Dealing with plumbing problems can be time-consuming and costly. However, many call-outs can be prevented if landlords are familiar with the key regulations regarding water safety management and follow best practice, explains Julie Spinks, director of WaterSafe, the national accreditation body for approved plumbers.
Keep on the right side of the law
Water safety legislation exists to protect public health and promote the efficient use of water. The key regulations that landlords need to familiarise themselves with include the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999 and Scottish Water Byelaws, alongside the recommendations of water suppliers in the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme’s (WRAS) ‘Water Regulations Guide’ and any consent conditions of the local water provider.
Use an approved plumber
For peace of mind, it’s recommended that landlords use a professional qualified plumber who is a member of WaterSafe, the UK register for approved plumbers. The scheme is backed by all the water companies in the UK and the drinking water inspectorates.
WaterSafe provides a dedicated online search facility bringing together thousands of qualified contractors employed by plumbing businesses. Members are fully trained in the water supply regulations and byelaws, carry agreed levels of public liability insurance and operate a customer complaints scheme.
These plumbers can also offer advice on water efficiency and repairing leaks, which can help save money if there is a water meter, and check for misconnections, where toilets or appliances like washing machines are wrongly connected to rainwater drains – causing pollution to the local environment.
Approved plumbers can be found through a postcode search at watersafe.org.uk, along with advice from Trading Standards on employing a plumber for a job.
Give advanced notification of plumbing work
Plumbing work may require permission from the local water supplier before work can start. Notifications are required by law and cover a wide range of plumbing work, from installing a bathroom in an extension or new home to fitting a large bath.
To gain permission, the water supplier will need the landlord’s name, address and contact details, a description of the proposed work and location and details of the plumbing contractor if an approved plumber is being used. Some water suppliers may ask for additional information such as a list of water fittings and evidence of their compliance with the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations.
Notifying the local water supplier is free and the process is quick, but failure to do so could result in prosecution or the need to carry out additional work later.
WaterSafe-approved plumbers can carry out some work without the need to give advanced notification. They can also advise on approved products and provide customers with legally recognised certificates, confirming the plumbing work carried out is compliant with the regulations.
Find out more at wras.co.uk/notification.
Use approved products and ensure plumbing systems comply
Landlords have a legal duty to ensure their property’s plumbing system is installed and maintained to comply with national requirements. Full details of the regulations can be found on the WRAS website wras.co.uk.
Plumbing materials and fittings must be of a suitable standard. Under the regulations, it is not illegal to sell unsuitable fittings and appliances but to install one would be, so check suitability before purchase. The Water Fittings and Materials Directory, published by WRAS on its website, provides up-to-date details of a wide range of compliant products, as do other schemes such as Kiwa, at kiwa.co.uk/waterproducts.
Be winter ready
Plumbing must be properly maintained to protect against damage or freezing. When temperatures drop below zero degrees, frozen and burst water pipes can cause flooding, damage and leave homes without water.
Here’s a handy checklist for winter-ready properties:
- Know where the stop tap is and check it’s working.
- Make sure all pipes in unheated areas and outside taps are insulated. WRAS has an easy-to-use tool which works out how effective insulation will be in delaying the effects of cold weather on water pipes. To find out more and download the app, click here.
- Fix any dripping taps or toilet cisterns – this will also save water.
- Check central heating boilers have been serviced (by a Gas Safe engineer)
- Advise tenants to leave heating on and set the thermostat to 14°C.
- Give tenants the name and number of a WaterSafe approved plumber to hand for emergencies.
Keep drinking water safe
Once water enters a private property, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure it remains fresh, healthy, of the highest quality and safe to use.
Having ensured that approved products are used, and plumbing systems comply, landlords should follow these top tips to maintain healthy drinking water in their properties. Further advice can be found on WaterSafe’s website:
- Check for lead pipes and never use lead solder on plumbing for tap water – lead pipes should be replaced to avoid high levels in the water, which can particularly affect children.
- Ensure taps are regularly cleaned to avoid the growth of bacteria and other micro-organisms.
- If drinking water has an antiseptic taste, it may be due to rubber or plastic materials used in the home, such as tap washers, washing machine and dishwasher hoses. Connections for these appliances should be made with approved products or include a single check valve. This will prevent water returning to drinking water taps or the mains supply.
- Ensure that plumbing system is designed to prevent stagnation. An earthy or musty taste may be due to poor plumbing which allows water to remain in the pipes or tanks for longer than necessary.
- If the property has a cold water storage cistern (tank), make sure it is in good condition and has a close-fitting lid of a suitable material that will not deteriorate or allow microorganisms to grow on it and drip into the water. The lid prevents debris falling in and polluting the water supply.
- Where required, make sure you give notification of plumbing work (more on this below).
Further tips for landlords about keeping water safe in tenanted properties are available in a guide published by Water UK and WRAS called ‘Looking after water in your home’ which can be downloaded at watersafe.org.uk/waterinyourhome.
Help new tenants help themselves
WaterSafe runs a ‘Moving House’ campaign providing five top plumbing tips for people moving into a new property. It’s available as an A5 postcard and electronic flyer which landlords can share with tenants.
If you would like free copies, please email WaterSafe at watersafe(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)create51.com