Friday, 2 December 2016

Carbon monoxide detectors save lives, here’s what you need to know

On the back of carbon monoxide awareness week, we thought it would be pertinent to write a blogpost about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors, but in order to do this let’s first go into a little detail about carbon monoxide.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas produced by the incomplete burning of any fuel, including gas, oil or solid fuels. When carbon monoxide enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues and organs. 

Why do you need a carbon monoxide detector?

You can't see it, taste it or smell it, but carbon monoxide can kill quickly without warning or cause serious harm to health if breathed in over a long period of time. In extreme cases paralysis and brain damage can be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide.  According to statistics from the Health & Safety Executive, every year around 11 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated.

Who needs a carbon monoxide detector?

It is important to stress that it isn’t just gas boilers and appliances that you should safeguard against.  Oil and solid wood burning boilers, fires and stoves also produce carbon monoxide.  Therefore you should have a carbon monoxide detector in every room where a gas, oil or solid wood burning boiler, fire or stove is situated.

How much should you expect to pay for a carbon monoxide detector?

Prices vary and can start from under £10, but tests carried out by Which indicated that you’re more likely to end up with a safe and reliable carbon monoxide detector if you pay around £20 for one which requires disposable batteries or £25 for a detector with a screen and a long-life sealed battery.
Which recommend that you buy a carbon monoxide detector from a leading retail company such as Argos, B&Q, Currys, John Lewis, Homebase, Screwfix or Wickes.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

What types of carbon monoxide detectors are there?


Sealed battery carbon monoxide detectors. This type of detector sounds an alarm when carbon monoxide is detected and is disposable, typically lasting around 8-10 years.  The detector will make a regular sound when it is time to renew the unit. This solution avoids the need to regularly replace batteries.  

Replaceable battery carbon monoxide detectors. These detectors work in the same way as a sealed battery unit, but are usually cheaper as this type of unit requires batteries which should be changed every 12 months.

Smart carbon monoxide detectors.  When this type of unit detects carbon monoxide it sends an alert to your smartphone or device as well as sounding an alarm.  You will pay a premium over the aforementioned detectors as they offer the lasted in smart device connectivity.

Patch carbon monoxide detectors. Which do not recommend to buy such a detector, as rather than sounding an alarm a patch detector relies on you checking to see if the patch has changed colour.  It won’t alert you or wake you should carbon monoxide be present.

Final thoughts

Which recommends to buy carbon monoxide detectors that are loud enough to wake you up (85db or more) and that you test them regularly every month. 

It is also advisable that you have your cooking and heating appliances regularly checked, serviced and installed by a competent plumbing and heating engineer, such as an APHC member.

You can source a qualified APHC Quality Plumber here.

You can read our factsheet ‘Understanding the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide’ here.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Make the right call if your heating breaks down this winter

We all rely on our boilers in winter for heat and hot water and waking up to a cold shower is not the best start to the day. To avoid the day getting worse by using a rogue trader always ensure you have a plan in place in the event of needing to call out a plumber, especially in the coming weeks.

Make the right call if your heating breaks down this winter
Plumbers are in high demand during the winter season and finding a reputable plumber at short notice can be challenging. To avoid frantic calling around and trusting unreliable website searches take some time to prepare emergency contact numbers; it’s easy to sigh with relief when the first plumber called is available, but if you choose an unqualified tradesman it could leave to more problems and unexpected costs.

If you don’t have a trusted plumber to call upon here’s some advice on how to find reputable and qualified traders.
  • Look for a member of a trade association, such as APHC (www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk), who will ensure that a trader’s qualifications and past work is checked and verified to a high standard. 
  • Check credentials, such as Gas Safe Registration. Take the time to quickly check if the plumber’s membership is current and up-to-date by looking online or calling the organisation.
  • Before confirming a call-out check how much you will be charged. In an emergency a reputable trader will provide a cost for the call-out and rates for on-going time spent on the job. You should never feel pressurised into accepting work without a full explanation.
Employing a member of a trade organisation also has the additional security of codes of conduct to protect both the customer and tradespeople and often have schemes, which can help to resolve problems.

It’s also not too late to arrange a boiler service to prevent a breakdown in the first place and keep your heating system well maintained. To find a local qualified and reputable heating engineer you can use our search facility at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk. The online database allows you to search via a number of criteria including postcode, town or by specific business name.

As well as offering high levels of customer service and workmanship as standard, our members are fully vetted with their work checked annually to uphold high standards of workmanship.

We also have a series of free, impartial consumer guides to provide background information on a host of plumbing and heating topics. The guides range from advice on how to select and employ the right plumber or heating engineer, preparing for cold weather, dealing with emergencies and guides to conventional heating systems. In addition, new technologies are also demystified with information on solar thermal hot water and biomass boilers.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Cambodia's hygeine hero - inventing eco soap

With an almost unlimited choice of fruit-scented shower gels and creams available on the supermarket shelf, it can be all too easy to take for granted the availability of affordable products for keeping ourselves clean, but for many people around the world, soap is viewed as a luxury item which plays a key role in staving off serious illnesses and even saving lives. It was this urgent need to make safe hygiene products accessible to some of the world's poorest people that inspired an American student to develop an ingenious new way of recycling leftover soap.

American University student Samir Lakhani was spending his summer building fish ponds in a Cambodian village when he spotted a local woman washing her child with detergent - a harsh chemical which can damage skin, cause itchy eyes and even induce vomiting. Concerned, he set about thinking of a way that he could get his hands on large quantities of soap for free. It soon occurred to him that Siem Reap's hundreds of guesthouses and hotels, used by over 2 million tourists visiting the ancient Angkor Temples were disposing of huge amounts of soap each year and after persuading them to pass over their leftover soap, he came up with a way of recycling the discarded pieces of soap into a new bar of "eco soap". He also succeeded in recruiting a group of local students to help with the process of soap production.

Once back at University, Lakhani began raising money for his new venture and even managed to gain sponsorship from some major hotel chains to enable him to pay his soap makers. Employing 30 staff in 3 hubs across Cambodia, the Eco Soap Bank now collects soap from 170 hotels, and has supplied 650,000 with a way of getting clean. As well as being sold by local women, providing much-needed jobs, the soap is also given out free in schools, with "hygiene ambassadors" trained to demonstrate to children how to wash their hands properly.

In many parts of Cambodia, soap is viewed as a luxury, with detergent, ash or oil used as alternatives. With diarrhoea the country's third largest killer, inadequate hand washing can also lead to illnesses including parasites and lung infections. In this way, access to soap can make a huge difference to people's lives, with one statistic suggesting that proper hand washing can reduce instances of diarrhoea by 40-60%.

The next time you're lathering up in the shower, you might want to spare a thought for those struggling to stay clean and healthy around the world - perhaps you could also make a difference. To find a quality plumber in your local area, simply search using your postcode on the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Stopping slip ups - prevent pollution from your oil tank

From recycling to getting solar panels installed on the roof of our home, we're always being told ways we can reduce our environmental impact in order to protect our planet for future generations, however, one area you may not have thought about is the effect your oil tank may be having on local ecosystems. As well as helping to protect the wildlife in watercourses around your home and garden, taking care to check your oil tank over the winter months ahead could also help to guard you against potentially significant financial losses, so it really does make sense to follow our simple steps to prevent oil tank pollution.

A threat to water wildlife
When leaked from a tank, oil quickly enters the watercourse, moving from drains directly into rivers, streams, lakes and garden ponds. While you may think that a minor leak couldn't cause much damage, in reality even a small amount of oil can have a catastrophic effect on wildlife, poisoning fish and other creatures and smothering plants. In fact, just 2 litres of oil could seriously pollute the volume of fresh water needed to fill an Olympic swimming pool!

Costly clean-ups
In addition to the damage they can cause to the environment, oil leaks can also be very costly, both in terms of the oil lost and the high clean up costs involved which all too often are not covered by household insurance policies.

Top oil tank tips
To ensure your oil tank is safe to use and avoid the financial and environmental costs of oil leaks, always be sure to follow the below checklist:
  • Locate tanks as far away as possible from drains, streams and ponds.
  • Inspect tanks, pipes and other equipment for leaks, damage and interference once a week. Any problems should be fixed ASAP by an installation business competent in oil fired installation work. This should include any underground pipework.
  • Monitor how much oil your tank uses. If your oil usage suddenly increases this could indicate a leak.
  • Supervise oil deliveries to ensure your tank is not overfilled. Also remember not to order more oil than you can safely store.
  • Check that your home insurance covers clean up costs on both the property and the neighbouring land. Always notify your insurers immediately in the event of a spill/suspected spill.
  • If your tank starts leaking, try to stop oil soaking into the ground or going down the drains. Contact an installation business competent in oil fired installation work or your insurance company to arrange for them or a UK-spill accredited clean up company to come out. Visit www.ukspill.org.
  • Secondary containment such as a bund will prevent oil from leaking into the environment if a leak occurs. This is a legal requirement for domestic tanks which store more than 3,500 litres.
  • To report an oil leak or a spill, contact the Environment Agency's 24 hour hotline on 0800807060.
For work or advice on your oil tank, simply search for a quality plumber in your local area via the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Protecting your pipework

When it's snowing outside, you wouldn't leave the house without putting on a coat to protect you from the cold, but it may not have occurred to you that the same principle applies to your home's pipework. As well as being incredibly inconvenient, frozen pipes can also cause serious damage to your property, so it makes sense to follow a few simple steps in order to prepare your plumbing system for the cold winter weather.

Frozen pipes

Wherever you have exposed/uninsulated water pipes running through an area of your home which isn't insulated, you're at risk of the water inside the pipes freezing. This can include the pipework inside your home when you switch off your central heating due to going on holiday as well as pipes running through garages, lofts and roof spaces, under suspended wooden floors on the ground floor, cellars and outbuildings. The types of pipework susceptible to freezing are varied, including pipes belonging to central heating systems, the hot and cold water pipework to the taps on your basins, baths, showers, WCs, sinks or boiler condensate pipes.


How to stop pipes from freezing

The best method of preventing against frozen pipes is to ensure first of all that your pipes don't run through an unheated area, however, this won't always be possible. If you're going away for a short period, consider leaving your heating system on a timed function and set it to the lowest temperature on the thermostat. For longer periods, remember to drain down the water from your property's various systems. A quality plumber will be able to do this for you and can meet you on your return to fill the systems again. Pipe insulation will help to slow down the rate of freezing but won't prevent it alone.


Frost thermostats

These work by measuring and sending the temperature of the air around your boiler back to a controller to turn on the boiler at low temperatures, however, it offers no protection to hot and cold water pipes.


Trace heating

This involves an electrical cable attached to a pipe, which is then wired to a transformer and attached to the electrical supply. The pipe and cable are then covered in pipe insulation and the cable is turned on and off by an external frost thermostat, normally when the temperature falls below 2.5 - 3˚C. This process is basically the equivalent of placing a pipe in its own mini electric blanket so that it's warm enough not to freeze but not warm enough to heat water above 2.5˚C.


Condensate pipes

Condensing boilers can produce about 1 litre of condensate water in an hour. Should condensate pipes freeze, it can cause significant problems for your boiler as well as severely damaging your appliance. There are several methods of preventing your condensate pipes from freezing:

- Increase the size of the pipes from 20mm to 32 or 40

- Fit a high grade of pipe insulation to the pipes

- As a last measure, you may want to fit trace heating to the pipes
If your condensing boiler has stopped working and the outside temperature has dropped below 0˚C then there's a chance your condensate pipe may be frozen, meaning you should call a Gas Safe Registered engineer.

Protecting your pipes from damaging winter weather will involve some expenses initially, however, the money you could save in the long run certainly makes investing in pipe protection worthwhile. Search for a quality plumber or gas engineer in your local area via the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.



Friday, 28 October 2016

Taking care as a tenant: working with your landlord to stay Gas Safe

If you live in rented accommodation, you expect your landlord to keep your property in a safe and comfortable condition and in the case of issues such as damp or broken appliances arising, they're normally your first port of call. However, what may not have occurred to you is that your landlord also has a legal responsibility for your safety, and a key part of this involves ensuring yearly safety checks and maintenance are carried out on your gas appliances by a Gas Safe Registered Engineer.

Case study


The importance of a landlord's responsibility for his tenants was highlighted this week by the announcement that a Durham landlord had been given a suspended prison sentence following his failure to maintain and check gas fittings in one of his properties. Following an examination by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a gas fire and back boiler were found to be immediately dangerous to tenants, leaking deadly carbon monoxide (CO) into the ground floor sitting room. Windows had also been sealed shut and wall ventilation grills had been blocked for some time, exposing the property's tenants to the risk of CO poisoning.

Checking Gas Safety credentials


You can make it easier for your landlord to keep you safe in rented accommodation by cooperating with them over visits from Gas Safe engineers, and always ensuring there is someone available to let an engineer into the property. Don't forget to check the individual's Gas Safe ID card each time - look on both sides of the card for details of the engineer's license number, start and expiry dates, security hologram, the work they're qualified to do and their up-to-date qualifications. Alternatively, you can check they're registered and view their photo on the Gas Safe website or even call up the organisation directly. On moving into your rented property, ensure your landlord gives you a copy of their Gas Safety Certificate (as they are required to under law), and don't forget to fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm (those marked with the British Standard EN50291 are recommended).


Signs of CO


Look out for signs that your appliances aren't working correctly, for example, lazy/orange flames rather than crisp blue ones or any black marks/stains around the appliance. Carbon monoxide is invisible, odourless and tasteless but can kill quickly and without warning in a couple of hours. Always stay alert for the key symptoms of CO poisoning - headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness - which can sometimes be confused with hangovers or the flu.


In case of emergency


If you suspect that you have CO poisoning, it's essential to seek medical help immediately. In an emergency, call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 or in the event of a landlord refusing to properly service and check safety appliances they have provided, ring HSE on 0845 3450055.

 If you're a landlord looking for a Gas Safe Registered engineer in your area, search via the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.


Friday, 21 October 2016

How smart are Smart Heating Controls?

In today's digital age, we're forever being told how much money we could save by installing smart heating controls - devices designed to help consumers save money by helping them to heat their homes more efficiently. With the ability to switch your heating on or off remotely via the Internet so that you only heat your home when it's really needed and making it easy to measure how much heat you're actually using, smart controls should make keeping your heating bills down easier than ever before, but how much money can they really save you, and how can you decide if one is really right for you?

Why are they Smart?

While all are controlled remotely via the Internet, Smart Heating Controls come with a variety of functions, for example, the ability to switch your heating on when you're on your way home to prevent money from being wasted while you're out. Some are able to learn your daily routine in order to switch your heating on and off automatically and have the ability to control individual rooms in your home, so that you only heat the rooms you actually use. By adjusting to the temperature outside, they can even help to ensure that your home doesn't overheat on a hot day.


How much money could I save?

Estimates for savings from Smart Heating Controls can vary widely between manufacturers and suppliers, with some claiming they can reduce heating bills by 20%, some quoting up to £150 a year and some even suggesting that they can half your annual heating bill. In reality though, the amount homeowners can save is more likely to depend on their commitment to learning about the system and teaching it their daily routine.


How do I know if they're right for me?

When considering whether to purchase Smart Heating Controls, it's important to weigh up the price of the system against the potential savings to be made. When making your decision, consider your motivations for installing digital heating technologies, for example, do you want to consider how much heating you're using and how much it's costing you? Another thing to ask yourself is whether you're comfortable using computers and smartphone apps. If you're a frequent user of such devices, you may have a lot to gain from programming your thermostat to fit around your busy lifestyle. Finally, it's important to be honest with yourself with regards to your memory! Would you struggle to remember to switch your heating on and off remotely? If so, Smart Controls may not be a worthwhile investment, especially if you're not planning on staying in your property for a long time.


Search via your local plumber's association

If you still feel that you're the type of person who could benefit from installing Smart Heating Controls in your home, remember always to choose a quality heating engineer for the job. Search for one in your local area via the APHC website at http://www.aphc.co.uk/find_an_installer.asp.