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Brief cases: proving a boiler is not fit for purpose

After repeated problems with a relatively new boiler, Derrick contacted Which? Legal in desperation. But was it possible to prove that the British Gas-recommended boiler was not fit for purpose?

Just a few years after buying a British Gas-recommended boiler, Which? Legal member Derrick Bradfield was told it was unsafe to use because of insufficient gas pressure.

Derrick Bradfield

Derrick Bradfield

That was just one of a series of problems with the boiler he’d bought for £2,595 in January 2009. British Gas had recommended it based on an engineer’s assessment of what his house needed. But the engineer never tested the house’s gas supply pressure. The major problems with the boiler began as early as February 2012.

Derrick had taken out a service contract for the boiler with Npower and asked it to investigate. When it found the boiler unsafe to use due to the insufficient pressure, Derrick had to pay to replace parts not covered under his service agreement.

In October 2014, British Gas agreed to replace the entire gas supply pipe through the house to the boiler. This resolved the problem at first, but two months later the boiler failed again. This meant that Derrick was left without heating or hot water over Christmas.

The repeated failures caused such inconvenience that he had the boiler replaced by another company. He informed British Gas and said that he wanted it to pay the cost. However, it refused to accept liability – so Derrick came to us for help.

Our legal advice

Our lawyers advised that British Gas breached its contract under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. This is because it failed to use reasonable care and skill when installing the boiler, which may have not been the right size for the house and so not fit for purpose.

For contracts entered into on or after 1 October 2015, these rights are under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

What the law says

Where goods or services are bought on credit, depending on the type of agreement, a credit provider may be jointly liable for a breach of contract by a trader. A consumer may be able to bring an action under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to recover their financial loss from the credit provider.

As the boiler was paid for with a loan from the company GE Money, Derrick was able to pursue it for his financial loss and in March 2015, it agreed to write off the £1,600 balance of the loan.

Comments
Member

From what I have read, it is questionable whether it was the boiler or the installation that was unsatisfactory, but it should not have happened. I had not realised that a boiler could be unsafe because of low gas pressure due to restriction in flow caused by a gas pipe that is too small.

Back in the 1970s I discovered that the heating engineers that fitted a gas boiler for my parents had ignored instructions and fitted the wrong diameter gas supply pipe (too small) despite a clear label inside the boiler. It never caused a problem and a service engineer said it was not a problem, but it’s worrying when instructions are ignored. I wonder how common these problems are.

Member

Looking at the installation instructions for my boiler the first step is to check the main supply to the meter to ensure it is capable of carrying the required gas flow to all connected appliances. It then requires the connecting pipe to the boiler to be at least 22mm for 19kW and 25kW, possibly reduced to 15mm for smaller output boilers providing the required working pressure and flow rates can be achieved. However, this will depend upon the length and routing of the pipework – 3 to 4m from the meter is suggested for these sizes.

Pressure required for natural gas is given as 18.5 mbar for NG at the boiler test point. This must be verified at commissioning, and checking it is also a requirement at the annual service.

So some questions arise. If the original installers did not check the gas pressure (which is in breach of contract I’d suggest and may well breach the requirements of BS 6891 that covers the pipework installation). This surely would be all that is needed to bring legal action against the installer.

However, the boiler should have been serviced every year (for safety, and probably necessary for insurance) when the pressure is required to be tested. Why was it then “a few years” before it was declared “unsafe”? Had the mains supply pressure dropped? How had it performed until then?

And why did “spare parts” solve the problem of an inadequate supply pressure?

It all seems a bit confused so perhaps Which? could be more specific about just where the problem lay.

Member

I agree with Malcolm 100%. As I was reading the article I was composing something very similar (but far less eloquent) in my head.

It would seem here that BG as a consultant has acted competently, and the installer (who incidentally may also be BG) has failed to identify the additional work necessary to get decent gas flow at the appliance.

Incidentally, whilst I have no time whatever for payday loan issuers at their rates per day that exceed what sensible borrows pay per annum, I actually feel sorry for those who lend money somehow ending up jointly and severally liable for problems not of their – **or their clients’** making. I believe this law was brought in to catch retailers/clients who went bust or who were crooks, not to help pin misdemeanours on them that were not the fault of their clients.

Member

We had a new condensing boiler fitted to our previous property. I was concerned about the fact that it was not possible to view the burner flame due to the absence of a window in the boiler casing. I have since learned that the absence of a window is widespread in new boilers. In my opinion this is a definite retrograde development as it prevents the householder from doing a simple visual check on the state of combustion: flames with a nice blue cone indicate complete combustion but flames which are yellow like a candle indicate incomplete combustion with production of carbon monoxide. Boiler burners behave just like the Bunsen burner at school. So on this basis I conclude that modern condensing boilers are less safe than their immediate predecessors as they need an specialist instrument (a gas analyser) to detect the state of combustion rather than the human eye. Boiler manufactures wake up and stop cutting corners! Which? may like to consider this matter.

Member

Good Mn Dave,,,,,,,,Long before we had gas analysers we had flame colour……..on old gas cookers the colour of the flame was everything

As to windows Dave,,,,,,,,,,,,,not a chance………..do you know that people dont know about flames to day……….

Member

DeeKay, “do you know that people don’t know about flames today” It is never too late to learn- even about flames and this includes little old ladies sitting in front of an open gas fire on a cold winter’s day-it could mean the difference between life and death!

Member

dave, quite agree. Some people will know about flames so I see no harm whatsoever in providing a viewing window if it is easy to include. But not essential.

Many statements are made to the effect that “no-one knows” or “most people will agree” , probably made without thinking. I’m sure I’ve ( well, may have) been guilty of over egging (well, maybe just ever so slightly) a point of view on occasions (well, possibly, maybe one…..or perhaps two).

I am one of those who believes a significant number of people can manage the basic calculations needed to navigate their way through life. Just because some people cannot is not a reason to unnecessarily dumb everything down to a meaningless level.

In this case I would like Which? to clarify exactly what happened in the history of Derrick’s boiler. There are unanswered questions.

Member

I absolutely agree, Dave. It is very difficult to imagine why any company should produce a boiler with a viewing window that can provide visual reassurance that all is well. Boilers are often serviced only once a year and a fault could go unnoticed for months or until the heat exchanger is blocked with soot.

I can think of quite a few examples of products that are not as safe as they could be, for example plastic-cased kettles, fan heaters and other household products with a powerful heater in a plastic casing.

Member

DK – I recently found a hob with a burner with yellow flames and there was a curious smell, presumably due to soot particles. Apparently it had been like this for some time. All that was wrong was that one of the parts of the burner cap was misaligned. I have limited experience with gas hobs but I have not seen this problem before. I suggested keeping an eye out for yellow flames and getting a carbon monoxide detector.

Member

“Just a few years after buying a British Gas-recommended boiler, Which? Legal member Derrick Bradfield was told it was unsafe to use because of insufficient gas pressure.

That was just one of a series of problems with the boiler he’d bought for £2,595 in January 2009. British Gas had recommended it based on an engineer’s assessment of what his house needed. But the engineer never tested the house’s gas supply pressure.

The major problems with the boiler began as early as February 2012. Derrick had taken out a service contract for the boiler with Npower and asked it to investigate. When it found the boiler unsafe to use due to the insufficient pressure, Derrick had to pay to replace parts not covered under his service agreement.”

I am uncomfortable with the story also. And actually reading it you note things like the engineer is not mentioned as being a British Gas engineer. One might be lead to believe it was but it is not explicit.

We are given no details as to the parts replaced or the reasons why a lower gas pressure was dangerous. Apparently though an unsafe boiler could be repaired and put back into service. All in all the article is filled with bits that need explaining.

What action was taken against the specifying engineer by British Gas/ the regulator/HSE.
Ditto the fitting engineer
Does replacing the pipework make these individuals safe to work on other jobs?

Yes I am very very impressed that Which? Legal suggesting Mr. Bradfield recover his money from the loan provider however this is hardly the important point of the story is it.

In fact one might take the view that Which? as a consumer body should be writing up a full dossier on all that happened so us readers can learn the full story. And then of course cover how not testing the gas supply has no serious repercussions for British Gas. If the customer had moved I suspect they would have escaped scot-free.

Member

At the risk of taking this slightly off topic, the need to check the pressure at point of entry to the boiler must surely be done when the appliance is drawing gas. Even with microbore pipe the pressure without flow will be almost the same as that at the meter. It’s only when one starts to draw gas when the pressure drop will be a problem. To that end, what about a header pump at the boiler entry as an option where small pipe is used rather than the upheaval of re-piping the house?

Member

My boiler instructions say that to measure the inlet gas pressure the boiler must be run at maximum output at commissioning and servicing. This will allow for the pressure drop in the pipework which is only measurable when gas is flowing at the required rate, as you say. The problem with a header pump – if you mean something that will “suck” gas – is that other connected appliances would suffer from insufficient gas, like your cooker. Best to rectify the problem once and for all, I’d suggest.

Member

Agreed Malcolm, although if all pipes are run from a manifold on the meter, this would not be a problem.

Member

It used to be normal to supply boilers with a 15 mm gas pipe and my own boiler has worked fine for over 30 years with this arrangement. Now 22 mm is the norm and I have seen some mentions of 28 mm. Replacing the pipe can considerably increase the cost of replacing an old boiler. Microbore pipe (8 or 10 mm) is used to circulate water on heating systems rather than for gas supply, at least on boilers fed with natural gas.

Member

I have not seen microbore pipework in a gas supply to a boiler but it is often used for individual gas fires. I should be surprised if the Gas Regulations allows the installation of a pump in the domestic gas supply, and in any case it is one more thing to go wrong and suffer power outages.

Most gas plumbing to cookers in houses before the 1960’s was in one-inch diameter galvanised steel pipework where the internal diameter was probably around 20mm although in a previous house we still had the old gas lighting supply pipes just beneath the wall surfaces and under the floorboards and they were probably half-inch or five-eights inch diameter. Before then most domestic boilers were coal-fired but gas water heaters [e.g. ‘Ascot’] were common and also had one-inch gas supply pipework if my memory serves me right.

Member

The diameter of gas pipe necessary will depend upon the power of the boiler. If you replace a boiler its output may be higher than the existing one and then a larger supply pipe may be necessary. It’s not worth spending money on a new boiler and then not supplying it with enough gas. Recommendations are designed to ensure an adequate gas supply.

i’d still like to know the facts behind this case. It does not look to be straightforward. Will Which? tell us more?

Member

Agreed Malcolm. This has whetted my appetite now, previously I was indifferent.

The input feed to the meter is the limiting factor. Changing that would be prohibitively expensive I should think.

Member

I also would like to see more.

Member

Hello all, I’ll speak to the legal team and see what further details we have on this. Thanks

Member

John – While reading my gas meter I was reminded that there appears to be a pressure regulator between the house supply and the meter inlet. If the pressure in the main is higher than in the pipework that feeds the boiler and other gas appliances, the diameter of the house supply pipe could be less important.

Member

The gas main pressure will be higher, maybe 75mbar, so a regulator is fitted before the meter to reduce this to 21mbar. You can’t tamper with this. Normally 1 or 2 mbar are allowed for in pressure loss in the pipework from the meter to the house. If a regulator is fitted on the house side of the meter then this is the house owner’s responsibility; if it is restricting the gas pressure it can be adjusted but clearly cannot go above the 21mbar of the supply.

The metered supply to a domestic premises has, I understand, a capacity normally of 6 cu.m/hour – around 64kW. So it is important to ensure that the total consumption of all appliances does not exceed this otherwise the supply will not cope.

Unless the pressure at the meter is too low, or the appliances are too high power, it does seem that the sensible answer is to fit a properly-sized feed pipe from the meter.

Member

The problem is that replacing the pipe can be difficult in some properties, or so I have read online. Obviously it is essential to comply with the boiler manufacturer’s instructions and to ensure that the pressure at the boiler inlet complies with requirements, but it could be an unforeseen expense. I know that it would be simple to put in a larger diameter pipe if I changed my boiler, with less than two metres of readily accessible piping to be replaced.

Member

The diameter of the gas supply pipe will also depend on the length of the pipe, so it is vital for the engineer to check the gas pressure when the boiler is operating at maximum output.

Coincidentally, I am having a replacement 2 burner LPG hob installed for one of the charities I’m involved with. The gas engineer said the existing 8 mm supply pipe, which is less than two metres in length, would be adequate and that matches the inlet of the hob.

Member

As said earlier the recommendations given for my boiler (and presumably others) give the pipe diameters for a length of 3-4 metres. Bends will also affect the flow, as they do for any pipework carrying a gas or fluid. So it is better to err on the safe side.