Heating Helpline

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New name for the organisation behind the Heating Helpline

On the 1 March 2012 the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), first established in 1904, rebranded and became BES, the Building & Engineering Services Association. The prime driver for the name change was that most members no longer described themselves as “h&v contractors” but providers of a wide range of integrated building and engineering services and renewable technologies. B&ES is still the only UK trade association that makes it compulsory for its members to undergo regular, third-party inspection and assessment of their technical competence and commercial capability, carried out by an independent certification body. B&ES members who undertake gas installations are all registered with Gas Safe – the gas safety watchdog body – and are also members of TrustMark, the Government-endorsed scheme designed to direct customers towards reliable tradespeople.

Be Gas Safe - new carbon monoxide poisoning campaign gets underway

Be Gas Safe is a new initiative being delivered by RoSPA and the Gas Safe Charity to help publicise the dangers of CO poisoning especially to the elderly and more vulnerable. Over the life of the programme 10,000 families at higher risk will receive CO alarms and it is hoped that ten times as many people will receive advice, information and education about gas safety and the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.The campaign has a new website www.carbonmonoxidesafety.org.uk which will provide support to 'local partners' involved in delivering the Be Gas Safe programme in their area as well as being a comprehensive source of advice and information for the public on the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and all aspects of gas safety.

Condensing boiler failures in cold weather - advice to homeowners from the Heating Helpline

In each of the last two winters the UK has experienced periods of extremely cold weather with sub-zero temperatures. One unforeseen development of these low temperatures has been the widespread breakdown of modern condensing boilers. Now it is estimated there are eight million condensing boilers in homes across Britain. But tens of thousands of these homes have been left without heating over the last two winters as these boilers have shut down without warning. Bob Towse, Technical & Safety Manager at the B&ES, comments, “Condensing boilers recover more of the heat produced when gas is burned, to the point where some of the by-products of combustion – water vapour – condense inside the boiler and have to be disposed of. This involves an extra pipe to take the condensed water away to the property’s waste water drainage system. In some cases the routing of the pipe will involve running the pipework on the outside wall of the property and positioning the outlet over an adjacent household drain.

“The design of all of the boilers includes a safety system which shuts down the boiler in the event that the condensed water starts to ‘back-up’ inside the appliance. What has happened over the last two winters is that the condensed water has frozen in the external pipework, stopping the flow and the safety systems within the appliance have then shut the appliance down.

“The appliance manufacturers’ instructions are very specific about the requirements for the condensate drain from their appliances and they all include the option to route the condensate drainage pipework outside the building. The installer of the equipment – and that should be a qualified Gas Safe Registered heating engineer – cannot therefore be held responsible for carrying out the installation of a condensate drain using a method specifically recommended in the installation instructions for the appliance.

“Of course there is nothing worse than being in the middle of a period of sub zero temperatures with a central heating boiler that doesn’t work. If these extreme winters are going to continue we can only recommend that homeowners take advice from a local Gas Safe Registered installer. The favoured options to take preventative measures are likely to be:-

- Where possible, have the condensate pipework re-routed inside the property and connected to the property’s internal drainage system.

- Have “trace heating” fitted to the external pipework to keep it warm.

- Change the external pipework to one with a larger diameter – some research suggests this can reduce the risk of freezing and pipe blockage.

An easy way to locate a qualified, reputable gas installer is to the search facility on this website or the heating Helpline.

10 simple ways to combat record energy prices

Household energy bills have doubled in six years and the latest round of massive increases will add around £200 extra to pay on “dual fuel” household bills.  These increases could not have come at a worse time for most households with family budgets already under huge strain.  The Heating Helpline offers ten simple steps that homeowners and tenants can take to combat these recent inflation-busting price rises:

Watch out for bogus doorstep callers

The Consumer Council for Water is calling for consumers to be extra vigilant against “distraction burglars” or bogus callers - criminals who pretend to be from a utility company or other organisation to trick their way into a home and rob it. Around 30 bogus caller crimes happen in England and Wales every day and a number of these criminals try to trick their way into a home by saying they are from ‘the water board’. The Consumer Council for Water’s top tips to protect against bogus callers is:

– Keep your door on the chain and look to see who is calling before opening it.

– Ask to see the caller’s identification. He or she should show it to you through the crack in the door, or through the letter box. Check that the person is genuine by calling the organisation.

– You are entirely within your rights to have the person wait outside while you phone the organisation the caller says they are from to check their validity.

– It’s OK to refuse entry or ask the person to leave at any time if you’re not completely satisfied that the caller is genuine. If the visit is legitimate, they can ring ahead or reschedule.

– If the visitor insists they need access immediately, or before you carry out the necessary checks immediately call 999.

The Consumer Council for Water’s website is:www.ccwater.org.uk

Stay safe – don’t let a bogus gas installer put your life at risk

Hardly a week goes by without another successful prosecution of a bogus gas installer who has carried out illegal gas work for a home owner.  It is estimated that there are over 20,000 bogus gas installers operating in the UK carrying out over 250,000 jobs each year.  Apart from putting lives at risk it costs homeowners around £100 million a year just to rectify this unsafe work. An alarming one in five homes inspected by the Gas Safety watchdog, the Gas Safe Register, was found to be ‘immediately dangerous’ and the appliances had to be disconnected straight away to make them safe.  In all cases the work had been done by an illegal gas fitter. Bob Towse, Technical Consultant to the Heating Helpline, comments, "Every week families, and especially OAPs, fall victim to bogus gas fitters who don’t have the skills or qualifications to work on gas appliances; working with gas appliances is demanding, specialist work and potentially very dangerous.

“Poorly installed gas work can cause explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal and can also cause serious long-term health problems. Don’t simply rely on the recommendation of a friend or use a plumber that has done work for you in the past – anyone you are thinking of hiring to carry out gas work in your home must be Gas Safe Registered, and always ask to see their Gas Safe Register identity card and contact the Register immediately on 0800 408 5500 if you have any concerns or if you think the gas fitter is using a falsified ID card or still using a CORGI ID card which is no longer valid”.

An easy way to locate a qualified, reputable gas installer is to use the search facility on this website.

The price of domestic fuel oil has doubled leaving home owners looking for alternatives

Homeowners that are not connected to the mains gas network have few alternatives to installing an oil-fired boiler. In addition to sustained, substantial hikes in fuel oil prices many households have also found it difficult to get their fuel oil tanks replenished due to problems in the supply chain.  It’s hardly surprising they’re looking at alternatives in order to reduce their spiralling heating and cooking bills such as adapting their boilers to use biofuels. Biofuels are created from either recycling used cooking oils or are processed direct from plants such as soya or rapeseed that are grown specifically for fuel oil.  Biofuels are not always suitable for burning in domestic boilers and may result in damage to the system if used.  Bob Towse, Technical Consultant to the Heating Helpline, comments, “When  switching to biofuel-burning boilers, either by making adaptations to existing boilers or installing new equipment, it is vitally important to consider a number of issues such as:

– the reliability and continuity of local supplies;

– the storage of this fuel type:  this needs to be carefully managed as biofuels readily absorb water.  It will be necessary to buy a new bio-compatible oil storage tank and to adapt your boiler and fuel lines as some existing parts are not compatible with biofuel;

– awareness that biofuels can react differently with common materials causing them to perish and corrode, such as rubber seals in fuel pumps and filters;

– the need for special burner nozzles and supply pipes to cope with the new fuel properties:  biofuels are thicker and heavier with different burning characteristics than conventional mineral oil fuel oils;

– ensuring that a knowledgeable, qualified and registered heating engineer carries out the work.

You can use the search facility on this website to find your nearest reputable, registered heating engineer.

Don't wait until next winter to get your heating system serviced

If you have ever had your boiler break down in the middle of the winter you will know that it’s no fun being in a house or flat with no hot water and no heating.  This is the time when heating engineers are rushed off their feet – dealing with breakdowns and repairs – so getting one to come out “instantly” while you shiver with cold is not always possible and it can take days before they can fit you in.  The Heating Helpline advises homeowners to get their boiler serviced well before next winter sets in. Bob Towse, technical consultant to the Heating Helpline, “Heating engineers are much less busy during the summer months, so not only is it a good time to call in a professional heating engineer, you can normally expect to pay less for a boiler service. It’s worth bearing in mind that a regularly serviced boiler is not only far less prone to breakdown it will be much more efficient and with predictions of yet another round of energy price rises the long-term savings of a well maintained boiler can be significant.

“Of even more importance are the safety implications of a boiler that has not been serviced, or at least checked by a qualified engineer for some time – around 50 people in the UK still needlessly die every year from preventable carbon monoxide poisoning caused by defective domestic gas appliances and poorly ventilated systems. So why wait until the middle of winter?  Use the Heating Helpline website to find a reputable engineer and arrange to have your boiler and heating system serviced today”

Making the wrong renewable energy choice could prove costly

There is a big choice of renewable technologies available ranging from solar thermal panels, solar PV panels, ground and air source heat pumps, underfloor heating and wind turbines. The installation costs can vary dramatically – along with the “payback” period – and not all technology is suitable for a home; heat pump performance for example is highly sensitive to installation and commissioning practices with monetary savings dependent on the correct installation of the heat pump.  Bob Towse, technical consultant to the Heating Helpline, comments, “Renewable energy systems are complex technology and it’s vital that homeowners get expert, professional advice before they commit what might be substantial sums of money for an installation that could be totally inappropriate for their needs with no realistic chance of a return on their investment. There are too many rogue installers operating who will sell a system that not only isn’t right but will then badly install it; this is for the most part specialist technology requiring technical competence for the installation and only tradesmen that have been properly trained should be employed to undertake this work.

“Our advice at the Heating Helpine is don’t just jump in or be persuaded into buying by a high pressure salesman – we urge homeowners to be cautious about getting the right renewable technology for their circumstances and how they go about finding a tradesman.  Homeowners should only use reputable, reliable tradesmen and steer well clear of the rip-off tactics of the cowboy installers”.

Beating the boiler cowboys – B&ES backs new National Standards campaign

The UK’s major gas boiler manufacturers, with the support of the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), have launched a campaign to rid the industry of rogue, incompetent installers. Consumers are often confused by how to ensure that their installer is suitably qualified, but the new initiative will see warranty claims becoming invalid if a commissioning checklist was not completed when the heating system was installed. The nationally recognised Benchmark Scheme is the mark of quality for the installation, commissioning and servicing of domestic heating and hot water systems. Benchmark checklists are included within the installation instructions of products now supplied by all the mainstream boiler manufacturers, making it simple for the competent, qualified installer to comply. By linking the completion of a commissioning checklist to the warranty of a new boiler they are also sending a clear message to illegal and cowboy installers that manufacturers will not support installations that have not been carried out in line with the manufacturers’ instructions. Use the search facility on this website to locate a reliable, reputable and qualified heating engineer - this will ensure that any heating work undertaken in your home complies with the law and meets the highest standards from start to finish.

BBC's Eastenders runs gas poisoning story line

BBC One Soap EastEnders has tackled the important issue of boiler installation and maintenance in its current (February 2011) story featuring Albert Square resident Heather Trott. This brings home the very real dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning when domestic boilers are not looked after on a regular basis. This serves as a timely render that landlords should be aware of the very severe penalties for ignoring their obligations under gas safety legislation.  Bob Towse, technical and safety consultant for the Heating Helpline, comments, “I am pleased to see a hugely influential and popular show like EastEnders has chosen to cover this important issue. Whilst this is in the public eye it is worth highlighting that landlords must realise that failure to properly maintain a boiler puts tenants’ lives at risk – poorly maintained or defective gas appliances can leak potentially lethal quantities of carbon monoxide (CO) and around 50 people still needlessly die every year from CO poisoning. With the Corporate Manslaughter legislation now in force, landlords who flout gas safety legislation are likely to be very harshly treated by the courts. Buy-to-let landlords under increasing financial pressure could be tempted to cut corners by ignoring the requirement to arrange for a reputable, Gas Safe registered installer to carry out annual safety checks and servicing but it’s just not worth the risk. Many private landlords that have bought property to let in the last few years may not even be aware of their legal responsibilities where their properties have gas equipment installed”.

If you are living in rented accommodation your landlord must issue you with a copy of the gas safety certificate following the annual safety check by a Gas Safe Registered engineer and you should not hesitate to contact the Health & Safety Executive (0845 345 0055) if the landlord does not provide this.  The gas safety certificate must also be provided to tenants when moving in to a new property.  When moving in to a new property you should ensure that all heating appliances and installations are maintained in good order.

What to do with your heating system when you're away

Short  break or two-week holiday?  Whichever it is, if you are planning to be away from home for a few days or more, what’s the best way to protect your home yet avoid paying out for unnecessary energy consumption?  Switching the heating system off altogether might be tempting but what if there is a late winter cold snap that might result in a burst pipe?  Here’s the Heating Helpline's top advice for holidaymakers:

- For a winter or spring get-away when the UK can still experience a severe cold snap it’s best to keep your heating on low – around   10° C / 50° F.

- If you haven’t already got one, consider having a programmable thermostat fitted – these give you complete control over your heating and usually have a holiday setting – this means your heating can come back on to normal setting the day before you come home so you don't return to a cold house.

– Insulate pipes with preformed insulation.

– Replace washers on dripping taps because if the taps freeze the pipe will become blocked.

– Find out where your water valves are and how to turn them off in case a pipe should burst

– Leave the loft door open to let the heat from downstairs circulate.

Carbon monoxide fumes in the home can kill

February 2011 was the first anniversary of the tragic death of Katie Haines, a vibrant, healthy 31 year old who died from carbon monoxide caused by a faulty gas boiler at her home.  A tragic but timely reminder that too many people in the UK still needlessly die every year from preventable gas-related carbon monoxide poisoning – a silent and lethal killer. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless, non-irritant gas.  It is the most common cause of fatal poisoning in the UK with 50 people each year being killed by it and hundreds more made seriously ill. CO poisoning occurs when gas fired appliances such as boilers, cookers and fires are not operating correctly.  Homes with old appliances or appliances that have been infrequently (or never) serviced are most at risk, with research indicating that nearly a quarter of UK homes have one or more defective gas appliance. Bob Towse, technical and safety consultant to the Heating Helpline, comments, “It is essential that gas appliances are maintained in good condition and subject to annual maintenance and safety checks by a qualified Gas Safe registered engineer. If your boiler is more than ten years old or has been infrequently serviced in the past, you really should contact a Gas Safe registered engineer to have your heating system inspected. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, tiredness and nausea and can be mistaken for flu, a virus and even food poisoning. Fitting a European standard certified audible carbon monoxide alarm is a vital second line of defence after having your appliances safety checked.  It is essential that your alarm is marked with the EN50291 safety standard and with the CE mark”.

Even though you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide there are vital signs to look out for such as:

– Sooting and staining on or around your gas boiler or other gas appliance

– Excessive condensation in the room where an appliance is installed

– Lazy, yellow-orange gas flame instead of blue

The father of Katie Haines called on government and the major energy suppliers to work together in a concerted effort to raise awareness of this silent killer.  Commenting, Mr Samuel said, “If my daughter had been aware of what to look out for and how to fit a carbon monoxide alarm she would be alive today”.

Top ten tips to keep energy bills down

Utility companies are probably as unpopular as banks right now with another round of recent price rises. This useful 10-point guide will help homeowners keep bills down and reduce waste.

- Change energy provider – with major price hikes happening, everyone should review and compare prices.  In particular people on standard tariffs should be switching to online tariffs cutting a home’s typical bill from £1,250 a year to £950.

- Check to see what temperature your hot water cylinder thermostat is set at.  It should be set at 60°C or 140°F. Any higher is a waste of energy and could lead to scalding, but any lower and there may be a risk of legionella.

- Insulate the cylinder to avoid wasting energy.  Fitting a jacket to the hot water tank that is at least 75mm thick could save more than £50 each year.  Available from most plumbing suppliers and DIY stores.

- ‘White’ appliances like fridges that are more than 10 years old are “energy hogs”.  Replacing an old refrigerator or freezer with a modern appliance (energy efficient A or A+ models) could save you as much as £150 per year.  Look out for a bargain in the January sales.

- Set your system thermostat to no more than 21°C (70°F).  Each degree centigrade below this temperature can save as much as 10% on your heating energy.

- Consider fitting one of the new generation of programmable thermostats that let you choose the time you want your heating on and its temperature for all seven days of the week – it means saving energy by not heating your home unnecessarily.

- By installing a condensing boiler and modern heating controls, you could save well over £200 a year on your fuel bill – even more if you are replacing an electric system.  Since the changes to the Building Regulations in 2005, anyone installing a new domestic gas boiler in the UK has been required by law to use a high-efficiency option.

- Unoccupied rooms don’t need to be heated but a little heat will prevent condensation.  Thermostatic radiator valves let you control the temperature in each room.  TRVs cost around £8.00 each.

- Badly fitted doors and windows mean avoidable heat loss.  Draught proofing doors and windows by sealing gaps will help save energy.  Similarly a curtain at the front door and heavy, well-fitted curtains at the windows provide insulation and reduce draughts.

- Heat rises and a great deal of heat can be lost through the roof, so upgraded insulation in the roof space can have a major impact on heat loss through the ceiling, typically paying back within two years.  Ensure your insulation is at 27cm as this could save you up to £150 a year.

Hot water advice for older people

Older people, in particular the frail elderly over 75 years of age, are most at risk and vulnerable to burns and scalding accidents caused by hot water.  Figures show that nearly 600 people suffer the effects of a severe scald injury in the UK each year.  These accidents might have been prevented with a routine service and maintenance check of domestic home heating systems. For most domestic properties in the UK, hot water should be stored at temperatures of at least 60 degrees centigrade.  This is necessary to guard against the build up of legionella bacteria in the water system.  This means that most of the hot water in our homes is kept at a temperature that can cause scalding.  The Government is so worried about the risk of scalding to the old, young or infirm that they have recently implemented new requirements in Part G of the Building Regulations so that in all new  properties only thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) hot water taps are fitted.  These work by mixing in some cold water to ensure the temperature is safe.  These can be fitted to showers and in bathrooms.

Bob Towse, technical and safety consultant for the Heating Helpline, comments, “Elderly people are especially at risk from hot water scalding in the home and our advice to them is to ask a reputable heating engineer to install the controls in bathrooms.  The heating engineer will also be able to advise if there are other hot water outlets in the home that should also have controls fitted”.

Beware of rogue gas installers

Hardly a week goes by without a prosecution of tradesmen for illegally undertaking work on gas appliances in people’s homes. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 rogue gas installers operating in the UK. Two plumbers from Hertfordshire are the latest to be prosecuted for putting the lives of a family at risk by illegally working on the gas boiler in their home. Neither plumber was registered with Gas Safe, the compulsory registration scheme for gas engineers. Tests carried out on the boiler which the plumbers worked on showed exceptionally high levels of carbon monoxide – more than 200 times the manufacturers' specification. Both men admitted breaching Regulation 3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998.

Commenting on this case, Paul Johnston, Chief Executive of Gas Safe Register, said, “If you’re employing an engineer to fit, fix or service gas appliances you should always make sure that person is Gas Safe registered. You cannot afford to take any risks – badly fitted and poorly serviced gas appliances can cause fires, explosions, gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning".  

Energy prices rise

Home owners will not be surprised to hear that British Gas, Scottish & Southern and Scottish Power, three of the “Big Six” energy companies have recently put their prices up. The price increases range for 7% to 9.4% but these are “average" increases and will vary from area to area. Some households may face much larger increases.  EDF is the only company to have stated that they are freezing prices until March 2011 – this at least takes homeowners through the winter period when energy consumption is at its highest. You can of course “shop around” and see if you can get a better deal than your current supplier. Why not try one of the many online comparison sites to see who is currently offering the lowest energy prices.

A holiday for insulating your loft?

Homeowners will get discounts on their council tax and energy bills and even the chance to win luxury holidays under the Government's plan to pursued millions of homeowners to take out loans to insulate their homes. These new incentives are effectively an admission by the Government that households are likely to ignore the new 'Green Deal' unless there are better rewards attached. Rewards will be administered by energy companies. The Dept of Energy and Climate Change estimates there are 16 million homes that need to be made more energy efficient through measures like insulating solid walls, cavity walls, lofts and double glazing. The new incentives are being introduced because the Government now accepts that the high upfront costs and uncertainty over recouping the investment are likely to deter homeowners from upgrading their homes – work that can typically cost around £7000.

Government introduces new "Green Deal"

The latest in a long line of Government initiatives to increase home energy efficiency is the Government's new "Green Deal". With this planned new legislation homeowners may be entitled to spend up to £6,500 improving the energy efficiency of their home. Repayment will be from savings in future energy bills - but with the homeowner still seeing an overall saving. Even if the property is sold, the repayment will continue to be made through the energy bills by the new owner.

The Coalition Government is optimistic that Green Deal is going to have a significant impact and help 14 million households in the UK in a "meaningful time scale".

The basic structure of the scheme is that the money available to householders, be they in rented or private accommodation, will not be in the form of a personal loan, a green mortgage or a charge on the property. The measures taken to improve the insulation and energy efficiency of the property will be repaid through the energy bill for that property over 25 years. If that owner moves away, the cost will simply transfer to the energy bill of the next occupant. If the occupant changes energy company, the cost will simply transfer to the new energy company. The Government claims that the householder should see not only an increase in the insulation in their home, a reduction in their carbon emissions and an increase in warmth and quality of life for them and their family, but importantly - a reduction in their total energy bill.

Green Deal isn't going to have any impact in the short term. It looks as though the intention is that Green Deal financing and the revised supplier obligations will both come into force at the end of 2012.

Carbon monoxide victim takes to the road to stop silent killer

A woman whose children were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning for 10 years is setting off on a nationwide tour to raise awareness of the dangers of the silent killer.

Mum of four Lynn Griffiths will travel to different locations around the UK as part of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week (starting November 15), the week she founded alongside the charity she launched in 2005. The 52-year-old, whose children have suffered constant ill health after being exposed to the highly toxic colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, has called on MPs, local authorities and health workers to back her cause.

Lynn said: "Carbon monoxide (CO) is the most common poison in Britain today and I believe it's something many families know little about.

"We are keen to work with as many different organisations as possible to help prevent carbon monoxide deaths and injuries. I strongly believe that by working together we may save lives and help prevent some of the long-term suffering victims.

"Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week will raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and prevent others from going through the same feelings of isolation, frustration, anger and grief that my family has."

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills 50 people and seriously injures a further 200 every year in Britain alone. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, tiredness and nausea and can be mistaken for flu, a virus and even food poisoning.

Heating Helpline website gets a makeover

New look and new contents for the Heating Helpline website (PDF)

Helping students keep warm

Student accommodation energy costs (PDF)

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