/ Home & Energy

Gas Safety Week 2021: tell us your stories

We’re supporting Gas Safety Week once again. Do you have a story to tell about unsafe work and installations? Let us know in the comments.

As you may remember from our Which? Conversation in 2018, Gas Safety Week is an annual event coordinated by the Gas Safe Register, the official body for gas safe engineers in the UK.

The purpose of the week is to make people aware of the potential dangers of having unsafe gas appliances in their homes and how they can correctly take care of their appliances.

Did you know approximately two thirds of illegal gas work inspected by the Register has been found to be unsafe?

When left unchecked and not serviced by a qualified heating and gas engineer, gas appliances can pose life-threatening risks such as gas leaks, carbon monoxide poisoning and, in some instances, fires or even explosions.

Your stories

We want to hear your stories where you have had illegal or unsafe installations in your home. What happened/went wrong? How was the situation resolved?

In 2018 when we called for your stories on DIY disasters, an engineer told us:

“I was called out to fix an oil boiler after a guy had tried to install it himself. Every wire had been disconnected in an attempt to make it work.

I have been called out so many times to faulty heating systems where the customer has tried to fix it themselves. It always ends up costing them more.

We often see gas pipework with the incorrect fittings, and electric showers with no earthing. Both are potentially very dangerous”

Which? Trusted Traders is encouraging businesses to pledge their support for Gas Safety Week this year and be part of the campaign to help keep the nation and local communities safe.

Have you ever had a problem with low-quality/unsafe gas work being carried out in your home? Let us know what happened in the comments.

Comments

The purpose of the week is to make people aware of the potential dangers of having unsafe gas appliances in their homes and how they can correctly take care of their appliances.

It would be useful if Which? explained just how this safety week will be used to increase people’s awareness. I confess to being cynical about such “awareness” events and the plethora of World ###Days that appear to do little. Or perhaps there is evidence that they do have a worthwhile and positive effect?

In 2018 1000 free CO alarms were given out by Trusted Traders along with gas safety information. What resulted from that?

Seeing this new Conversation reminded me to put a note in my diary about when my next boiler service is due.

British Gas cancelled my appointment for today. They cancelled at 3.00 o’clock yesterday. I had spent the afternoon emptying the cupboard so they could get to the boiler. They sent me the next available date 14th December. I went on their chat line to discuss my displeasure, but got little joy. They offered me £10. I have a home cover contract, my boiler should be serviced annually. The last time it was serviced was Feb 2020. My husband is disabled and I need to ensure that the heating is OK.

Be aware of British Gas Service. They have cancelled our service appointment 3 times.
OK, so they refunded our charge, but no offer of another date.
For BG, what price safety?

They cancelled my appointment for today. They cancelled at 3.00 o’clock yesterday. I had spent the afternoon emptying the cupboard so they could get to the boiler. They sent me the next available date 14th December. I went on their chat line to discuss my displeasure, but got little joy. They offered me £10. I have a home cover contract, my boiler should be serviced annually. The last time it was serviced was Feb 2020. My husband is disabled and I need to ensure that the heating is OK.

I have had the same problem with BG three years running so, as my maintenance contract [at a very low annual charge following installation of a new boiler] will shortly expire, I shall be using a local central heating servicing company in future. BG offered a new contract at nearly three times the price I have been paying but when I checked on-line the true price was much lower for the service level specified.

I was notified about the cancellation on the day prior [after having similarly emptied the airing cupboard!] so I was not well pleased. I was given a new date some six weeks later.

When I complained about the service cancellation this year — after considerable difficulty in finding a way of speaking to a real person instead of an automated message function — I was able to get a technician to attend two days later on a Saturday, which suited us fine and meant we didn’t have to put everything back in the cupboard.

It seems the company can serve us properly if they have a mind to and wish to keep a contract, but you have to persist and stand your ground. There was little in the way of an apology even though the service had been booked ahead about six weeks before the due date. It’s quite clear that British Gas prefer to give priority to emergency call-outs rather than to planned annual service contracts

The picture doesn’t look like a gas installation.

I also wondered about it. The image is much foreshortened and I assumed the plastic pipe in the foreground might be the condensate outflow and the one behind it the mains water inflow. No sign of the incoming gas pipe [unless it is the copper pipe behind the person’s second knuckle on his forefinger] or the central heating circuit’s flow and return pipes.

The law in Scotland changes from February 2022, making interlinked smoke/heat/CO alarms mandatory in all homes.
Why is there no mention of this on Which?, and why don’t the reviews for alarms mention compliance (or even have filters for interlink functionality on tested products)?
Every household in Scotland impacted, but zero coverage on Which?

Thanks for that. Here are the requirements in Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/publications/fire-and-smoke-alarms-in-scottish-homes/

This Which? article briefly mentions the benefits of interlinked alarms but I agree that this should be highlighted: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smoke-alarms/article/how-to-place-and-maintain-smoke-alarms-acfj33X4xOUj

It would be helpful if Gas Safe engineers would explain the benefits of interlinked alarms when servicing boilers etc. and maybe leave information for the householder.

“It would be helpful if Gas Safe engineers would … maybe leave information for the householder.”

Given the very low cost of a basic CO alarm, Gas Safe engineers should be required to install one for free during a maintenance visit if not already present, or test and replace batteries in an existing installation if necessary.

Look at it as an investment. At least the customer will be there next year.

Here is advice from Which? about carbon monoxide alarms: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/12/top-5-carbon-monoxide-alarm-tips-for-winter/

The point about replacing CO alarms after the specified number of years is important because they can become less sensitive.

I have 11 interlinked smoke alarms which are mains powered with battery back up, and if one goes off so do all the rest. The one problem I’ve had with them so far is when one alarm fails and goes off needlessly it’s difficult to find out which one is causing the problem as the faulty one has to be isolated from the rest. You have to isolate them from their mains supply, you should have a separate fused spur for that with a 3 amp fuse in it, and then get the stepladder out and take them down one by one until you find the faulty one. And so far I’ve got lucky and got the right one first time as it was the bedroom one where I have my toaster and I think the toasting fumes must have affected it, and I’ve had two fail in that position so far, but not for a long while now, but then I’ve not made any toast for a long while either. I also had one fail on my landing too. And carbon monoxide alarms usually have a built in counter that starts counting down once it’s powered for the first time and they usually last for about 7 years and then when that’s passed it won’t stop bleeping so it reminds you to replace it. And if you’re a landlord renting out properties then you have to fit smoke alarms, and CO alarms too if there’s gas appliances, with a permanently fitted lithium battery which usually lasts about 10 years.

Sophie says:
10 September 2021

I was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning several years ago. I was very disappointed with the response from Wales & West Utilities. The man who came out said I should not use my boiler until it had been checked and was emphatic that my gas cooker could not be the problem. He said he was not allowed to check for carbon monoxide emissions. When I bought a CO detector I found it was my cooker that was the problem, with very high levels of CO.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is diagnosed or suspected, all gas appliances must be tested, as explained on the Gas Safe Register’s website: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/gas-safety-in-the-home/get-your-appliances-checked/

I wish you had complained about the employee to the Gas Safe Register at the time, Sophie, even if they worked for Wales & West Utilities. Failing to take appropriate action is as serious as doing inadequate repairs. Anyone can report a problem online: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/complaints-report-an-illegal/gas-work-complaint/

If yellow flames can be seen, that will indicate that the gas is not burning properly and carbon monoxide is being produced. It’s important to have a carbon monoxide alarm in the same room as each gas, oil or solid fuel appliance.

If your cooker is producing fumes I bet it’s the oven causing the problem, I’ve got the same problem with mine, it burns with a bit of yellow in the flame, a bit too much and it stinks. And I think what’s happened is a build up of dust in the air intake channels which needs cleaning out. A gas appliance will produce dangerous CO fumes if it can’t get enough oxygen to burn cleanly, or if it’s exhaust outlet is too restricted. So I don’t use the oven, the rest of the cooker burns nice and clean and blue.

British Gas cancelled my appointment for today. They cancelled at 3.00 o’clock yesterday. I had spent the afternoon emptying the cupboard so they could get to the boiler. They sent me the next available date 14th December. I went on their chat line to discuss my displeasure, but got little joy. They offered me £10. I have a home cover contract, my boiler should be serviced annually. The last time it was serviced was Feb 2020. My husband is disabled and I need to ensure that the heating is OK.

Boiler Repair Standards Need Tackling

As a landlord and a home owner I’ve had more experience than I’d like dealing with boiler breakdowns. The service levels have always been a little up and down but lately they’ve gone through the floor.

NIBE has been servicing our home boiler – the Fighter 1140 model, which we call ‘The Quitter’ as everytime there’s a power cut, a part called a ‘soft starter’ blows. We’ve been through five of them in as many years.

In October this happened again but the NIBE engineer that was sent this time said he couldn’t find a problem with the boiler at all and just restarted the system. An hour after he’d left we could see the ‘phase fault’ had appeared again.

Someone from NIBE then rang us up recommending we buy a new £4K ‘top unit’ for the boiler. We declined this offer as it seemed excessive (not to mention opportunistic) and when the engineer appeared again, he suggested we replace the compressor – at a cost of £1700+

When I pointed out to NIBE that the soft start is usually the problem, they refused to move from their compressor recommendation and wouldn’t send another engineer. So we turned to an independent who changed the soft start and hey presto, it works again. We had to wait two weeks for this though. Luckily I’m so familiar with this boiler now that I know how to access the service menu and turn on the immersion heater – it’s not a cheap option though.

Meanwhile, over at my rented property, I was getting the annual Gas Safety Certificate check done and the British Gas engineer that came said the Potterton needed ‘a five minute job’ before it would pass – but he couldn’t do it.
So I booked a second British Gas engineer who then condemmed the boiler! This was a couple of days before tenants were due to move in. I then shelled out £7K as a distressed purchase for a Valliant boiler (+ radiators) which were installed to a high standard by a local contractor and came with a 7 year Valliant guarantee.

In the cold snap of 2 weeks ago, the condenser pipe froze – a fault clearly so common on Valliants that they put the diagnosis on their customer service telephone holding messages (you hold for a long time with Valliant). Their engineer couldn’t come for 5 days so meanwhile, I agreed for my chilly tenant to hire another gas engineer who turned up and said he couldn’t fix the problem.

When the Valliant engineer arrived on the Friday, I got a call saying that he couldn’t fix the boiler as he wasn’t allowed to go above two rungs on his ladder. I pointed out that this was the first time in 15 years any engineer had said the boiler was placed too high to work on. He wouldn’t budge. However, he did press a button on the front of the bolier (he could reach that it seems) that reset it and apparently it has been working since.

What’s my point? Well it seems to me that the boiler repair business is in a shocking state, with even the big name boiler makers unable to provide a half-decent service. The standards are consistently low in my experience.

When you do find a good boiler engineer, like we did, finally for The Quitter, it’s such a relief but it’s also a lottery. Boilers are so important to our everyday life that they deserve a better repair industry. Please can someone consider setting one up? I’d happily pay monthly on subscription for a good service and I suspect I’m not alone.

Hi Ross

It may be easy to reduce the risk of condensate pipes on condensing boilers freezing by making sure the pipe does not have any horizontal run that could allow ice to build up in cold weather. It might be possible. If a boiler is in a utility room or kitchen it may be possible to pipe the condensate to a drain, eliminating the risk of freezing.

I know nothing about heat pumps but it seems that the ‘soft starter’ is a relay with a time delay to prevent power being applied to the compressor soon after it has been shut down. Without it the back pressure in the system would prevent it starting, so it would draw a very heavy current. It is not obvious why a power failure should kill the relay. If you can find others having the same problem (e.g. via an online user group) it could be worth raising this with the manufacturer. If you are buying these heat pumps as a business rather than an individual you will not have the protection of the Consumer Rights Act, though from my own experience, businesses can be much better supported than individuals.

I support your call for better standards. Which? has in the past discovered some very poor workmanship by boiler service engineers.

Edit: A quick search turned up a similar problem, albeit with a different heat pump: http://www.greenbuildingforum.co.uk/newforum/comments.php?DiscussionID=14171
It points out that there can be a large mark-up in price compared with using an electrical wholesaler. It is likely that the part you need is a standard electrical component rather than one specifically made for the heat pump.

Thanks wavechange. NIBE knows this boiler has issues as at some point in the Fighter 1140 history, they started replacing ‘soft starter’ for free under warranty to accredited boiler engineers. Of course this little bit of information our first boiler engineer did not tell us about and charged us for the part each time. Only when I discovered online that NIBE were offering to swap them free, did the engineer not charge us. I just raised this again with the new engineer and apparently NIBE is saying they have no knowledge of this warranty. This is what I mean – it’s the wild west out there as far as boiler engineers are concerned.

It’s very disappointing that a NIBE engineer should be charging any more than labour costs if the company had decided to offer free replacement parts, Ross. In your position I would think about trying for a refund unless NIBE only made the offer after the work had been done. I would hope that NIBE will find a way of substituting the part with one that is fit for purpose.

It is very common for products to have weaknesses that are well known to those in the trade. I have an old gas boiler and the first engineer I spoke to said that the circuit board was expensive and prone to failure but that I was lucky because an improved part had been fitted.

Another thing to watch for is service engineers who replace a part, find that it does not help and repeat this sequence until the problem is fixed. This happened when I was ‘boiler sitting’ for my family who were at work at the time. I asked the Worcester-Bosch engineer to put back two parts that were not faulty rather than charge my family for three parts. It’s not the fault of an engineer to have go try various parts but equally it’s not right to charge the customer for parts that are not needed.

Incidentally I’m not condemning all service engineers and the good ones can be scathing about the cowboys.

After reading these posts on here I’m glad my boiler is a nice simple one with no electronics or relays etc. but just a simple capillary thermostat controlling a solenoid valve with a thermocouple. The only electronics in my system are in the programmer which I’ve built from scratch and has two timers instead of the usual one, which I find too restrictive. And there’s no computers or processors, no software, no wireless or “smart” stuff, but just a simple motorised mechanical timer for the radiators, and a fixed half hour simple electronic timer for the hot water using good well proven old fashioned tech using as many British parts as possible, including a small transformer and the case it’s all housed in. And of course there’s no dreadful multi-layered circuit boards or micro surface mounted stuff, no chance! And no digital displays either, but just a few simple switches and neons.

I recently had a visit from Cadet, the gas Safety people, who informed me that they wanted to move my meter! Why I asked? Well he explained your installation is illegal!!!!!! Yes a conservatory had been erected over the meter and the gas outside supply pipe (plastic) was now inside the property and posed a potential risk if there was a fire in the building. Internal pipes must be metal. There were lots of problems but I wasn’t charged. Presumably because it was done by previous owner and the construction may have been inspected by the local building isnspector?

Years ago I had a gas meter connected with two stainless steel corrugated hoses and this was deemed unsafe, so one was replaced with a copper pipe. After the installer left I realised that I had a gas leak because one of the connections had not been tightened. I tightened it and cured the problem. I know I should not have interfered but unlike the installer I checked for leakage.