Should plumbers be licensed?

Everyone knows (or should do) that we have to be licensed to work on gas, but there is nothing to stop anyone calling themselves a plumber in the UK. There is a lot more to plumbing than joining pipes together without leaks. Poor plumbing is just as dangerous as poor gas work. The advent of clean water and proper sewerage systems was hailed as the biggest single contribution to improving the health of our nation, eradicating many of the diseases that killed people in their thousands in years gone by. Wholesome water is supplied to our homes by the water companies and there are regulations (The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999) to prevent inefficient use of water, the waste, misuse, undue consumption, incorrect measurement of it and, most importantly, to prevent contamination of drinking water supplies.

As a member of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) and Watersafe we have proved our knowledge of the regulations and committed to work to the correct standards.

One of the biggest contravention of Water Regs we come across is the lack of or incorrect method of back-flow prevention. What is this? Back-flow prevention is all about stopping contaminated water from being drawn back into the water supply under adverse conditions. Water is classified under five categories in the regulations, with Category 1 being pure water as it is delivered to our properties by the water supplier. Category 5 is

Fluid which represents a serious health hazard because of the concentration of pathogenic organisms, radioactive or very toxic substances, including any fluid which contains –

faecal material or other human waste:

butchery or other animal waste: or

pathogens from any other source.

Would you want to be drinking or cleaning your teeth in Category 5 fluid? I doubt it, but this can happen if proper precautions are not taken.

This horse trough was installed in 2000 in contravention of the Water Regs. The trough is open to the elements and contains waterborne insects, it could also contain animal waste as well as decaying plant matter. The inlet valve is below the water level, meaning there is a risk of back-flow from this Category 5 fluid. In order to make it comply we cut a weir in the side to ensure an air gap.

 

Now it is impossible for the water level to rise to with 40mm of the inlet, ensuring there is always an air gap.

Other common contraventions that we see are shower hoses that are long enough to dangle into the bath or toilet and outside taps with no check valve both of which could siphon dirty water into the main via the hose pipe.

So next time you are thinking of doing some DIY plumbing, you may want to consider whether it is worth the risk to yours and your family’s health.

 

 

CGCS What is it all about?

Capita, for those of you who don’t know run the Gas Safe Register on behalf of the HSE. They took over this role from CORGI in 2009. Many members of the public are still under the mistaken impression the gas installers are CORGI registered. To be on the register, we have to prove our competence to work safely with gas and are re-tested every 5 years. Now Capita has come up with a new voluntary scheme called CGCS (Capita Gas Compliance Services). They claim “The new gas safety scheme is aimed at organisations that meet the legal requirement for gas safety, and want to demonstrate that they exceed it. We want to help those people get the recognition they deserve“, thereby implying that those of us who choose to just remain on the Gas Safe Register do not exceed gas safety requirements, really, so we all just bumble along just doing the bare minimum do we? I find that an insult, why do these people think we have to pay and belong to yet another scheme, to go beyond the bare minimum, well here is a fact for you, WE DON’T, most of us take our responsibility to gas safety very seriously and we do not need to pay someone for another sticker for the van to prove it.

In my view, this scheme will only serve to confuse the public,many of whom do not even realise that CORGI no longer run the gas register.

My customers are not interested in membership of any schemes, they choose me on my reputation, which is hard earned over many years. So along with myriad other attempts to earn money off the backs of hard working tradesmen, I will be giving this one a swerve.

ErP Directive, will it save energy.

From September this year the ErP Directive will apply to heating boilers and controls.

What is this directive?

ErP is short for Energy-related Products.

The ErP (Energy-related Products) Directive is due to be implemented in September 2015. It consists of new regulations designed to help the EU achieve its 20-20-20 target to reduce energy use by 20 per cent and increase the share of renewable energies by 20 per cent by 2020.

ErP will eventually effect all products that have an impact on energy use, meaning all boilers and heating systems will be labelled with ratings from D up to A+++, in the same way that white goods, like refrigerators and freezers, already are with the aim of improving efficiency.

To comply with this directive, the supplier of the system will have to produce a document detailing the energy efficiency of the whole system. The boiler will be rated by the manufacturer and depending what controls are added to the system, an overall ErP rating will be calculated. This is all well and good but will it actually help the home owner save energy? I very much doubt it. What ever the ErP label says, customers will use their heating systems in exactly the same way, to maintain the comfort level they require in their property. If the customer wants to run their heating 24 hours a day at 25 deg C, then the most sophisticated control system would not save them any energy, they would be better improving their insulation.

Just like the Benchmark Scheme, all the ErP directive will do is increase the paperwork required from conscientious installers.

Once again we have more bureaucracy from the EU heaped on the shoulders of the long suffering Registered Gas Engineer.

 

Smart Heating Controls

There are now a plethora of ‘Smart Heating Controls’ on the market. Tado, Nest, Hive and Evohome are just a few you may or may not have heard of. What are they and what do they do? Traditional heating controls consisted of a programmer to allow the heating to come on and off at set times and a thermostat to set the temperature when the heating is on. The next step was the programmable roomstat, this enabled different temperatures at different times of the day.

The current crop of smart controls offer a little bit more.

TADO

Tado is a wireless thermostat that is controlled by an APP. You can program your heating times via the APP and it also senses when you leave home by tracking your mobile phone and automatically adjusts the temperature. It does not offer any zoning capability and needs an internet connection to work.

HIVE

Hive is exclusive to British Gas and is similar to Tado in that it uses your mobile phone to track when you are home, it can also be controlled by an APP

NEST

Nest is a wireless ‘learning thermostat’ It replaces your existing thermostat and programmer. It learns your heating habits and automatically adjusts the heating to suit. It can be controlled remotely by an APP. It does not offer zoning.

EVOHOME

Evohome from Honeywell is the daddy of smart heating controls. The basic controller allows control of up to 12 heating zones, plus hot water. Individual radiators can be controlled by wireless TRVs or broader zone control by motorised valves is possible. Like the other systems mentioned above, Evohome can be controlled by an APP but does not need the internet connection to work. For larger properties, two controllers can be linked together to give control of 24 zones. Honeywell have recently introduced a single zone connected thermostat.

We are certified Nest and Evohome installers,offering a professional installation service for these products.

When is a contract not a contract?

The answer is when it is with O2. Like millions of others I have a mobile phone ‘contract’ with O2, whereby I agree to pay them a fixed sum of money each month and in return they provide me with a service and a set number of minutes, texts and data each month. The length of this ‘contract’ is 24 months, after which I am free to look elsewhere. What could be simpler you might ask? Well the problem is that O2 in their wisdom have decided to increase the monthly cost of my contract by 70p per month and there is nothing I can do about it unless I want to pay a huge penalty to cancel the contract which still has 18 months to run. I don’t think this is fair and neither do OFCOM who have brought out a new rule that allows subscribers to cancel their contract without penalty if the service provider increases the price. The only bugbear is that O2 have decided that this will only apply to new customers and not existing ones who have been loyal to O2 for many years. You may think that the increase is such a paltry amount that it is not worth worrying about, which is a valid point, however with an average increase of £1 per month, O2’s 8 million customers will be ploughing an extra £96 million into their profits. O2 should do the decent thing and back pedal on this unfair act or they may find that a significant proportion of those 8 million vote with their feet when contracts come to an end.

A David Attenborough moment.

On our travels we are used to seeing all sorts of sights. As we cover rural parts of Berkshire we see various forms of wildlife quite regularly, rabbits, dear, foxes, red kites, parakeets and herons are regular sights. Last week we were working in suburban Walton-on-Thames which nearly had to be re-labelled Walton-In-Thames due to the recent flooding. 20140117_111858While working in a bedroom, changing a radiator, my young assistant happened to look out of the window and spot this fellow. He had climbed on the roof of next door’s shed and then attempted to walk along the top of the fence between the two gardens, only to fall off and be chased by next door’s dog. He jumped over the fence and up onto a bank at the bottom of the garden where he sat for a while to recover before trotting off on his way.

 

 

How the mighty have fallen.

For my first musings of 2014 I write not of plumbing but of my main passion in life, (other than my wife) cricket. Those who know me well, know that if it wasn’t for work getting in the way I would probably play cricket or watch cricket 7 days a week but until I win the lottery that won’t be possible. For English cricket fans the last six weeks have been somewhat traumatic. Back on November 21st it all looked so good, we had just beaten the old enemy for the third successive Ashes series and had them reeling at 132 for 6 in the first innings at Melbourne and it looked like things would continue along familiar lines. Then,suddenly, it all changed. Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin put on a partnership of 114 for the seventh wicket and Australia escaped with a reasonable looking total of 295. Perhaps encouraged by his batting, Johnson regained his bowling form which seemed to have deserted him for a couple of seasons and ripped out England for a paltry 136 and from there it went from bad to worse. Jonathan Trott,  for so long the anchor of England’s batting, returned home with ‘a stress related illness’ and the rest of our batsmen appear to have forgotten how to occupy the crease, getting themselves out to a succession of poor shots, making Johnson and Nathan Lyon look like world beaters, which they are clearly not. The next three tests followed on in the same vein, Graham Swann, the greatest spin bowler in his era of test cricket, gave up the ghost and we now find ourselves 4-0 down and staring a whitewash in the face.

So where did it all go wrong? Credit must go to Darren Lehman who has turned this Australian side around from a disjointed outfit into a unified team who fight for each other and refuse to give in, much as Andy Flower did for England, but some of the England players need to take a good look at themselves and ask if they still have the desire to do what it takes to be successful.

In sport, everything goes in cycles, great teams come and go. Who can forget the once mighty West Indies side who terrorised everyone they played against with a battery of fast bowlers we have never seen the like of again? The Australians with McGrath, Warne and the Waughs who also looked invincible or the once mighty West Germany who conquered all before them? The great Welsh rugby team of the seventies?

One of the problems of being the top  dogs at any sport is that it is hard to make changes to a winning team and quite often a team’s fall from grace is quite sudden as several players pass their peak at the same time.

So where do we go from here? Some of the media are calling for the heads of the coach and captain, and wholesale changes within the team. Personally I don’t think this knee jerk reaction is the way to go. Yes there are some players that need a rest, some of whom may come back revitalised whilst others may have played their last test for England, but it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Younger players need to be brought in and given their chance, with some senior players alongside to guide them as we look to rebuild.

While a 5-0 whitewash may look like the end of the world right now, think back to 2006 when the same thing happened, we then went on to win three Ashes series on the run. All is not lost. I am an eternal optimist so I will still be getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the play from Sydney, hoping for a better result, but if we do lose again, the world will keep turning and the England faithful will still look forward to the summer of 2015 when the Aussies are next over here.

Happy New Year. Keep the faith.

The Dangers of DIY Plumbing.

With the advent of modern plastic materials and the proliferation of ‘how to do it’ videos on You Tube, many people are tempted to try their hand at plumbing jobs around the home, often with disastrous consequences.

Failed CompressionThis picture taken under a bath illustrates an incorrect compression joint made on plastic pipe. The white pipe in the bottom of the picture has come adrift from the elbow on the vertical pipe with the blue label. There was no insert in the plastic pipe and signs that ‘Boss White’ or a similar compound had been used on the joint. The occupant of  the property was awoken at 2.00am on a Saturday morning by the sound of her kitchen ceiling crashing down and water pouring through. If this job had been done correctly it would have cost a fraction of the amount the owner has now had to spend to put it right. With a small baby in the house the consequences could have been much worse if this had happened during the day. Is it really worth the risk of trying to do your own plumbing?

When Tiling Fails

On many occasions I have come across situations where wall tiles have failed, this is usually because of poor materials or workmanship.

Failed Tiles 1Failed Tiles 2

The two pictures above show the aftermath of what can happen. The left hand picture is a the wall of a shower cubicle where the tiling has failed, note the mould growth. The tiles were easily removed, virtually falling off. The right hand picture is the other side of the same wall, where the bath was situated. In both case the plasterboard was sodden and had deteriorated, meaning it had to be removed.

There were several faults in this installation which led to the mess we see above.

1) Plasterboard is not a suitable substrate for tiling in wet areas. When we tile shower or bath areas we always use a cement based tile backer board. This is more expensive than plasterboard but in the event of water penetrating the tiles, the board will not fail.

2) The adhesive was applied in dabs on the back of each tile. Tile adhesive should be applied with a notched trowel, giving a complete bed of adhesive.

3) The adhesive and grout was not waterproof. It is important that the correct adhesive and grout is used in wet areas, otherwise water can penetrate with the results shown above.

As an alternative to tiles, we are increasingly using laminate shower wall panels. These offer several advantages over tiles.

1) They come in large sheets, with no joints where water can penetrate.

2) The smooth surface is easier to keep clean than tiles.

3) There are no grout lines to go mouldy.

4) Installation is quicker as there is no waiting for adhesive to dry. Panels can be applied directly to timber studs without the need for boarding or repair of existing wall surfaces.

If you are going to get work done in your bathroom or shower then make sure it is done correctly using the right materials, if you cut corners you could end paying for it in the long run. For further details click here

Underfloor Heating

The traditional form of wet heating in the UK is by way of radiators, but radiators have some disadvatages.

1) They don’ t radiate much heat. The majority of the heat is emitted by means of convection. Cold air at the bottom is warmed by the radiator and rises to the ceiling before circulating back to the floor. This means that the temperature in the room can vary.

2) They take up valuable wall space which can be at a premium in small modern homes.

3) They are made of steel which can react with oxygen in the water to create corrosion.

An alternative which is becoming more popular is underfloor heating. Underfloor heating is by no means a modern idea, the Romans were using it in Pompeiibut  underfloor heating has changed considerably since those days! Today the pipes used are usually made of plastic or multilayer composite pipes which are laid in one continuous loop in or under the floor. Traditionally under floor pipes were laid in the floor screed which meant they were only suitable for new build or major refurbishment projects. retrofit-over-floor

Modern overlay systems can be used for retrofit applications and only add a few milllimetres to the finished floor level. These overlay systems utilising engineered wood or other floor coverings are much quicker to respond than the screed systems.

Underfloor systems have several advantages over radiators.

1) No wall space taken up.

2) They run at lower temperatures,using less fuel than radiators and making them ideal for renewable heat sources.

3) The heat rises evenly from the floor making the room feel more comfortable at a lower air temperature than a radiator system.

4) Warm floors are very pleasnt to walk on.

If you are interested in having underfloor heating installed CONTACT US