Why it’s important to check gas safety
Most houses in the UK are still heated by gas. At least 85% of homes here are heated by mains gas, a figure higher than most other European countries.
When you consider our weather, it's hardly surprising we rely so heavily on gas. It’s reliable and can be inexpensive compared to other forms of heating. Still, all those gas boilers, gas fires and gas cookers mean a lot of potential hazards in millions of homes across the UK.
Accidents caused by faulty gas appliances are rare, but they can and do happen in the UK.
This is why regular gas safety checks in a property are absolutely essential. Especially when you are selling or buying a home.
Understand the danger
When properly installed and maintained, gas appliances are very safe. However, an unchecked gas appliance can quickly become dangerous.
This is because the gas used for household appliances is combustible – meaning if it builds up over time and then comes into contact with the air, it can explode. It’s also flammable, so a gas leak plus a naked flame equals serious danger in your home.
Don't panic – this can only happen with faulty appliances, as modern boilers are designed as a sealed, closed-loop system. However, if a gas boiler has a defective seal or blocked flue, gas can build up inside the boiler and pose an explosion risk.
Another danger with gas appliances is carbon monoxide. Any carbon monoxide produced is disposed of in a properly checked and tested boiler via a waste pipe or flue. However, if these exit routes become blocked, carbon monoxide can seep into your home and risk your family’s health and safety.
Moving house? Safety first
There’s so much to remember when moving. Make sure gas safety is top of the list.
Here’s a list of things to check for when you’re moving into a new property.
Where is the Emergency Control Valve?
Once you have the keys to your new property, locate the Emergency Control Valve. This is a small tap-like apparatus on the gas service pipe where the meter connects to the gas mains. It may be coloured, either red, yellow or gold.
Usually, it’s found near the gas meter itself. Otherwise, check garages, under stairs cupboards, underneath the sink or on the outside of the property.
Gas Emergency Control Valves are used for turning off the gas supply, just in case of a leak or fault, or if the property will be standing empty. Sometimes, they are behind locked cupboards – it’s crucial you have easy access to the key and know how to turn it off in an emergency.
Do you have the correct paperwork?
A gas safety certificate, or a gas safety record, is a specific document to show that a registered Gas Safe engineer has checked the gas boiler. During this check, these trained professionals assess the boiler for hazards which could cause gas build-up, leaks and carbon monoxide emissions.
Every homeowner should get an annual gas safety inspection for their own safety, so the seller should be able to produce this certificate. However, this isn't a legal requirement in the UK, and there is a chance the previous owner won’t have one.
Whether they haven’t budgeted for it or forgot – don’t follow their example. Skimping on gas appliance maintenance is the worst kind of false economy as it puts lives at risk. Get in touch with a registered Gas Safe engineer to book a service ASAP.
Remember, it's not just the boiler which needs an annual check. Gas fires and gas cookers also have the potential to develop dangerous faults, so they should be checked annually too.
Has the right professional certified it safe?
Refrain from assuming the home survey would have picked up any issues with the gas appliances in the home. Even if you opted for the most comprehensive level of assessment before exchanging contracts, your surveyor wouldn't have done more than turn the heating on to see if it works.
Only a registered Gas Safe engineer can thoroughly assess your appliance and tell you whether it is safe.
Do you have a carbon monoxide monitor in place?
Carbon monoxide, which can leak from faulty gas appliances, is an odourless and colourless gas. Despite this, it’s extremely dangerous and can kill humans and pets without warning.
Don’t panic, though. By purchasing a carbon monoxide monitor, you can ensure you will be alerted at the first hint of carbon monoxide leak, so you and your family can vacate the building and call in the professionals before there’s any harm done.
These devices look similar to smoke alarms, and can be bought relatively cheaply online or in your local hardware shop. You can choose from either battery-operated or mains powered. If you go for battery operated, you must ensure it has a low battery alert, and you must test the batteries regularly.
Remember, gases like carbon monoxide rise, so place the monitor on a high shelf in your home near your gas appliances.
Finally, a carbon monoxide monitor is no replacement for an annual gas service – it’s just an extra insurance.
Do you know what to look for to keep your family safe?
Sometimes, a faulty boiler will show some tell-tale signs.
Look out for the following:
- Stains or rust on the boiler casing
- A pilot light that sputters or goes out
- A weak yellow flame (rather than a strong blue one)
- Leaking from the appliance
- A rumbling sound
- Unreliable heat throughout the house
- An unusual odour, or smell of gas
Are your gas appliances unobstructed?
Make sure you don’t block gas exit flues with garden decorations, plants or sheds. Every property with a gas boiler has an exit flue – they usually look like grey or black plastic pipes sticking out of the external wall to where your boiler or gas appliance is located.
Be careful when doing DIY, especially drilling – you don’t want to hit a gas pipe.
It's important to note that just because a boiler looks fine, doesn't mean it's safe. The only way to know is to get it serviced annually by a registered Gas Safe engineer.