the engineer’s liabilities and obligations.

Where parts are itemised and costed on a contract, the homeowner can check the price of parts on large DIY supplier’s websites. These will give an indication of whether the plumbing engineers are overcharging for their work.

Never pay for the full cost of the work upfront. Doing so is likely to result in a protracted work schedule or possibly the loss of your money.

Ensure that the plumber is registered as a competent person and is able to supply a self-certification document for the completed work. They are under an obligation to inform the local council in respect of complying with Building Regulations. Self-certification of work will save you considerable time money and stress in trying to get Building Regulation approval independently.

Where the plumbing engineers are required to work on gas appliances, they must be registered with Gas Safe. It is important to ensure that you have visual conformation of this by checking their personal identity photo-card. It is also essential to ensure that engineers are qualified to undertake the type of gas work you require them to do. The gas engineer’s photo-card will indicate their competence in various fields on the back. If in doubt, the homeowner can contact Gas Safe to obtain clarification and authorisation.

Do ensure that the engineer or their company has adequate public liability insurance. The I.P.H.E. insists that plumbers on its register have a minimum of £2 million pounds public liability cover.

By considering these suggestions, a homeowner can reduce the chances of having plumbing work completed to a poor standard.

Incompetently undertaken plumbing installations can be dangerous. Cheap is rarely good. Employing a well trained and thoroughly experienced plumbing engineer will ensure that their skilled workmanship will more than adequately address relevant safety and regulatory issues.

 

Combi in the Loft

Condensing combi boilers are, by design, compact and efficient boilers. They are also incredibly versatile when it comes to finding a suitable location to install them. So long as it is feasible to plumb the gas and water terminals and vent the combustion gases and condensate appropriately, then the limitations that might prevent the installation of alternative boilers can be overcome.

In general, the most suitable position for these boilers is in the kitchen or a location where they are easily accessible for maintenance, for example under the stairs, in a cupboard or even in a spare room.

In many homes, the main reason for installing a combi boiler is the limited space, which makes the necessity of extra water storage facilities like a feeder expansion tank and hot water storage cylinder impractical.

Shortage of space may also incline a householder to consider the positioning of a combi boiler in the unused space afforded by a loft.

It is perfectly feasible to install a combi in the loft, but certain factors must be taken into account and care must be taken to ensure that such an installation will be practical, especially when an easier and cheaper option might be the better choice.

Firstly, for a loft installation, considering its size, is it possible to get the choice of boiler through the loft entrance hatch and into the loft?

If the boiler will fit through the entrance hatch, is there a suitable wall to fix the boiler to, allowing for the plumbing and minimum clearances required by the manufacturer’s instructions?

A suitable location for securely fixing the boiler might be the chimney-breast or a supporting wall, but consideration will need to be made for the exhaust and air intake flue. This flue must vent the property inline with regulations. It must also be accessible for safety inspections.

In buildings with more than one storey, consider the water pressure. With increasing height, the water pressure is likely to decrease, especially if cold mains water is drawn off regularly at a lower facility. Check the proposed combi boiler’s water pressure requirements, bearing in mind that low water pressure may make the boiler operate noisily, or not operate at all.

Another consideration is the distance hot water will have to travel from the loft to the main hot water outlet points. A shower in a bathroom immediately below the boiler will be efficiently supplied, but hot taps in the kitchen may be far enough away from the boiler to be problematic. A considerable volume of cold water may have to be drawn from the system before the hot water from the boiler reaches the tap. This can be several litres, which will register on a water meter and could cost an extra £30 a year in increased gas and water usage.

Modern lofts are usually well insulated. This keeps the space below the insulation both warm in winter and cool in summer. Installing a combi in the loft, which in itself does not benefit from the insulation, can be problematic during extremes of temperature. Some combi boilers have a frost protection facility to prevent them freezing internally. This may be set by the manufacturer to operate at temperatures as high as 5º C causing extended and additional operating of the boiler and resulting in higher gas bills.

Condensate from the combi must be drained effectively and efficiently. A frozen condensate drainage pipe will prevent the boiler operating. Ideally, this pipe should be enclosed within the property to prevent freezing during very cold weather. Often insufficient consideration is given to this potential problem and a condensate pipe is run down an exterior wall. This pipe should be insulated. If it should freeze, an engineer might refuse to climb an external ladder to remedy the problem due to insurance considerations.

It is therefore advisable to insulate all exposed pipe-work in a loft as a precaution against frost.

It is also good practice, and of great convenience, to ensure that wireless controllers are fitted in a suitable location within the property. This will avoid the necessity of frequent visits into the loft. A filling loop also suitably located will save much inconvenience when topping up of the system is required.
Installation of a combi boiler in a loft is not the most popular of work undertaken by plumbers and gas appliance installers. They are inclined to charge more for the work than for a conventional installation. Working in a confined space can be difficult and some will not be prepared to undertake the work.

There are building regulations that should be adhered to regarding safe installation and access to combi boilers in the loft. BPEC CEN1 provides guidance regarding roof installation of gas boilers advising that:

The boiler should be mounted on wall capable of supporting its weight.
The loft must be accessible with retractable ladder.
The loft entrance and exit must be protected with a guardrail.
The loft must have fixed lighting in place.
Suitable flooring must be provided to the boiler for service access.
Gas, water, and electrical isolation points should be provided outside the loft to enable easy isolation of the boiler.

Some plumbers and engineers may be prepared to install a combi in the loft without regard to these statutory regulations, however such installations are bound to cause problems at a later date, particularly when routine maintenance, repairs and Gas Safe inspections are required.

These considerations may incline a householder to consider all other options carefully prior to deciding to locate a combi boiler in the loft.