Wisdom after the fact – burst pipes

The cold snap that affected us in these parts seems to be on its way out, but it certainly made its presence felt. I must have taken nearly twenty calls over the worst three days of the weather from people with frozen condensate pipes. This will be an issue I will return to in the future.

I also had three calls from people with burst pipes relating to outside taps. The most spectacular was this particular example on a section of 15mm pipe.

burst pipe

This burst is slightly unusual in that they normally split along the length of the pipe, possibly along the seam, for about 10-15 mm. The cause is simple – the mains pressure water in the pipe freezes in the cold, the volume of ice is greater than water, the pressure rises to above the pressure rating of copper pipe according to the source I found.  https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/copper-tubes-dimensions-pressure-d_84.html. This is in the region of 841 psi or 58 bar – and the pipe splits or bursts. My guess is that the pipe in the picture above is less than 0.7 mm thick.

In this case, the customer hadn’t turned off the internal stop tap. She realised she had a problem when she saw the doormat outside her back door threatening to float away.

So here’s the thing – an outdoor tap should always be fitted with a proper stop tap inside the house so that it can be switched off for the winter months. The best thing to do is to close the stop tap and then open the outdoor tap. This will reduce the pressure in the external pipework so that if it should freeze, it has more chance of having somewhere to go to release the pressure. If it should still burst, you’ll know about it in the spring rather than panicking about water loss in the winter, especially if you are on a meter.

 

However, what I do find more often than I would like, is that someone has taken a short cut and not fitted the internal stop tap. This means that if the outdoor pipework bursts, you’ll have no option but to turn off the mains water and call an emergency plumber, who are in the habit of charging like wounded rhino’s, unless you are lucky enough to get your regular plumber with a bit of spare time and in a good mood enough to rally to your cause and carry out a mercy mission on your behalf.

Retro fitting a stop tap for an outdoor tap can be problematic, usually because of a lack of space with the existing pipework. Sometimes a compromise solution can be found using a short lever ball valve, but this isn’t ideal.

If you are thinking of having an outdoor tap retro fitted, make sure that you are also getting the all important internal stop tap fitted as part of the job. You are paying good money to have the job done properly, so it’s important that the job is done properly! If you already have an outdoor tap fitted, have a look to see if you also have a stop tap. If you don’t have one, I would urge you to take steps to get something done about it. It’ll be one less worry next time it gets cold.

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A Published Letter

Not just a letter, but the £100 Star Letter in the April edition of PHAM News! This is the technical magazine for the Plumbing, Heating and Air Movement Industry and has an audited circulation of 29000 copies monthly. It’s one of three trade magazines that tend to land on my doormat on a monthly basis, and helps keep me informed and up to date with current thinking and developments in the industry. They also have an online presence at http://www.phamnews.co.uk

The first I’d heard that it was in the magazine was when I received an email from a certain Laura from InstallersFirst, sympathising with the sentiments I’d expressed and asking me to check them out at http://www.installersfirst.co.uk

This might be the start of something interesting.

PHAM News

 

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What You Should Be Getting For Your Money

This is a cautionary tale about a certain Mr Smith. I recently visited Mr Smith, a retired, elderly gent, to do a couple of small jobs – change a radiator valve and a tap washer – but also to check over his newly installed boiler. He wasn’t happy with the manner in which the work was done and needed some reassurance.

The installer had fitted the new version of the Ideal Logic+ system boiler to complement the existing instantaneous water heater. So far so good. My minor quibble with the work was that a magnetic filter had not been fitted, although to be fair this would have been slightly tricky to achieve in what was not the easiest location.

What became clear though, was that the commissioning checklist had been only scantly completed, and the readings I got from my Flue Gas Analysis were significantly different from the ones listed in the Commissioning document at the back of the installation manual. This suggested to me that he either hadn’t done it at all, or incorrectly.

The biggest problem, however, was that while the existing time clock had been re-used to control the heating, what was missing was a room thermostat. Quizzing Mr Smith revealed no conversation had taken place to offer why one wasn’t going to be fitted.

Here’s the thing: Unless a customer specifically objects to any type of heating control (very much preferably in writing, and documented on the Commissioning Document) every boiler fitted should have, AS A MINIMUM,  a time clock and a room thermostat. If you have a hot water cylinder, you should have a time clock that allows you to program the heating and hot water independently from each other, as well as a thermostat fitted onto the cylinder.

There are a large number of products out there that allow you to control your heating in a number of simple and sophisticated ways, so it is potentially confusing. But I repeat: As a minimum you should have a time clock and a room thermostat fitted.

Good practice means that Thermostatic Radiator Valves should be fitted to allow individual room control, but this does not constitute a room thermostat.

Fortunately for Mr Smith, the installer had not yet sent their bill. I advised him not to pay until they had fitted the missing item. It should have been automatically included in the job. As far as I am concerned, he shouldn’t be paying extra for the work since the installer hasn’t met their obligations as far as the current standards require.

I get very cross when I see this sort of sloppiness. It gives the trade a bad name when it is difficult enough to establish a good reputation. It’s a joke down the pub, “You plumbers are all the same ripping us off and heading for the golf course”, but it’s not when you are trying to do the right thing by people and then come across situations such as Mr Smith.

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It’s been a while!

It has been a while since I last wrote a post for this blog. but I was prompted to contribute after the last annual Gas Safety Week. This is an annual push by the Gas Safe Register to raise awareness of the benefits of regularly maintaining your gas appliances. Check out this website for more details:

https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/gassafetyweek/

This is all very common sense stuff. It is something of an irony that a rented property managed by the more assiduous type of landlord is a safer place in which to live than many people’s owner occupied homes. This is because your landlord is legally required to ensure that the appliances are tested annually to ensure their safe operation. As a tenant you should also have documentation (normally given to you by the inspecting Gas Safe Registered engineer) for your own records.

However, the main reason for me writing is about Carbon Monoxide detectors. These are a nice little piece of kit which add an additional level of confidence into the safety of your home and gas appliances. They are designed to howl loudly if they pick up on any Carbon Monoxide which may be leaking from your gas appliances – fire, boiler etc. However, they should NOT be used as any form of substitute for having your machines regularly maintained.

But here is my problem with them. Many people have them fitted but have little idea of how they work. So here we go:

The better quality ones have a battery that typically lasts 5 years. Once it starts failing it starts to beep. Many people start to panic at this point, thinking they have a Carbon Monoxide leak. Most oftentimes, they don’t. The battery is wearing out and it is trying to tell you to either replace the battery (if it can be) or replace the entire unit (not unusual). So how can you tell the difference between a failing battery and a genuine Carbon monoxide leak? This is not a silly question, since the chances are that the detector hasn’t activated once in its entire life. First of all, the noise level is the clue. As I mentioned earlier, if it is activated by the presence of CO, it howls, loudly and piercingly. If the battery is wearing out, it beeps.

The other clue, and this for me is the clincher, is the question of when it makes a noise. If there is no gas burning from your boiler, your fire, or even your gas hob, not to mention any other gas burning appliance you may have, then CO is not being produced. If the detector is making a noise in this situation, it is almost definitely the battery. There is the one in a tiniest fraction that it may possibly be coming from next door, but this is so rare as to be negligible. That said, if in doubt, have a word with your neighbours.

There have been a few occasions when I have been called to a job because the CO detector is going off, and I have been met with slightly hostile stares as though I am personally trying to kill the customer. I’m not, I swear. So I perform a CO safety test with my Flue Gas Analyser (if your Gas Man doesn’t have one, sack him and find someone else), and for good measure, where relevant perform other safety tests to make sure that CO is not coming back into the room and triggering the alarm.

I’m happy to report that to date, I have not once had a situation where a CO detector has been triggered by faulty appliances. It has always been the battery.

So, once again. if your CO detector is going off when no gas appliance is working at the time in your home, it isn’t your appliance that is faulty. Replace the battery or the entire unit first. It’s cheaper than calling me out in a panic thinking you are slowly being killed. If the new unit starts sounding, then by all means, please get in touch.

If you don’t have a CO detector in your home, you might want to consider it, especially if you fall into the “belts and braces” school of safety. However, if you have a flueless gas fire in your home I would regard having a CO detector as Essential. Even more important would be to make sure you have it serviced properly Every Year Without Fail. While you are at it, get the other appliances serviced as well. It does pay to make sure they are burning safely and optimally and having them maintained and serviced once a year makes sure of that, especially if your gas man is of the more conscientious variety. Like me.

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Adding Quality, Part One

There are a few players in the market now for magnetic filters, and for my money there isn’t much between any of them, so I’m not especially loyal to any one brand. This is a good thing, to me it suggests that the manufacturers have got the design and quality values right, across the board.

So what are they?

Magnetic filters are canister shaped, about the size of two decent sized fists, one atop the other. The filter is fitted on the central heating return pipe close to the boiler, and as the central heating runs and the water in it circulates, heating your home, it passes through the canister on its way to be re-heated by the boiler. The magnet inside the canister attracts the muck in the water to it, preventing it from getting to the boiler thus keeping your central heater water cleaner for longer. This means that your boiler works more efficiently, the muck doesn’t clog up inside the boiler, meaning it is less likely to develop problems.

The muck is called magnetite and is, in essence, the insides of your radiators slowly rotting away. Radiators by and large are made of pressed steel, and will erode in time, but with with the combination of the magnetic filter, and regular dosing with inhibitor which contains protective chemicals which slow down the rate of erosion, means you will be in a position to get the most longevity out of your boiler, your radiators and your entire central heating system overall.

The other beauty of the magnetic filters is that they allow easy dosing of chemicals as and when occasion demands. I use the annual service as my opportunity to clean the filter of the magnetite build up over the previous 12 months, and to top the system up with inhibitor.

When I specify a new system, always included in the quote is the installation of a filter. I have come to view them as an essential component so I try not to give the customer a choice in the matter when it comes to having one.

They can usually be retro fitted without too much difficulty, and whether it is part of a new boiler installation or a retro fit, part of the service I offer is a courtesy visit about a month later to clean the filter and top up the chemicals. Thereafter, the filter can be checked at the annual service.

If I go to an installation that isn’t one of mine, I’m always reassured when I see a filter in place. It tells me that the installer has done a good job and cares about his work. Every home with a central heating system should have one!

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Into the New Year…

It’s been a busy winter so far, and after a period where no-one seemed to want a boiler fitting, I suddenly found myself installing at least 1 a week in the six or so weeks leading up to Christmas, and with other calls coming in, my diary was consistently booked up some two weeks ahead, and I found myself working weekends. As a family man, working Saturday and Sunday is something I’m loathe to do – it is all about the work/life balance after all, and I’m one of those guys who actually likes to hang out with his wife and kids.

Still, being busy is a nice problem to have; my main regret is not having been able to contact my regular customers to arrange dates to service their boilers and fires during November and December. I’ll catch up with those phone calls on Monday. Promise.

I’ve still got people wanting boilers fitting, so the question I’m often asked, is which one should I have? My reply is that if you ask 50 Gas Fitters the same question, you’ll get 50 answers. Each installer will have their own preferences. As for myself, my weapon of choice is the Ideal Logic+, which comes with a comprehensive 7 year parts and labour warranty. However, I also had the opportunity this winter to fit their flagship boiler, the Ideal Vogue which comes with a 10 year full warranty. The main proviso for both boilers is that they are serviced annually, which is something I can and do, do. The boiler also needs to be registered for warranty purposes which is something I do automatically as part of the service I provide.

http://idealboilers.com/

The boilers are more than the sum of their parts. What I also like is their amazing customer service over at Ideal. On the occasions when I have needed them to come out under warranty, they’ve been able to do that within 2 days. On Christmas Eve 2014 they were able to go the extra mile for a customer of mine whose boiler was playing up, and they sent an engineer the same day. Absolutely fantastic, and that is why Ideal are my boiler manufacturer of choice.

However, I have also been using the Ferroli Modena a few times of late. The Modena also comes with a 7 year warranty, and with a build quality that belies its budget price tag.

http://www.ferroli.co.uk/

Ferroli spent several years in the wilderness with a couple of truly awful boilers (in my opinion) and customer service that left a bit to be desired, but with the new Modena, using the name of one of its more successful previous incarnations which was also a great boiler, they have, I believe, got back into the game with a really strong play, a boiler they can be proud of, one that I am pleased to fit with confidence, that fits inside a kitchen wall cupboard unit, and rapidly improving customer service.

However, customers do have their own preferences, and when they do, usually specify either Worcester Bosch, or Vaillant. These two manufacturers are acknowledged as the market leaders and are also priced at the more expensive end of the market, but if a customer insists on either of these boilers, I’m happy to go with it. The customer is king, after all.

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