Fitting Water Leakage Alarms

It is probably one of the worst nightmare scenarios. You’ve been at work all day and come back home to find water trickling through the bottom of the front door and draining out onto the lawn.

You open the door and step onto the hall carpet, which squelches beneath your feet, and make your way to the kitchen. Water is cascading from the fitted sink unit-housing cupboard. You open the cupboard door and discover a burst water pipe. Instinct tells you that you need to turn off the mains water stopcock quickly. But where is it?

Accidental water damage in domestic property costs homeowners and insurance companies millions of pounds each year in claims and the uninsured costs of repairs and replacements. Although a major leak can be catastrophic, minor leaks can also cause considerable damage to the fabric and furnishings of a property if they are allowed to continue unchecked for even a short period.

Water is continuously present in our homes, filling networks of pipes that distribute it throughout the building, supplying demand when required and often hidden from view. Contained and controlled.

But when it does get the opportunity to escape, it can do so with an alarming and unlimited capacity, spreading rapidly over surfaces and searching for any recess where it can continue on its ever horizontal and downward progression.

Although the damage caused by a water leak can be serious for a homeowner living in a traditional house or bungalow, occupants living in shared multi story accommodation or flats can often become victims of leakage events occurring above them. This can lead to considerable ill feeling and legal action when compensation becomes an issue.

So, what can be done to reduce the risk of an unpredicted water leak causing substantial damage?

Well, one solution might be to turn the mains stopcock of when leaving the property unattended. This would be effective but not very practical, especially if the mains stopcock is in an inconvenient position.

Another solution would be to fit a water leakage detection device.

There are an interesting array of water leakage alarms and cut-off devices available. These range from the very simplistic to the quite sophisticated.

The available devices are often described as being passive or active.

A passive device is usually the less sophisticated. In its simplest form it consists of a sensor strip or contacts which activates an audible alarm when water is detected. They are generally battery operated. Some alarm units may house the detection sensors and operate as single units that can be placed in specific areas of risk. Other alarm units may have remote sensors attached by wires, or incorporate a signal transmitter and remote receiver.

These alarm type units can give occupants early warning of a leak problem allowing them to respond quickly and minimise potential damage.

However, these alarms are only effective if the occupants are present to hear the alarm when it operates, or likely to return whilst the alarm is sounding. The alarms are designed to emit an audible warning until the battery fails, which can be up to 24 hrs.

Passive type alarms are probably best for giving an early indication of water accumulating from the failure of an appliance such as a defrosting fridge or freezer. They may also give a good early indication of a small leak from pipe-work or washing machine plumbing parts and seals.

Of course, the alarm sensor points do have to be in the immediate vicinity of the leak and come into contact with water to operate the alarm.

Active type alarms are more sophisticated and are designed to automatically turn off the water supply if a leak is detected.

Although some models incorporate an audible alarm or visual indicator to inform that they have responded to a leakage event, the most important response is the immediate water shut-off which can prevent considerable damage occurring.

Most active systems are installed inline, and are usually positioned next to, and on, the household side of the mains stop cock. However, there are other automatic shut-off devices that can be installed into separate plumbing systems within the domestic plumbing network.

The automatic water shut off device can be activated by water sensor strips located throughout the property, but the more advanced and reliable type are designed to monitor flow and pressure in the pipe network and respond to any abnormal changes. These systems are very responsive and can detect even the smallest leak. Some models have an automatic regular valve opening and closing operation to ensure that the valve always remains free and operational. When left un-operated for long periods, valves have a tendency to become stiff and unresponsive.

Many systems have wireless controls that link to a display panel located in a suitable position in the property. From this panel, the householder can monitor the system to check its operational status. The householder can also select various operating modes to inform the leak sensor that the occupants are away from the property or to temporarily disable the system. Some models can send a status message to absent occupants via a broadband connection.

Perhaps the simplest automatic shut off system is one that can also be installed into the mains water inlet pipe on the household side of the stopcock. Although the installation is similar to the active type of leakage detection and cut off system, its method of operation is slightly different. It is simply an electronically controlled shut off valve that is operated remotely by the occupants when they leave or return to the property. Rather than stooping into a difficult to access area and turning off the mains stopcock, it can be accomplished by the press of a switch.

It can also incorporate a timer to accommodate the functioning of a device like a washing machine, which may be operating when the occupants leave the property. This is a useful and effective device as long as the occupants remember to operate it before leaving the property.

Regardless of whether water leakage alarm systems or sophisticated monitoring and cut off devices are installed, the householder, and the occupants, must familiarise themselves with the location of the property’s main stopcock. A frequent opening and closing of this valve will ensure free operation should a water leak emergency occur.



Water Filtration and Treatment Devices

When it comes to public health issues, improvements in the quality and safety of drinking water have played a significant role in extending life expectancy and reducing infant mortality across the UK population.

However, in recent years concerns about chemical residues from agricultural and medicinal applications, and pollutants in general entering the water supply have gained momentum. Bottled water sales have increased and a vast array of domestic water filtration and treatment appliances have come onto the market. Some filtration devices have become quite sophisticated using processes such as reverse osmosis to try to improve the taste and quality of the domestic water supply.

Not that water filtration is a new process. It has been used extensively in industrial situations for many years where clinical water purity has been necessary for various chemical processes to occur. However, attaining such water purity does not improve drinking quality. It can remove most of the essential dissolved minerals that are necessary for human health.

So, how necessary are many of these filtration and softening appliances, and how justified are the manufacturer’s claims about contaminants, their effect on consumers and water using domestic appliances?

There can be no doubt whatsoever that untreated water supplies are likely to be contaminated with a variety of undesirable and possibly dangerous substances. However, highly efficient water treatment plants and strict monitoring of water quality usually maintains a water supply that should be of no concern to domestic consumers. Chemical residues and other undesirable substances are at levels so insignificant that further filtration is unlikely to reduce traces further.

Evaporation and distillation may reduce possible unwanted substances further, but the cost of doing so would be prohibitive and the resulting distilled water would lack the palatability of fresh, aerated tap water.

Perhaps the two main practical reasons for filtering and softening water supplies are to remove the taste of chlorine and to reduce the levels of hard water minerals, which can accumulate and restrict pipe-work, and which form lime-scale when heated. Lime-scale formation in boilers and other water using appliances can seriously reduce their operating life.

Filtration to remove the taste of chlorine is usually performed using activated charcoal filters. These can easily be installed as a device directly into the mains water supply. This will ensure that water entering the home is filtered prior to use. These filtration devices vary in cost and complexity, however regular filter changes are required to maintain effective operation and prevent bacterial colonies forming on old clogged up filters.

Portable filtration devices are also available where the householder fills a filter jug as required. These devices certainly neutralise the chlorine taste. However, the same effect can be achieved by cooling unfiltered tap water in the refrigerator.

Water softening devices are designed to remove minerals from water supplies and are particularly suitable for installation in areas of the UK that have a hard water supply.

Hard water is of no concern in regards toxicity or human health. On the contrary, the extra mineral content is beneficial. However hard water can cause problems for people with certain skin complaints. Soaps and detergents are also affected by hard water. When used with hard water, they are reluctant to form lathers and are prone to leaving scum marks on clothing and around sink and bath surfaces.

High mineral content can cause problems when it collects as deposits in pipe-work causing restriction to flow. Lime-scale formation in hot water systems can cause serious problems for boilers and other hot water using appliances. Encrustations of lime-scale on boiler heat exchangers and on electric kettle and water cistern heating elements can reduce operating efficiency, increase operating costs and seriously reduce the working life of appliances.

Fitting a water softener to the mains supply at a point where it services boilers and the domestic hot water supply can be very effective at reducing mineral content.

The majority of water softeners on the market work by a process known as ion exchange. Calcium and magnesium ions in hard water are exchanged for sodium ions attached to a resin bead medium. This produces a soft water caused by the reduction in magnesium and calcium ions. However, due to the process, the soft water becomes high in sodium.  It is necessary to regenerate the resin beads regularly to facilitate efficient ion exchange. This is done by washing the resin beads with a salt solution. Waste from this washing process is disposed of into the drain. Some appliances do this automatically as a programmed cycle. The householder simply supplies a regular addition of salt. The type of salt to be used will be specified in the appliance operator’s manual.  Common table salt is not suitable.

Because there are no moving parts, very little additional maintenance procedures are required with these appliances.

High levels of sodium can cause problems for adults with heart and circulatory problems and those on a low salt diet. It can also cause serious harm to babies who are bottle fed with breast milk replacement feeds. These feeds contain the daily-recommended dose of sodium for babies. Additional salt can be harmful.

It is essential that water softeners are installed in such a manner that will ensure a supply of un-softened mains cold water is available through cold-water taps for drinking and cooking.

Alternatively, the effects of hard water and lime-scale formation in boilers and water heating appliances can be controlled by the introduction of scale inhibitors in central heating systems and the use of specialised detergents and lime-scale cleaning chemicals in other hot water using devices. Steel coils placed in kettles protect heating elements from lime-scale formation.

If it is the householder’s preference to fit water filtration and water softening devices, the installation is usually quite straightforward and can be easily accomplished by a DIY enthusiast. However, the manufacturer’s installation instructions should be followed to the letter. It is important to ensure that check-valves are fitted and that installations comply with the relevant legislation under the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999.

It is always advisable to seek the advice of your water provider prior to installing water filtration and softening devices. They can often advise whether such devices are necessary and provide water sampling and analysis to confirm residue levels.

When buying water treatment devices and appliances never purchase from door to door salespeople. Always purchase from a reputable source.

At the end of the day, the installation of water filtration and softening appliances is a matter of personal choice. There are many good appliances on the market and the householder should choose carefully to ensure that the appliance will meet with expectations.


Alternatives to Copper Pipe for Central Heating Installations

A few weeks ago, when I was considering installing a wet central heating system in a property I had bought to let, I asked our local plumber to quote a price. Once I had recovered from the shock, I asked him whether such a vast amount of expensive copper piping was actually necessary. Was there not an alternative?

“Copper’s proper” was his affronted response.

This quite naturally got me thinking about the alternatives to using copper in such circumstances. I was quite aware that such products existed and were often used, although my direct experience had been limited to the use of UPVC plastics for wastewater disposal.

I had also once taken a camping holiday with the family where the site water supply was routed to stand pipes through black alkathene tubing. I can distinctly remember the unpleasant after taste associated with not allowing the water to run for an appreciable time before collecting it.

In the past, plastics and their derivatives have come under much scrutiny, particularly where contact with them via food and drink has raised doubts about their safety.  Phthalates and other toxic components in PVC type products are known to migrate into materials that come into contact with them. Fears about the carcinogenic nature of the chemicals required for the manufacture of such plastics have raised doubts about their safety and the long term effects of the products on the environment has become a sensitive issue.

But potable water for drinking is a different consideration to that of wet central heating fluids and although I can understand that certain plastics may under some conditions release toxic materials into the atmosphere, I am sure that there must be alternatives to copper that are suitable for domestic heating use.

PVC, I discovered, is not suitable for use with hot water so that has to be ruled out.

Galvanised pipe, a zinc coated steel or iron pipe, requires so much cutting and threading that combined with its price, the cost of labour for installation could make it more expensive than copper.

CPVC can withstand temperatures up to 180 degrees and can accommodate push fittings like Sharkbite, making installation a straightforward procedure; however, the use of glues and solvents for some joint fittings tends to ring alarm bells for me in respect of long-term resistance to leaking.

Where CPVC pipe-work has required jointing with solvents and glues, the long-term effectiveness of the joints has become compromised by changes in the molecular structure of the bonding materials. Expansion and contraction of these types of pipe can weaken joint bonds, as can vibration where pipes have not been sufficiently supported.

Some plastic type piping introduced in the past, has been found to develop problems with degradation through exposure to sunlight UV and chemical pollutants in the air. Both rigid and flexible plastic pipes have developed a tendency to become brittle.

There are some plumbers using HEP20 barrier pipe for central heating installations. This type of plastic pipe incorporates a barrier that prevents air from penetrating through the wall of the pipe and entering the water system. This helps to reduce the effect of corrosion upon metal components within the system.  The barrier also acts as a good insulator, preventing heat loss between boiler and radiator. This type of pipe is cheaper than copper, is easy to cut and fit and when installed correctly is quite durable.

XIPEI or PEX as it is generally called is a versatile product often used in domestic plumbing installations. Its acronym stands for Cross-Linked High-Density Polyethylene. The product has been around since the 1970s but is becoming the material of choice in new homes. PEX does not require any glues and solvents, but does require dedicated fittings and special tools for making secure, watertight joints. The material is flexible for ease of installation and can be gently manipulated under floorboards and around corners. Bearing in mind that copper must be used for at least the first meter of piping leaving and returning to the boiler, PEX can be used for pipe lengths that are hidden from sight, coupling to copper or steel fittings above floorboards etc.

The material can be purchased on reels for cutting to required lengths. It is also available in colours suitable for colour coding, which is ideal for differentiating between hot and cold water supplies.

PEX is lightweight and durable, but requires adequate support when fitted. It is also a stable material and can withstand a variety of environmental conditions that could prove problematic for other materials, including copper. As a result, PEX material carries a long guarantee against defects.

Because a number of companies produce products made of PEX, it can be found that fittings and components vary. It is important to ensure that fittings are compatible especially when joining the material.

So. There are materials that can replace copper for central heating installations.

The main problem with copper is the volatile metals markets that can see prices fluctuate alarmingly. Currently copper and other metal prices are high. This volatility makes copper unattractive to some plumbers due to the reduced profit margins that can occur. Plastics, on the other hand are relatively cheap and price-stable making them attractive to plumbers. The speed and efficiency with which they can be installed reduces the cost of installation for plumbers, but not necessarily for the customer.

There can be no doubt that where plumbing has to be visible, copper carries a particularly aesthetic quality that can never be replaced by functional plastic. It is also fair to say that most plumbers will view copper as being the material of quality and artisanship.

Plastics are ideal for DIY where plumbing skills are perhaps limited, but as with all plumbing, ease and efficiency are not necessarily the essence of reliable and durable installations.

However, because I am aware that a copper installation will reflect on the desirability of my buy to let property should I come to sell it, and that my buildings insurance company does not take a positive view when it comes to alternative heating plumbing materials, “copper” certainly seems “proper.”

Weather Compensators

The introduction of gas fired condensing boilers marked a great step forward in significantly reducing domestic gas consumption and improving energy efficiency. The corresponding savings in domestic energy costs has helped to stimulate an increasing awareness of environmental issues, and a growing industry is developing to provide practical solutions to maximise efficiency.

Gas can longer be perceived as an infinite commodity. The need to prolong the availability of fossil fuels in a world of growing demand is quite evident. Such demand and scarcity have created record global prices and forced governments to look closely at their energy supply and security issues.

Home-owners continue to look for devices that can further improve the energy usage and efficiency measures already installed within their own homes.

Where a condensing boiler has been installed, the fitting of a weather compensator can modify the central heating operation to ensure that the benefit obtained from the condensation of flue gases is maximised.

A weather compensator can also improve comfort levels within the home.

Most condensing boilers are able to utilise the weather compensating technology. Some have it fitted as a standard built in part of the boiler construction and complimented by an external sensor.

Weather compensating devices are small, sensing units that are fitted externally, ideally to a north or north-west facing wall. This position is to prevent solar gain from the sun’s east-west and southerly direction affecting the unit’s operation. The weather compensator is wired up to the boiler’s internal controls.

Weather compensators work by monitoring the external temperature. They are in constant communication with the boiler and relay information about the current weather conditions to it.

By monitoring the external temperature, the weather compensator is predicting how the external temperature will affect the internal temperature of the property.

Heat generated by the boiler and distributed through the central heating system gradually dissipates through the walls, windows and roof into the atmosphere. Good quality insulation and draft exclusion measures can reduce the rate at which this heat loss takes place. However, it is this gradual heat loss that necessitates the need for the boiler.

When a drop in room temperature is sensed by the room thermostat or radiator TRV’s, these devices instruct the boiler to operate. However, the boiler’s response is to operate at full capacity until the room temperature rises sufficiently to cause the thermostatic devices to operate again. When the boiler receives the thermostat’s signal that the room’s pre-set temperature has been reached, it turns itself off.

Although this process is very efficient, for a condensing boiler the operation is not as efficient as it could be.

This is because the boiler is responding solely to the internal room temperature. The boiler has to supply hot water until instructed by the thermostat to stop, often operating to give more frequent, short bursts of heat than necessary and overshooting in its attempt to play catch-up when trying to maintain a steady room temperature.

However, the internal room temperature is affected by external environmental conditions. When the weather outside turns cold, the heat loss through the walls is greater. When the walls and other external surfaces are cold, heat dissipates through them much faster.

Conversely, when the external temperature is mild or warm, heat within the property is retained for longer.

In order for a condensing boiler to operate effectively, hot water returning through the central heating system must be below 57 degrees centigrade to allow flue gases to condense efficiently. Efficient condensation allows the latent heat contained within the flue gases to be collected and conserved within the system, rather than being lost.

Hot bursts of energy as a response to thermostatic commands often results in central heating fluid return temperatures too high to allow an effective condensation process to take place.

Weather compensators act as a prediction device warning the boiler that either a falling or a rising temperature will affect the building’s capacity to maintain a predetermined internal temperature.

When the weather starts to turn cold, the weather compensator communicates the rate of lowering temperature through its constant communication with the boiler.

Being, as it were, forewarned, the boiler starts to operate at a lower temperature, earlier than it would by thermostatic control alone. This has the effect of compensating for the slow dissipation of heat from the building.

Conversely, in milder temperatures, the boiler will turn itself off or run at a much lower temperature in response to warmer external temperatures long before the internal thermostats register the drop in heat requirement.

This process causes the boiler to operate at lower temperatures and helps to ensure that the returning central heating fluid is at a temperature below 57 degrees centigrade more frequently than would otherwise be the case. This helps to maximise the condensation heat exchange process.

Although a weather compensator can make boiler operation very efficient, householders may take some time to adjust to the situation of having cool radiators during freezing weather. Most people associate cold weather with having radiators that are too hot to touch. However, the objective of using weather-compensating equipment is to maintain a comfortable and stable internal room temperature.

Hot spots caused by very hot radiators are eliminated, as are sudden peaks and troughs in energy demand.

The weather compensator helps to maintain a steady constant room temperature rather than allowing the boiler and thermostats to continually function by responding to variations in room temperature.

However, getting used to cooler radiators that maintain a good steady room temperature may only be of long-term concern to households who have become accustomed to drying their washing on super-heated radiators.

In the long term, people who fit weather compensators report an improvement in the maintenance of comfort levels within the building and a more than welcome reduction in energy usage and the subsequent cost.

Weather compensators are relatively cheap to fit and once installed and pre-set to user requirements require little or no maintenance. They should be left to work without any consumer interference, other than the operation of an over-ride facility should the need ever arise.

Before investing in the purchase and installation of a weather compensator, the homeowner should consult the boiler user manual for particular specifications. Not all homes will get the full benefits from the installation of a weather compensator.

Cutting Water Consumption

We pay for our domestic water three times. Firstly, we purchase it. Secondly, we pay to heat it and thirdly, we pay to have our wastewater taken away.

Thanks to an ever increasing array of water using appliances and our exceptional health, hygiene and cleanliness status, we now use 70% more water than we did 40 years ago. Our consumption currently averages out at 150 litres per household occupant per day.

Moreover, running in tandem with excessive water consumption is the cost of heating a large quantity of water for domestic use. On average, 30% of the domestic fuel bill is represented in the cost of heating water for cooking, washing, bathing and showering, and of course satisfying the households’ constant demand for cups of tea and coffee.

Of course, water itself is not cheap. Consumers saw an average increase of 2% in their water bills for 2014-2015, with ranges between 1% and 8% across different providers.

Saving water can cut household expenses all round. Any issue that focuses the household attention on using resources wisely and economically will transfer to other areas where consumption and costs can be dramatically reduced.

So what can be done to cut water consumption and related bills?

If you do not have one already, installing a water meter might be a feasible option. Un-metered households have their water and sewage charges based upon the old rateable value of the property. This takes no account of actual consumption.

Metered homes pay for the amount of water entering the property. The meter also calculates the amount of wastewater produced. This produces the charge for water on the bill. Metered householders tend to use 13% less water than those without a meter.

All new homes built after 1990 will usually have a meter installed as a matter of course. However, if your water consumption is higher than average, you might regret having a meter installed.

It is worth doing a little homework to see whether installing a water meter is the best option. The Consumer Council for Water has a website with a water usage calculator which can help to establish whether a water meter would provide financial savings. However, as a rule of thumb, if you have more bedrooms in a property than people, you will probably benefit from installing a water meter. For some water frugal households, switching to a meter can save over a hundred pounds a year.

It is possible to have a water meter fitted on trial for a year, or for two metered bills, whichever is the sooner. If you are not happy with the water meter, you can then have it removed for free and revert to your old rateable assessment.

It is not possible to have an existing water meter removed from a property that you purchase. Installing a water meter may affect the re-sale value of a property by creating a disincentive to a high water consumption family.

When receiving water bills calculated from meter readings, always check that the billing number and meter number correspond. Monitor bills for any irregularities that could indicate incorrect metering or underground water leaks.

Although installing a meter may help to reduce water costs, careful utilisation of hot water using appliances will also cut energy bills.

Opting for a shower instead of a bath can reduce hot water consumption if the shower is not a power shower. The length of time spent in the shower should also be monitored, as should the frequency. Used wisely, a shower can halve the amount of hot water used when compared to a bath. Fitting a timer in the shower can also focus attention on the time spent showering. This can be a sophisticated alarm type apparatus or a simple waterproof egg timer. Where possible, and if the shower type will allow, turning off the shower whilst lathering and scrubbing will also save hot water. This may not be a practical option with an electric shower.

Traditional shower-heads can deliver over 10 litres of hot water per minute. Fitting a water reducing showerhead can save money by delivering half the quantity of hot water with little loss in performance. These showerheads often deliver an aerated spray, which is just as effective and perhaps more invigorating.

Some people prefer to brush their teeth using hot water from a running tap. This is quite wasteful and should be avoided. Brushing teeth and then rinsing with cold water will save money. Do not forget to turn off the tap in-between brushing and rinsing.

Filling washing machines and dishwashers to capacity before using will reduce water and energy consumption.

Washing up pots and pans in a bowl rather than rinsing them under a hot tap will save a considerable amount of hot water. As will fitting a water restrictor on taps. A foot operated tap is also worth considering. With such a tap, water will only flow whilst the tap is being operated by the operator’s foot. This is ideal when washing articles in the kitchen sink. Two hands are never enough when one is needed to operate the tap.

Fixing dripping taps by replacing washers or tightening fittings will save much water.

When cooking, only the minimum amount of water should be used in pans. Lids on pans are a must. Steaming or microwaving vegetables and certain other suitable foods will save water and energy.  When boiling a kettle only heat the required amount. Premark the kettle with the water level for one and for two cups on the water level display panel using a permanent ink pen.

Other water saving measures include installing a Hippo device in a toilet cistern to reduce flow during flushing. Alternatively, use a good-sized brick.  A conventional toilet cistern uses up to 40 litres of clean fresh drinking water for each flush.

Recycle grey water from baths and showers for use in the garden or even for toilet flushing.

Wash and prepare vegetables in a bowl rather than rinsing them under a flowing tap. Recycle the dirty water as a feed for garden plants.

Collect rainwater as an alternative to using a hosepipe for garden plant watering and for car washing.

Reducing water consumption will reduce household costs. It will also help to reduce the risk of water shortages that seem to have become a feature of long, hot summers. The costs associated with cleaning water, pumping water supplies and treating sewage are also reduced.

The careful and considered use of resources also reduces the environmental impact of human activity on a global scale.

Water, Gas and Electrical Emergencies and How to Avoid Them

Water, gas and electricity are the three domestic services we most rely on. Each has an important function within our homes and together they ensure that the appliances that use them can function correctly. Imagine trying to heat a house, cook a meal or have a hot shower without a combination of those services.

Each works in a regulated and contained way to satisfy our requirements, but when given the opportunity, they can unleash forces that can be spectacularly destructive.

Even the most robust of preventative safeguards can succumb to failure. Despite strict legislation, shortcomings on installation or the maintenance of systems and appliances can leave them, and households, vulnerable to malfunctions that can be costly to repair.

Although most services emergencies that occur do so unexpectedly, with the benefit of hindsight it is often found that they might well have been predicted and prevented.

When emergencies do strike, panic can ensue and common sense can disappear, along with the homeowner’s property and money. A great deal of damage can be prevented by simply turning off a service supply at its mains connection when things first go wrong. To that end, all members of a household should acquaint themselves with the location the mains cut off devices or valves for each service.

Mains water has two main valves to cut off the domestic supply. The most easily accessible will be the stopcock on the domestic rising main. This is usually located at, or near to the point where the rising main enters the property. It can often be found under the kitchen sink.

To cut off the water supply in the event of a burst pipe, or the inability to contain domestic water, this stopcock should be closed immediately.

The other mains stopcock will usually be on the boundary to the property. This is the valve of last resort, often because it can be difficult to locate and operate.

Cutting off the water supply will give the home occupants time to consider how to deal with the situation. In many cases, after a little thought, the offending section of pipe work or appliance can be isolated by an inline valve, and the mains water can be restored. The damaged appliance or accessory can often be mended as a DIY task, or by employing the services of a general plumber. Panicking and calling out an emergency plumber can be a very expensive exercise.

For electrical malfunctions, the main cut off switch will be located with the meter, fuse boxes, RCD’s and other main electrical junctions. These are usually housed in a wall cupboard or under the stairs.

In an electrical emergency, the mains power switch must be turned off immediately.

Electrical emergencies can take many forms, from simply noticing the acrid smell of burning conduit to responding to a person receiving an electrical shock. Most homes are fitted with RCD’s that cut the electrical supply immediately an electrical fault is detected. Never directly touch a person undergoing an electric shock. If the current is still flowing, turn off the mains supply first to ensure your own safety.

If an RCD keeps tripping, it is possible to detect which appliance is malfunctioning by first turning off all appliances. Then go around the house turning on each appliance individually. Eventually turning on the affected appliance will trip the RCD. This appliance can then be disconnected allowing other appliances to be used. Some appliances have their own, dedicated RCD.

If an electrical appliance is on fire, do not attempt to deal with it until the main domestic switch has been turned off. Never throw water onto a burning electrical appliance whilst it is connected to the main electric supply. It is a good idea to keep a suitable fire extinguisher for domestic purposes. The local Fire Brigade will provide free advice about such matters, including the fitting of smoke and CO detectors.

Of all the services provided into a home, gas is probably the safest when properly installed and maintained. However, if the distinctive smell of gas is ever detected the gas supply should be immediately turned off at the main valve, usually located near the meter at a point where the gas supply enters the property. The valve is generally a lever type often attached to a yellow pipe and in many cases clearly labelled. The gas is flowing when the lever is in line with the main pipe. The gas flow is turned off when the lever is at a right angle to the main pipe. Windows should be opened to vent any remaining gas and no ignition sources or electrical appliance operated. The house occupants must immediately call the gas emergency number 0800 111 999 to report the matter and obtain further advice.  Under no circumstances should the householders attempt to deal with the situation themselves.

For any indication of the malfunction of a gas-burning appliance, particularly the activation of a CO detection alarm, the appliances must be turned off and the property ventilated. Property occupants should leave the property and seek medical advice. The gas appliances must not be used until they have been checked over by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

Of course, many emergencies can be prevented by carrying out routine maintenance on appliances to ensure that they are in good working order. No appliance should ever be used for a purpose other than what it was designed and intended for. Gas appliances should be professionally installed and maintained by Gas Safe registered engineers. Electrical points must never be overloaded and all appliances must comply with EU standards and regulations. Electrical installations must be carried out by competent engineers. Water supplies must be correctly installed and insulated against frost. All services must be installed to comply with any relevant legislation in place at the time and the relevant authorities informed as required.

Jobs done on the cheap or by workers without credible references and competency checks should be completely avoided. Gas Safe registered engineers can be checked on the Gas Safe Register online. Other trades have similar associations or registers of competent engineers.

Although warranties may provide some piece of mind, extra maintenance cover may be suitable for some homeowners. However, having adequate home insurance with cover that reflects the requirements of the homeowner, rather than minimising the risk to the insurer, is an absolute essential. Too often homeowners neglect to read the exclusions buried away in the policy small print and find themselves with cover that can at best be described as minimal.

When domestic emergencies occur with water, gas and electrical services, the ability to respond quickly with the confidence of knowing how to cut off the supply and deal with the problem constructively will save considerable time and money.  Reducing the likelihood of emergencies occurring in the first place will do much to maintain the householder’s safety.


Drain Cock Not Working or Blocked


You have planned to drain the central heating system. You have turned off the boiler and water supply. The system has cooled down. You have released pressure, particularly if the system is pressurised. You have opened radiator bleed valves. You have located the central heating system drain cock and attached a hosepipe to it to facilitate drainage. You have even secured the hosepipe with a jubilee clip as an added precaution. What could go wrong?

You try to turn the drain cock spindle with an adjustable spanner. But it will not move.

So what can you do?

Well, depending on the time of year and the location of the drain cock there could be a possibility that it is frozen. Central heating drain cocks are often located outside for a variety of reasons; one being that central heating fluid can permanently stain any material it comes into contact with. Installing a drain cock outside the house prevents that problem, but without adequate insulation renders it liable to freezing, and even splitting in severe frosts. A frozen drain cock can be freed by applying a heat source.

All drain cocks are prone to seizing due to infrequency of operation.

If the drain cock is located internally, the application of a releasing fluid, such as WD40 could free a seized mechanism. It may take a few minutes for the fluid to penetrate sufficiently to be effective. Take care when trying to turn a stubborn spindle, it can snap off.

Another big danger in trying to turn a seized drain cock spindle with grips, or an unsuitable spanner, is the sheering away of the square spindle top. Often drain cocks are situated in areas where there is little room to manoeuvre spanners and grips. Once sheered, the drain cock becomes almost impossible to operate compounding the problem. It is possible to purchase a dedicated tool, which is ideal for opening and closing drain cocks in awkward places.

Sometimes a drain cock spindle will appear to turn freely, but no central heating fluid flows out of the system. Assuming that radiator bleed valves are open and that no internal vacuum is preventing fluid from flowing, it is probable that the drain cock is blocked. This can be caused by a build up of sludge blocking the drain cock, or the detachment of the drain cock washer from the spindle. Occasionally, the washer can adhere to its seating in the valve, particularly if it has been over-tightened and can detach from the spindle when it is operated.

It is not unheard of for an incompetent plumber to melt the washer, sealing it in the closed position when soldering a new drain cock onto pipe-work. Of course, this only comes to light at a later date when it becomes necessary to operate the drain cock.

Where sediment is suspected of causing a restriction to flow through a drain cock, it may be possible to clear the blockage by delivering a reverse flow of water into the system through the hosepipe attached to a mains supply and onto the drain cock. This should be done in short bursts, removing the hosepipe from the mains tap each time to check whether flow has started.

Where a detached washer is suspected, it is possible to insert a screwdriver into the drain cock outlet and attempt to dislodge the washer. Of course, precautions must be taken to accommodate a sudden flow of central heating fluid, which will occur once the washer is dislodged. Plenty of towels and absorbent material will soak up fluid spillage whilst a hosepipe is hurriedly attached to the drain cock spout.

Naturally, the system cannot be refilled until a new washer is fitted or the old drain cock is removed and a new one fitted. Fitting a new washer is a simple task as long as a suitable replacement is sourced. Stripping down the drain cock is a simple procedure. A new washer can be pushed onto the jumper and the body re-assembled. Always take the old washer along to suppliers to get an identical match. Washers should be replaced after several years to prevent fluid dripping due to deterioration.

Where there is a sufficient leg of pipe-work leading to a seized drain cock, it is possible to drain a central heating system by installing a temporary self-cutting drain off tap or a self cutting washing machine valve. However, it would be best to remove these and fit a new piece of pipe with a functioning drain cock prior to re-filling the system.

Where no drain cock can be found, it is possible to drain a central heating system by finding the lowest and smallest radiator in the system. Find the plug usually located at the top of the radiator. Turn off the wheel head and lock shield valves. It is then possible to remove the plug and by inserting a half-inch fitting, attach a hosepipe to the end of it. Opening the wheel head and lock shield valves will allow most of the central heating fluid to be drained. The remaining fluid can be drained by detaching the radiator at the bottom return flow and catching the fluid in a suitably sized container. Where possible this method should be avoided and only used as a last resort due to the inevitable large quantity of central heating fluid spillage.

Many problems with drain cock operation can be prevented by frequent operation and adequate insulation against frost. This applies to drain cocks fitted to any domestic system. Never over tighten a drain cock.