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.

 

Earth Bonding in Domestic Property

Electricity is something we all take for granted. It is the unseen force, a stream of moving protons and electrons, which powers our machines and appliances. Perhaps the only time we give it much thought is when we receive the bill for consuming it.

However, this force, safely restrained within insulation cables, can be extremely dangerous if it is allowed to behave naturally. Electricity continually seeks to dissipate its energy by escaping from a circuit and flowing to earth.

This natural tendency is all well and good. So long as a person does not form part of a pathway allowing it to do so. A flow of electricity passing through a person to earth is commonly referred to as an electric shock.

In passing through any material towards earth, including a person, the electricity encounters resistance. Overcoming the resistance generates heat. This heat causes severe internal and external burns as it passes through a person. The flow of electrons also interferes with the natural electrical activity in the body causing severe damage and possible death.

Electricity will always find a route to earth that offers the least resistance. Faced with the option of a copper earth wire and human flesh, the electricity will choose the earth wire, plus a bit of the flesh.

In an attempt to prevent electrical shock, or damage to appliances caused by a sudden surge in electrical current, all circuits carry a fuse system. A surge in electricity will break the resistance tolerance of the fuse causing it to melt and cut the circuit. The fuse acts as the first line of protection in electrical circuits.

Domestic electrical circuits have to incorporate an earth circuit (PE).

In electrical terminology, earth is represented as ‘T’. This ‘T’ can take a number of forms. An earthing rod buried into the external ground of a property and forming an earth circuit through the electrical appliances would be referred to as ‘TT’. External earthing rods can be poor earth devices. A good earth requires a good contact with earth. The soil around earthing rods can dry out, shrinking away from the rods and causing poor earth contact.

Most homes utilise a TNC-S earthing system. ( N=nuetral, C=Combined, S=Separate) or better known as PME (Protective Multiple Earth).

With PME, earthing is carried by the supply company’s main earth back to the nearest sub-station. This earth is particularly good and reliable.

Bonding, on the other hand, is designed to prevent a disparity between electrical voltages if a fault occurs. Where a sudden release of electricity flows from an appliance, prior bonding of the metal in that appliance to other circuits that could contribute to creating alternative earth paths limit’s the voltage change potential.

There are two types of bonding, main bonding, and supplementary bonding.

Main bonding provides an interconnection between incoming metallic services such as gas and water. It is on these services that the householder will generally find the usual earth bonding yellow and green wires clamped to the pipe-work. There will also be main bonding joined to any metal fabric of the home, such as supporting iron and steel building construction materials. This earth bonding also provides protection in the event that it is the supplier’s earth that is causing the problem.

Supplementary or cross-bonding joins together metal components that could provide a circuit to earth, for instance if a fault developed on a towel rail in a bathroom and resulted in its surface becoming ‘live’, a person touching it and also touching a tap at the same time would form a circuit. Supplementary bonding links the earth across all these metal surfaces to reduce the destructive force of an electric shock. These bonding clamps can be seen on pipes and other metallic connections in bathrooms etc.

The final safety device in the home is performed by Residual Current Circuit Breakers (RCB’s). These devices monitor and detect changes in the steady and balanced flow of electrical current through the positive and negative wiring supply to appliances. A sudden leakage to earth, whether it be by an electric shock or other means of dissipation, will be detected almost instantaneously by the RCB. This will cause the RCB to operate (trip) and immediately break the circuit, significantly reducing the potential for harm or damage.

Although the complexities of earthing and bonding are possibly beyond the scope of DIY enthusiasts, the importance of supplying and maintaining them is not. It is most important that where a homeowner undertakes any remedial work to the property, or to the plumbing and electrical components, that earthing is provided and maintained.

When installing plastic pipework into a copper plumbing network, it is important to ensure that electrical bonds are maintained. This may entail building a bonding bridge between the plastic pipes and the continuation of the copper network to facilitate continuity.

Likewise, when working on pipe-work, cutting into a section of copper pipe during plumbing work will interfere with the bonding circuit. It is a wise precaution to temporarily provide a bonding bridge for electrical safety reasons.

Installing supplementary and cross bonding wiring is a simple procedure. Clamps and regulation-sized earth wire are easily obtainable from DIY and electrical suppliers. Bonding cables must run unbroken and continuous to the main earth block in the mains domestic consumer box, or the dedicated earth block located near it. It is possible to link supplementary bonding cables across platforms, such as bath taps to shower to towel rail, but main bonding must be continuous.

Homeowners should periodically check main and supplementary bonding cables and clamps to ensure that they continue to provide secure and serviceable operation. Any earth or bonding cable that becomes detached must be immediately replaced.

Although attaching earth and bonding connections does not carry any restrictions under the Building Regulations, anyone undertaking such work should make themselves acquainted with BS 7671 of the Wiring Regulations.

As always, any electrical work must be performed competently. Insurance cover may be affected by problems caused by substandard work. It is most important to seek professional advice when attempting to work on electrical installations. Building Regulations state that only certified persons can carry out electrical installation work.