How to resolve gas inspection dispute?
February 26, 2012 5:02 AM   Subscribe

UK tenant adivce-filter: Stuck with a "dangerous" boiler that perhaps isn't, between estate agents, mistrusting landlord and two different gas/heating companies. How do we keep ourselves safe (and warm)?

I need to know how to figure out if our boiler is actually safe or not, but we're not in the position of knowing who we can actually believe, and this includes Gas Safe-certified heating companies. Details may or may not be neccessary, but I've included them for completions sake. If not, the last two paragraphs have the more specific questions.

The short version:

We have two inspections (one from last year) saying there is flue corrosion and high CO, the later of these saying that CO is so high the boiler needs to be replaced. Landlord sought 2nd opinion from someone, they say everything is fine and the flue is fine and it's fine. We don't know who to believe, we now don't trust either side and we need to know how to find out of the boiler is actually safe.

The details:

2011's gas inspectors left their print-out taped to the boiler, with (handwritten) notes about flue corrosion and high CO, but not high enough to warrant any serious action. Lets call them Gas 1.

This week, when we had our 2012 inspection. The inspectors (A new company, Gas 2) also mentioned corrosion in the flue, and suggested we get a CO monitor. Then they tested the exhaust, at which point they switched advice to "turn this off, it is dangerous. We will tell the agents to get a new one."
They said our CO ratio was crazy high, told it is not normal for the exhaust to smell like gas *all the time* (which it has done constantly since we moved in). We were awarded a colourful triangle stating the boiler was dangerous, and we were not to use it. They took 2011's slip along with theirs back to the estate agent.

The next day (Thursday) estate agents had a gentleman from Gas 3 come out to do a quote for a new boiler. 40 minutes later, he comes back. He tells me he had been told to go ahead and replace the boiler, but the way the estate agents wanted him to do the install made him suspicious. They apparently wanted it done as quickly as possible, and seemed to indicate that they wanted to pay him cash under the table.

As it happens, his boss knows the landlord, who owns several properties arount town. They got in touch directly with him. He has been suspicious of the estate agents. He wanted this guy to take a good look at the boiler, and test it himself.

He asked if he could look at the boiler again, but if I could not tell the estate agents that he had been. I regret this now, but I consented. He said the boiler was only 8 years old (Gas 2 seemed to think it was older), and he couldn't see any corrosion (he just took the outer case off). I showed him the slip from the inspectors, and explained that the previous year's inspection had similar but less severe results.

Gas 3 man, installed a CO monitor above the thing and asked if he could come back and do actual tests on the thing while it was on, because he didn't have time to do them that day.

We of course had no obligations, but honestly I just thought he'd conclude what two different sets of gas inspectors already done, and if that put the landlord's mind at ease then he wouldn't drag his feet about replacing it (which had been a concern of ours).

So, the repairman came back this morning (Sunday), did a full service on the boiler and tested the levels himself. He showed me the print-out and said while the CO was a wee bit high, it was only half-way to what would be considered dangerous levels (.0041, dangerous is over .008.). He's certified to do gas inspections, so he can effectively "undo" the dangerous conclusion. He's going to come back later today to do a reading after the boiler has been on a few hours, and said not to worry about running it, because based on what he's seen he would be happy to do a passing certificate on it right now.

He has "no idea" how Gas 1 and 2 got such a high reading, but suggested that there are ways to fiddle the test, and that some companies like to "make work". He also said the flue looked "fine".

I regret letting him in now, and I should have just said "look, Landlord needs to take it up with the estate agents if he doesn't trust them." We don't trust either party, to be honest. The estate agents have been disorganized, slow on certain repairs, and have cut corners on service. The landlord comes across as stingy, but then we've never actually dealt with him directly.

Now we have two potentially contradictory gas certificates. Plus two different companies over the last two years have reported high CO levels during a month where the boiler is in constant use. This latest guy tested it before and after doing a full service on it, and even before the service he said it was at like .0053 or something. But it hadn't been turned on for 4 days.

Anyway, these are details.

Our position:

What are we, the tenants, supposed to make of all of this? We don't care about the landlords problems with his estate agents, we care that we are not running a dangerous machine in our wee little house with cramped, badly ventilated rooms and/or having no proper heating while the two sides duke it out.

Should we listen to The Last Honest Boilerman and just get on with things, letting the CO monitor warn us? Are heating companies as famously dodgy as estate agents? Can we/should we solicit a 3rd inspection by someone new? Should we be calling British Gas and reporting this nonsense? Is there anything we should be worried about with regards to angering the estate agents/landlord?
posted by menialjoy to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
If you are unable to know which gas company to trust, I would in the interim trust the carbon monoxide monitor. Run the boiler, see what the monitor does. If the monitor was his monitor and he took it away, pick one up today. (You may want to read about the various types and how they work.) If you want an independent assessment, even with a silent detector, you would contact a Gas Safe Engineer, which all certified gas engineers in the UK are required to be, rather than British Gas. You can look up Gas Bloke #3 on that site, as well; if he isn't certified, his findings are not valid and he should be reported.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:30 AM on February 26, 2012

this sounds very unsatisfactory. If you are in a poorly ventilated property and there is any danger of carbon monoxide levels being above a 'safe' level there is scope for tragedy. Given that you feel you're caught in a cleft stick, I think it might be worth taking a different route and getting in touch with your local council's environmental health team. See
posted by davemack at 5:45 AM on February 26, 2012

I Am Not A Certified Gas Engineer, but my understanding of chemistry leads me to the following conclusion: If the exhaust smells of gas, you have incomplete combustion. This could very well be the reason for the CO readings you've been given. I would run this boiler only with a CO alarm present. The boiler in my parents' house had a similar issue - my room was near it and I started smelling gas in the passage. Engineer said there weren't dangerous levels of CO but one of the valves was definitely not working properly, and since it was 40 years old and they didn't make the part anymore, we had to get a new one.

Be safe.
posted by fearnothing at 6:04 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ring the council. They will have housing officers who deal with this type of thing all day every day.
posted by jaduncan at 6:12 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have to run the thing, make sure you have a CO alarm, something like this of your own.
posted by scruss at 6:39 AM on February 26, 2012

Oh, sorry I should have mentioned above: We do have a (brand new) CO detector installed just above the boiler, and I've confirmed that both of the engineers from this week are Gas Safe certified.
posted by menialjoy at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2012

It shouldn't smell of gas, inside the house, even in the case of incomplete combustion; there is meant to be a good seal between the house's interior and the flame. Any exhaust ought to be being vented outside the house; this is certainly true for any reasonably recent condensing boiler, and I don't see why this should be less true for an older device like you describe. The HSE advisory document (pdf) says
The safety check record will contain details of any defect identified and remedial action taken. You must ensure that any safety defect is rectified (by a Gas Safe registered engineer) before the equipment is used again. It is recommended that you keep copies of work done to rectify defects identified by the safety check.
It is an offence to use, or allow the use of, a gas appliance you know to be unsafe. In no circumstances should you reconnect an appliance that you have been told is unsafe, which has either been isolated or disconnected for safety reasons, until the fault has been rectified.
I don't imagine that getting someone else to check until they say there's no problem, particularly someone who sounds a bit dodgy, counts as "rectification of the defect".

That HSE document also gives a freephone number for the HSE gas safety advice line, 0800 300 363. I would call them and ask what recourse you have, the HSE are usually pretty helpful, for all the grief they get in the press. They will probably be able to put you onto the appropriate people in your local authority and tell you the right words to scare your landlord into sorting it out.
posted by larkery at 1:50 AM on February 27, 2012

As to CO levels, they are detectable inside the dwelling? I used to work in an industrial plant where any more than 50ppm (on a personal monitor) was 'leave, wait for the gas levels to drop'. Other, similar installations have this limit set to 35ppm. Wikipedia says 35ppm at 8 hours is enough to cause dizziness etc..
I would not be happy with CO at 40+ppm in my house. See advice from others above to getting this rectified.
posted by defcom1 at 11:09 AM on February 27, 2012

Thanks, guys!

Apparently Gas Man 3 was sent out initially as the landlord's preferred contractor (I found out today from the estate agents)

I'm looking through the HSE guide and I'm definitely gonna call the council's private housing advice service.

We're not immediately scared because the gas smell is outside (the exhaust pipe is right next to the front door, though, which is why we notice it)
posted by menialjoy at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2012

« Older Who can two art/design types move from the UK to...   |   Making Room for Baby Weight Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.