Water Damage Due to Plumbing Issues

Water damage as a result of freak weather conditions can be very difficult to predict and prevent. Heavy rain and the resulting flooding can catch out even the best prepared, causing considerable damage and disruption to homes and businesses alike. The resources required to prevent flooding caused by natural events are mostly beyond the reach of individual homeowners and businesses.

Domestic plumbing failures can be equally catastrophic, causing misery and financial problems for the households in which they occur. Water can be particularly destructive. Water damaged goods and appliances can rarely be saved and must be discarded and replaced. Personal belongings with sentimental and irreplaceable significance can be lost forever.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome after severe water damage is trying to dry out the water soaked building fabric. Air is essential in the drying out process. Where the air is absent or drying takes too long, microbial action produces unpleasant odours, which are very difficult to get rid of. Waterlogged carpets and water seepage under lino or wood laminate floorings make them particularly susceptible to such deterioration. Walls and plaster will also crumble and boarding will warp and distort. Severe water damage requires professional attention.

Apart from natural causes, water damage can be caused by burst pipes and leaks from appliances. These leaks usually occur as a result of poor workmanship, accidental damage or just normal, but un-noticed, wear and tear.

When a leak occurs, the severity of the damage is often compounded by a lack of awareness by householders of the location of the mains stopcock and how to use it. Around fifteen litres of water per minute will gush from a severed mains pipe. Any delay in closing off the water supply can be disastrous.

Washing machine hoses are high on the list of failures resulting in insurance claims for water damage. Although the hoses are designed to last around ten years, they should be frequently inspected for signs of deterioration. Any visible cracks or hardening of the rubber should cause concern and the hoses should be replaced. Some washing machine manufacturers advise replacing hoses every two years. Many homeowners turn off the isolation valves supplying water to the hose connections between each use of the washing machine as an added precaution. However, this may not always be practical and is dependent on ease of access.

Dishwasher hoses and draining pipes require similar inspection, as do the door seals around both appliances.

Old pipes, particularly galvanised ones, corrode over time. Galvanised pipes were used widely up until the 1970′s but are rarely used in domestic property now. They have an expected working lifespan of about thirty years, so if your property still has them it might be a good idea to replace them before problems occur.

Accidental damage frequently happens to pipe work, particularly when it is concealed within walls and beneath floorboards. It is very easy to inadvertently puncture a pipe when hammering a nail into a wall or wooden floor. Occasionally the punctured pipe can go unnoticed for some time, slowly leaking water into its surroundings and causing considerable unseen damage.

Water damage caused by poor plumbing practices and incompetent workmanship is often associated with DIY enthusiasts and their over ambitious projects. When attempting any plumbing work it is essential to familiarise yourself with the procedures and to ensure that all the necessary parts and tools are available. Failure to shut off the water supply prior to starting work is a big cause of water damage. Never cut corners or attempt to modify pipes and fittings beyond their original purpose. If in doubt, get a professional plumber in to do the work.

However, what might appear to be a professional plumber may not turn out to be one. Although it is a good idea to consider a plumber recommended by relatives and friends through word of mouth, never take on a plumbing engineer at face value. Always thoroughly check the credentials of a plumber. Ideally, they should belong to a recognised trade body, such as The Association of Plumbers and Heating Contractors. Being a member of such a body can give added protection should the plumber’s work be called into question. Do background checks on the plumber to establish the authenticity of the business and the length of time the business has been trading.

Remember to ensure that the plumber has adequate Public Liability Insurance. Insist on seeing proof of it prior to engaging their services. Remember that in the absence of suitable insurance, you are vicariously liable for third party damage if things go wrong. Having to claim for damage on your own contents insurance can cause future premiums to rise considerably.

Getting a written contract reflecting the work requirements and timescale for completion is essential. The contract should also clearly state all terms and conditions. Do ensure that the terms and conditions do not contain any unfavourable clauses. It may seem a little over precautionary, but if things do go wrong and subsequent water damage occurs to your property, a written contract will be more secure than a verbal one when seeking compensation. In dealing with a plumber, or any tradesperson, what might have been said cannot be verified. When it is written in black and white and signed by both parties, unless the wording is ambiguous, the contract is binding.

A good plumber will always produce workmanship to the satisfaction of a client. If things go wrong, first take the matter up with the plumbing engineers and give them a chance to rectify the situation. Where damage has occurred, their insurance will cover the cost of putting right the damage.

Always take photographs or videos of work in progress, damage or any evident faulty or questionable plumbing practices. These will be of great importance should you ever need to pursue a rogue tradesman through the small claims court.

Remember that if a plumbing and heating contractor is engaged to carry out gas work on a gas appliance, they must be registered with Gas Safe and competent to undertake the particular work. Always check that the ID card and photo match the engineer.

Water damage caused by plumbing issues may not be entirely preventable, but can be minimised by taking adequate precautions. There are devices that will produce an audible alarm if leaking water is detected. Some of these are simply strips of water sensitive electronics, which are often self-contained and simple to install. Other more sophisticated devices can be installed inline on the water pipe and will detect abnormal or extended water flow patterns. They then activate to turn off the water, limiting damage.

No householder likes to have to deal with water damage caused by plumbing issues. With a little forethought, the chances of such issues occurring are substantially reduced. Knowing how to deal with them if they should occur will help to make the procedure a little less disheartening.


How to Repair the Main Stopcock

The house stopcock, or shut off valve, controls the mains flow of cold potable water into the property. It is commonly located under the kitchen sink although it may also be installed near a front door, in a cupboard, or even under a floorboard. It would be uncommon to find more than one stopcock controlling the mains water supply into an individual property.

Most stopcocks have to be manually operated, although there are now some being installed that are electronically operated. Electronically controlled stopcocks require specialist maintenance and should not be serviced by the householder.

It is most important that the householders are able to locate, identify and operate the manual stopcock. This is because it is the most practical way of closing off the pressurised mains water supply into the property. This would need to be carried out quickly in the event of a water leak or burst pipe within the property. It might also need to be operated to facilitate water appliance repairs or installations.

Perhaps the biggest problem that occurs with mains water supply stopcocks is the inability to turn them off. This is due to infrequent use. Without a frequent operation, the internal mechanism becomes affected by mineral particles and substances produced by the effects of metal corrosion. These adhere to the surfaces of the moving parts. Over time, this causes the washer and jumper mechanism to seize up. The crutch head becomes very difficult, if not impossible to turn. In the panic of a plumbing emergency, it is not uncommon for a householder to apply excessive force to the crutch head of a seized stopcock. Unfortunately, this can result in the crutch head shearing off from the spindle, leaving the valve in the open position.

It is also important to ensure that the operative knows which direction of turn opens and closes the stopcock. It is not unusual to find a householder has sheared off the crutch head by applying excessive force in the wrong direction.

Anti-clockwise opens. Clockwise closes.

To prevent problems occurring with a stopcock, it is a good idea to turn it on and off regularly. This will help to prevent a build up of material and ensure that the mechanism operates freely. It is also a good idea to turn a freely operating stopcock fully on, and then give it a half turn clockwise and leave it at that position. This will provide a little extra play on the device should it become stiff to operate in the future.

To free a seized or difficult to operate stopcock, spray a little penetrating and lubricating oil onto the spindle and gland nut, and then leave it to seep into the mechanism. This should solve the problem. If that does not work, slacken the gland nut and apply the spray again. If the stopcock still refuses to operate, a small amount of force can be applied to the crutch head using a wrench.

Occasionally, applying a carefully directed blowtorch flame to the gland nut will provide just enough metal expansion to free the seized mechanism. It is a wise precaution to clean away any surplus penetrating oil before doing so.

If all attempts to free a seized stopcock fail, the water supply can be turned off at the water supplier’s main valve. This will usually be located outside the homeowner’s boundary. It may be on the pavement under a small iron cover marked SVS, or it may have the water suppliers identifying mark. Sometimes this valve is a normal stopcock, but more often than not it is a spindle headed valve that requires a specific tool to operate it. This can be obtained from tool hire firms.

Alternatively, the water supplier will attend to operate the device. This mains stopcock is the property of the water supplier and its maintenance and operation are technically their responsibility.

On some networks, turning off the water supplier’s mains water valve will affect other residents. They should be forewarned about any interruption to their supplies.

Turning off the water supplier’s mains supply valve will facilitate the repair or replacement of the domestic water stopcock. It is quite feasible for a competent DIY enthusiast to strip down and service a mains stopcock or to remove and install a new one. However, the location of the stopcock may make access and work on it difficult due to restricted working space.

When removing and replacing a domestic mains stopcock, there will be a significant amount of water and pressure remaining in the system when the supplier’s valve has been turned off. This pressure can be released by turning on the domestic cold-water tap. Unless a drain valve has been installed close to the stopcock, a suitable receptacle will be required to collect any surplus water draining from the pipe above the stopcock.

On other occasions, a householder may become aware of a slow leak from a stopcock. Left unattended, a small leak can cause substantial damage to the fabric of a property. The most usual causes are leaking compression nuts or deterioration of the gland packing material.

Leaks from the compression nuts can be addressed by gently tightening the nuts. Care should be taken to not over-tighten compression nuts, as this will interfere with the correct operation of the stopcock. The stopcock should be held firmly with a set of grips whilst tightening the compression nuts to prevent fracturing the attached pipe-work.

Leaks from the gland head can be rectified by trying to tighten the gland nut. If that fails to stop the leak, removing the crutch and unscrewing the gland will allow the householder to clean away any detritus and old packing material. It is not necessary to turn off the water supplier’s main valve to accomplish this task. PTFE tape can then be gently wound around the exposed area of the spindle and prodded down into the gland area with a screwdriver. The gland nut and spindle can then be re-attached.

In general, the regular inspection and operation of the domestic mains stopcock will ensure problems do not occur, or only become apparent in an emergency.

Because of the substantial damage that can be caused by unmanageable releases of water under mains pressure and the subsequent insurance implications, if there is any doubt over issues relating to competency, professional assistance should be sought in relation to stopcock operating issues.

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, 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.


What To Do If You Think You Have A Gas Leak

If you are certain, or you have good reason to suspect that, you have a gas leak you should immediately turn off the gas at the domestic mains supply. Householders might wish to make themselves aware of where the property’s mains supply meter and shut-off valve are located to allow them to do so should the need arise.

After turning off the mains gas supply, the windows and doors of the property should be opened to vent the accumulated gas. During this period, it is crucial to avoid using equipment that might produce an ignition spark. You should then contact your energy provider for further advice. They are obliged to attend free of charge.

If you do not know how to turn off the supply, and gas is leaking from a fractured pipe or a damaged appliance which cannot be isolated, you should remove yourself and others from the property and phone 0800 111 999. This is a 24 hr emergency number. Do not operate a mobile or conventional phone from inside your property. Any electrical spark or other forms of ignition may cause an explosion.

Gas, used under the correct procedures and with modern well-maintained appliances is a very safe fuel.

However, natural gas itself and other gases formed because of combustion, incomplete combustion and inadequate ventilation are dangerous and can kill or seriously injure people who are exposed to them.

Natural gas can cause injury and death on its own simply by displacing the air in the property, or by ignition and explosion of concentrations of the gas in the air. A concentration of only five percent is sufficient.

Although natural gas itself is odourless, a distinctive and instantly recognisable sulphurous odour, called mercaptan, is added to the gas to aid its detection and indicate its presence.

Should you ever need to check gas pipe joints or connections for evidence of leaking gas, a mixture of water and detergent sprayed onto the area would indicate leakage by forming bubbles and foam.

A slow and almost unnoticeable natural gas leak can cause illness over time and any unexplained symptoms that only occur whilst residing in the property should be investigated.

Natural gas leakage is not the only gas leakage to be aware of. Carbon monoxide, as a by-product of the combustion process is normally safely vented through a flue into the outside atmosphere. If the flue becomes blocked, this gas can escape back into the property.

The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is odourless. Because of this, the occupants are often not aware of its presence. Although symptoms of nausea, headaches and dizziness are classic, these symptoms can easily be ignored or passed-off as general illness. Carbon monoxide in high concentrations can be lethal in seconds when inhaled and occupants can succumb before they are able to escape from the property. Slow, prolonged exposure can cause irreversible brain damage.

If there is any suggestion of carbon monoxide poisoning, affected occupants should seek urgent medical attention. A blood test will confirm exposure.

Potential problems with gas can be eliminated by professional installation combined with regular service and maintenance procedures. These should be carried out by Gas Safe Registered Engineers. Always ask to see their I.D. card.

If you are a tenant of the property, it is the landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure that gas appliances are maintained appropriately.

Vigilance by the occupier is also a good method of avoiding potential problems. The observation of gas flames on cookers and boilers burning with yellow or orange flames, pilot lights frequently blowing out, brown scorch marks on appliances and unusual amounts of condensation on windows are a good sign that something may not be right and that further investigation is required. Appliances should also be checked for any signs of wear and tear that could impede their efficient operation.

These indicators should not be ignored or passed-off as being due to the age of the appliances. All flames on appliances should be crisp and blue. This is a sign that the required amount of oxygen is available and that combustion is complete.

The fitting of a carbon monoxide alarm is essential. This should carry a recognised Kite Mark or similar EU standard and be marked EN50291.

If the detector is battery operated, its operation should be checked regularly. Some detectors warn by a visual colour change, but it should be noted that most carbon monoxide fatalities occur during sleep. An audio warning is far superior.

It is worth remembering that carbon monoxide is not only a by-product of natural gas combustion. Any combustion of fossil and solid fuel produces poisonous gas by products, including carbon monoxide.

The proper and adequate ventilation of the by-products of combustion through dedicated and regularly serviced flues and vents can prevent most problems occurring.

The use of any energy source incorporates a risk of injury to the user. Being aware of the risks and the measures that can be taken to minimise that risk are important factors in maintaining the safe operation of appliances.


Avoiding Frozen Condensate Pipes

Few people who had a condensing boiler at the time will ever forget the severe winter of 2009/2010. Temperatures dropped to minus twenty degrees centigrade in some areas. That winter revealed a flaw in the generally accepted principle of fitting condensing boiler condensate disposal pipes externally.

An external condensate pipe might have withstood the rigours of that un-typical winter had it been sufficiently insulated. As it was, few condensate pipes were insulated and they subsequently froze.

As a result, condensate could not escape from condensing boilers and backed up into the boiler causing temporary boiler shut down. This resulted in hundreds of calls to boiler manufacturers and heating engineers requesting call-outs to malfunctioning boilers. Good news for heating engineers, but bad news for boiler owners who had to stump up for the cost of the call-out to defrost their condensate pipes.

As a result, and in anticipation of the possibility of further severe winters caused by global warming in the future, installation recommendations for boiler condensate drainage systems were modified.

It is now recommended that, wherever possible, the location and routing of condensate pipes should be internal rather than external.

For home-owners considering the installation of a new condensing boiler, the connection to a suitable internal drainage point is something that can be arranged at the planning stage. The location of a new boiler has to take into account a number of factors including condensate drainage. The convenient connection to services, existing central heating networks, the exit for the flue and the direction of the plume are all major considerations that must be addressed prior to installation.

Where a heating engineer is contracted to install a new condensing boiler, the necessary and suitable connection of the condensate drainage requirements, in line with the boiler manufacture’s recommendations, should be a part of the installation package. The condensate pipe-work must also comply with The Building Regulations, (Drainage and Waste Disposal) requirements. It is important to check with the boiler installer that installation contract covers all the necessary requirements prior to commencing work.

A boiler can produce up to four litres of condensate daily, and this can be directed into a number of internal drainage points. Internal soil and vent stacks, sinks, showers and washing machine drainage pipes are all feasible outlets. However, due to the acidic nature of the condensate, pipes must be of a suitable plastic composition. Condensate typically has a pH of between three and four, making it about as acidic as orange juice. Nevertheless, over time this can corrode metal and any other susceptible material it comes into contact with. Copper pipe-work is particularly vulnerable to the corrosive properties of boiler condensate and should never be used.

All condensate connections to internal drainage points must be in-line with Building Regulations. Gravity fed condensate pipes must comply with minimum fall angles and drain into the nearest possible outlet. Pipe diameters are also a regulated aspect.  The fitting of condensate drains into pipes containing visible air breaks, or traps, or the installation of such devices that create them is an important regulatory condition that must be met. Many boilers incorporate internal traps to prevent flue gases being expelled inappropriately. These will not prevent odours from drainage systems entering the property. The incorporation of condensing pipes into drainage systems at a suitable point does require some sort of trap to be fitted.

When condensate cannot be removed via a gravity fed installation, for example, where a boiler is to be located in a basement and a drainage point is higher than the boiler, dedicated pumps must be installed to facilitate drainage. Installing a condensing boiler without a suitable drainage facility for the condensate will render the boiler unsafe and it should not be operated.

Where condensate is directed into an external drainage point, such as an external stack or a gutter down-pipe connected to the sewage disposal system, the condensate pipe must be insulated at any external points. An air gap must also be maintained.

If it is absolutely impractical to install an internal boiler condensate drainage system, the home-owner must be advised about the problems associated with external condensate drainage pipes. It is not acceptable to fit an external condensate drainage pipe simply out of convenience.

Boilers that work on a siphoning process of condensate drainage are better suited for external condensate drainage. These boilers allow condensate to be expelled in short gushes, rather than continuous drips. This reduces the potential for a gradual build up of ice in freezing conditions and the eventual blocking of the pipe.

The technical requirements for condensate pipe installations are given in BS 6798:2009 and also in the individual boiler manufacturer’s handbook.

For existing boilers with external condensate pipes already in place the situation is a little different. If the boiler is a recent installation and still under warranty, it may be possible to have an external condensate pipe re-routed internally free of charge.

For existing external condensate drainage pipes and ones that have been installed due to practicalities, adequate pipe insulation is essential. No external condensate pipe over three metres should be left unprotected. Insulation must incorporate a waterproof layer to prevent rainwater entering the insulation material and freezing in contact with the pipe. Care should also be taken to ensure that where the drainage connects to an outside drain, an air gap is maintained above the surface level of the drain to prevent the pipe blocking if the drain freezes. Similar consideration should be given to dedicated soak away systems.

It is also possible to purchase electric thermally controlled pipe heating material. This wraps around external pipes and is activated by cold weather. When a minimum external temperature is detected, the material heats up preventing the condensate pipe freezing.

Maintaining boiler operation in freezing external conditions is essential. Boilers that are located in garages or lofts may be particularly susceptible to failure in bad weather if they are not sufficiently protected from frost.

A frozen condensate pipe will prevent a boiler from operating. Although defrosting the condensate pipe will re-activate the boiler, the inconvenience of having to do so can be avoided by careful planning and taking suitable precautions.





Effective Water Pipe Insulation

The loft has been insulated with a thick bed of fibre blanket. The walls are sandwiched with cavity wall insulation. Even the electricity supply is insulated.

Insulation acts as a barrier. It conserves and protects.

Domestic water pipes require insulation for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for installing water pipe insulation is as a protection from frost. Water Regulations require that all external domestic water service pipes and fittings are protected against the possibility of frost damage. This can be achieved by the addition of suitable insulation material and by giving careful consideration to the location and the competent installation of pipe-work.

Although external overflow pipes do not normally require insulation, condensate outlet pipes from condensing boilers certainly do. A frozen condensate pipe may prevent a condensing boiler from operating.

Where the installation of conventional insulation products may be problematic, possibly because of limited space, an alternative product is usually available.  Many plumbers merchants can supply self-regulating trace heating tape. This tape is wrapped around the pipe and automatically senses a drop in temperature. This causes the tape to operate producing a gentle heat, which prevents the pipe from freezing.

Although not an insulation material, it is effective at UK winter temperatures. However, it does require an electricity supply.

Water pipe insulation has a number of uses within the home.

Pipe insulation can reduce the risk of frost damage in winter where a property might be vacant for long periods. It should also be installed on exposed pipe-work that has been located above the insulation layer in a loft.

Exposed water pipes in garages, cellars and in unheated conservatories should also be insulated against frost.

It is worth bearing in mind that insulation does not totally protect pipe-work from frost. It only delays the penetrative qualities of freezing air from affecting the water in the pipe. Depending on the quality and thickness of the insulation layer, and the professionalism of the installation, frost will eventually freeze pipes.

The periodic flow of water through domestic pipe-work will help to prevent ice formation in insulated pipes. However, if the property is to remain unoccupied during the winter months, total drainage of the domestic water system should be considered.

Insulation can also be used within the property to prevent condensation forming on cold water pipes. Cold pipes attract moisture in the air. This condenses on the pipe-work and trickles downwards, where it collects on floorings and carpets causing staining and damp. It can also cause pipe-work corrosion and the formation of undesirable moulds and microbes. When purchasing insulation material to combat condensation on cold water pipes it is important to choose a type with a water vapour barrier coating.

Another important pipe network that will benefit from insulation is the hot water and central heating pipe-work. Where a combi boiler or a hot water storage cylinder is located some distance from the hot water outlets, a substantial amount of heat can be lost. Hot water remaining in pipes after a demand will dissipate heat into their surroundings. When a new demand is initiated, the now cooled water will have to exit the pipe-work before hot water from the source reaches the outlet. Insulating these pipes can help to address the problem and reduce boiler gas usage.

Central heating pipes running from the boiler to service radiator and other space heating appliances can lose considerable amounts of heat into their surroundings prior to reaching the appliances. As these heat-carrying pipes are located within the property, it has sometimes been thought that the lost heat was actually conserved within a well-insulated property. However, with the introduction of room thermostats and zone control systems, this is no longer a practical viewpoint.

Where hot water central heating pipes are not adequately insulated, the extra heat escaping from the pipes into the domestic environment cannot be controlled. Consequently, expensive domestic environment control systems become ineffective and subsequently the boiler fuel running costs are increased.

Insulation has an additional practical use as a safety device. Hot pipes can cause serious burns to children and vulnerable adults who may accidentally come into contact with them. Insulating hot pipes in locations where injury could occur is an important consideration.

Pipe insulation can also act as a protective layer to prevent pipe damage from crushing and as an effective sound insulator to prevent noise being carried and distributed along pipes.

When it comes to choosing a suitable pipe insulating material there are a plethora of different manufacturers and their products on the market. Generically they can be classified as either fibre or foam products.

Most fibre materials are specifically designed to be used in industrial environments. However, fibreglass and certain other mineral fibre products are suitable for use in domestic settings. When installed on cold water supply pipes, they may require the addition of a plastic coating to prevent condensation accumulating and dripping from the material.

There are also a number of spray foam materials that can be applied. These products have adhesive properties and harden to form a protective coating. They can be difficult to remove if the need arises. If a leak develops underneath these products, the source can be difficult to locate and access.

For domestic use, tubular sleeve foam materials are ideal. These often come pre-slit horizontally and are easy to install by slipping them over the pipes. They can be cut to size and manipulated to accommodate bends and junctions.

Flexible, closed cell, foam rubber sleeves are probably the best type available. Because they are of a closed cell formation, they prevent condensation from forming through capillary attraction and are highly efficient insulators. Some branded products also incorporate mould inhibiting compounds and are generally regarded as the most reliable, environmentally stable and durable products available. A two-metre length of such a product should cost around £5 – £6.

The effectiveness of insulation materials is influenced by the external environment and the circulating fluids in the pipe-work.  The diameter of the pipe is an important factor when choosing the appropriate insulation material. The smaller the pipe diameter, the greater the required insulation value of the insulation material. This is often referred to as the R-value. An R-value of at least four is considered an acceptable standard for most domestic requirements.

When installing pipe insulation it is important to ensure that the pipe is clean. The insulating material must be in direct contact with the pipe and once in place, the split tubes section joints should be glued with proprietary products or securely taped with duct tape. No gaps should be apparent. Cutting and manipulating the material should ensure that even the most complicated pipe layouts can be effectively insulated.

A well-insulated property with adequately insulated pipe-work will improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. Protection of pipe-work against frost will reduce the chances of frozen pipes in winter, helping to prevent an interruption to supply and the consequences of water damage from burst pipes. It is also important to consider the insurance implications of unsatisfactory water pipe insulation in respect of a subsequent water damage related claim.








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.