Inside Gas Maters (Part 1).
As part of the service to surveyors who are members of the SAVA Scheme, the scheme takes over the management of a complaint that is likely to turn into a claim against the SAVA PI policy.
This case study relates to a real complaint that was eventually refuted.
Background to the claim
The surveyor inspected the subject property in July 2015. In May 2016 the surveyor received an email from his client, who had proceeded with the purchase, setting out the basis of the complaint as follows:-
“There is a problem with the gas metre in the above property. The gas authorities are demanding that the metre is removed to the external of the property instead of being in the hallway. It seems it is at present illegally situated
In your Homebuyers Report you have described the metre as being externally situated, whereas it is in the same area in the hallway as the electricity metre.”
Further clarification from the claimant was received in a subsequent email:
“However, the position of the gas metre was questioned by the operating company as being illegally positioned internally of the building, and contrary to [the surveyor’s] description of it being in an ” external housing “. It is in fact in the hallway, close to the electric metre. [The surveyor] got this matter wrong.
The operating company recommends that the metre is re-housed externally. I shall be submitting evidence of this in due course.”
[Note: this was not an RICS Homebuyer Report but a SAVA HCS. The customer got the nomenclature wrong]
The property is a 1960s bungalow with what would have originally been a detached garage, but which has been converted into a dining room. However, the passage way between the bungalow and the dining room/garage has not been properly incorporated into the house. It has been closed off at either end by external doors and a roof has been put over – effectively making it a double ended porch.
In this corridor/porch there are two meter cupboards housing the electric and gas meters.
The surveyor reported on the gas meter under Section F2.
Although at this section the surveyor reports that the meter is in an ‘external housing’, this is not specifically picked up elsewhere in the report. In particular there is no clear description of the linking corridor and reference to it being, in effect, nothing more than a ‘porch’.
Photos of the ‘corridor door’ and the gas meter
After SAVA had taken over the claim, the surveyor wrote to us as follows:
“Given that there is still a step up into the bungalow, and no step into what was the garage, I concluded that the passageway covered and sealed was in fact external, and that the meters are in external housings, after all they are not within the original exterior walls, rather they are in the outer leaf of the exterior wall.
There was on inspection an issue with the boiler pipework, a loose “cap” had been placed on a pipe beneath the boiler, this was reported and further investigation was recommended. The gas meter was functioning and correctly installed in its case (I have surveyed properties with gas meters in the living room) the case is the correct one for a gas meter and is lockable. The only issue that could arise is if the meter was to be read, however with an external quality lockable rear door into the bungalow, leaving the access door to the passageway open would not compromise security, alternatively arrangements could be made to be in when the meter is read”
And of course the surveyor is quite correct – it is possible to have an internal gas meters.
So what was the issue with this particular meter?
Internally sited gas meters
The issue is not the location of the gas meter (it is fine for a gas meter to be inside) but the fact that the supply pipe into the meter is plastic. Internally sited meters should have metal supply pipes.
Two immediate questions arose:
- Should the surveyor have known about the rule of plastic piping?
- Is the corridor an ‘external housing’?
We asked a registered Gas engineer about the meter. He confirmed that the responsibility of GasSafe engineers starts on the consumer side of the meter. The supply side is the responsibility of the gas transporter/Gas Distribution Network Operator.
Although the gas engineer we asked was GasSafe registered, he did not immediately recognise the reason for the issue with the gas meter. He had to check this with GasSafe and only then was able to inform us about the issue of the plastic pipe into the meter.
The surveyor did record the gas installation as CR3 due to the fact that the property did not have a valid GasSafe certificate for any of the gas appliances.
[ It should be noted that even if there had been a Gassafe Certificate it is possible that the gas engineer would have missed the gas meter issue since this was the ‘wrong side’ of the gas meter. GasSafe engineers are not covered for the supply side]
Turning to the corridor in which the meter was located, should the surveyor have reported differently on this?
The surveyor did not refer to the corridor specifically in the report – he did not bring to the purchasers’ attention that it was in effect a ‘porch’.
On reflection we would suggest that the corridor could have been more carefully described. Specifically it could have been referred to as a porch or, alternatively, referred to within the sub elements (ie E3. Inside walls etc.)
However, even if the surveyor had described it as a porch in the report, the issue remains how the gas transporter/Gas Distribution Network Operator (in this case National Grid) regards the space. Is a porch ‘inside’ or ‘external housing’?
The answer is that the gas ‘transporter’ does view it as ‘inside’. The issue is that the gas meter is in an enclosed space. A conservatory or traditional porch would also be classed as inside because they are enclosed.
Reporting on the corridor between the converted garage and the bungalow in the HCS
A number of reporting options would be available to a surveyor who has inspected a similar property. All would involve the creation of ‘sub elements’ in order to make sure the client was clear about the standard of construction of the space between the main bungalow and converted garage.
- Describe the space between the bungalow and garage conversion as a porch. There is an option to enter a porch as an element in it’s own right under Section D12 on the input screens. This particular property had a conventional porch at the front so, as with the other elements, a separate element could be created.
- Break the various building elements down in Sub elements. For example:-
a. E1 Roof structure
b. E3 inside walls.
Reporting on the gas meter
As with any other building element, in an HCS it is possible to create a ‘sub element’ under Gas. Consequently, the way this issue could have been reported is as follows.
- Under Section F services select ‘New’ to create a new sub element.
- Report on the Gas Meter separately.
Phil Parnham writes:
How to report on the issue in RICS formats
This is an interesting case study because identifies an issue that ‘falls between the cracks’ in terms of both residential practitioner’s knowledge as well as the structure of most condition reports. With reference to RICS’s Home Survey brand, here is how I think the issue should have been reported.
RICS Home Survey brand
All the products within the RICS stable are similarly structured. Section G2 (Gas/Oil) covers the gas connection to the property. The latest Professional Statement for the RICS HomeBuyer Report
Survey (1st edition, June 2016) provides guidance on how G2 should be completed. After a reminder that all gas and oil appliances and equipment should be regularly inspected, tested, maintained and serviced by a registered ‘competent person’ and in line with the manufacturer’s instructions’.
The publication states that the surveyor reports:
- description and general condition;
- evidence of installation/alteration certification, annual inspections and reports for all types of installation.
This section covers the gas and oil supply pipework from the utility company’s supply (or the storage vessel) through to the heating appliance itself. However, all matters relating to the appliance are to be reported in G4 Heating.
The section then goes on to state:
Mains gas installations
- Does it have a mains supply and is it connected?
- How is the meter location and condition? Is the meter positioned on an escape route?
- What is the route, nature and condition of the pipework?
As with all types of services in domestic property, residential practitioners do not have a specialist knowledge of installations and so we must be careful about not offering advice outside of our area of knowledge. To help clarify this area, I have split my thoughts into two sections:
- The visual signs of defects and/or deficiencies that residential practitioners can be expected to spot; and
- ‘Evidence of installation/alteration certification, annual inspections and reports for all types of installation’.
Visual signs of defects and deficiencies
Residential practitioners should be looking for the following signs of potential problems under G2:
- Gas meters and associated pipework in a poor condition. Typical examples could include meters dangling on the end of the supply and output pipework; rotten or corroded shelves and brackets; heavily corroded gas meters and so on;
- Gas meters located at high level. Where the meter cannot be read by the occupants and meter readers without the use of step ladders. Some gas suppliers may raise this as an issue;
- Asbestos containing materials in the vicinity of the meter position. There is a range of possibilities but the main ones are gas meter support platforms, backing boards used to support metering equipment and enclosures built of asbestos based board;
- Unprotected gas meters in communal areas. This is especially important where the route is likely to be used in the case of fire;
- Temporary or permanent obstruction to the meter position. Typical examples include a lockable cupboard for which the user does not have a key, over-grown vegetation preventing access to the meter and even a disused vehicle parked in front of the meter box;
- External gas meters where the meter cupboards are damaged. This would allow unauthorised tampering with the equipment; and
- External meter cupboards enclosed by an extensions/conservatory. A new one to add to the list.
In all of these cases, a further investigation should be recommended before commitment to purchase. A CR3 should be allocated to G2 (F2 in an HCS) and a reference to the issue made in J3 ‘Risks to people’ (Section C in the HCS)
Evidence of installation/alteration certification, annual inspections and reports for all types of installation
This is where it becomes complicated. The main problem stems from trying to decide whom is responsible for what. This is not as simple as it seems. For example, this is a summary of many hours of phoning organisations we never knew existed:
- Gas distribution network operators (sometimes called gas transporters) own the pipework up to and including the emergency control valve (ECV) in domestic installations. Examples of gas transporters include the National Grid and Northern Gas Networks;
- The gas supplier (the utility company) owns the meter and pipework between the ECV and the outlet pipe. The outlet pipe runs from the gas meter to feed the gas appliances. The meter can be sited within an external meter box or on the inside of the property. The gas supplier has a legal duty for the safety of the gas meter and must arrange inspections at least every two years. However, many gas suppliers and Ofgem (the sector regulator) claim the ‘supply licence’ has been changed so the duty for the gas suppliers to inspect is no longer valid;
- Many ‘gas suppliers’ often appoint a Meter Asset Manager (MAM) to discharge all of its duties in relation to gas meter safety and meter reading. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state on their website ‘This is the company with whom a gas supplier or gas transporter contracts to provide metering services to customers and is responsible for the meter at all stages of it’s life (‘cradle to grave’).
Are you still with me? Here are a few other facts I discovered on the way:
- External gas meter boxes – the property owner ‘owns’ the meter box and is responsible for the costs of repair although this can only be done by the gas supplier or the Meter Asset Manager;
- The property owner is responsible for all pipework and appliances from the outlet pipe connection onwards. This is usually covered by the work of a Gas Safe engineer carrying out the gas safety check or service of the appliances.
Assessing gas installations under G2
Here is a recap for clarity. To ensure a gas installation is safe, in addition to the normal visual inspection, a residential practitioner should ask for:
- Evidence of a service or a gas safety check on all gas appliances and associated pipework on the customer side of the outlet pipe of the gas meter. This will form the basis of the condition rating and report in G4 Heating. To make things easier, I include ALL gas appliances under G4 including boilers, gas fires, gas hobs and gas ovens;
- Evidence the gas meter has been satisfactorily inspected by the gas supplier or the Meter Asset Manager within the last two years. This will form the basis of the condition rating and report under G2 Gas/oil.
If this evidence is not available, then a recommendation for further investigation and a CR3 should be included in both elements.
More easily said than done
Getting hold of a Gas Safe certificate for the customer’s side of the gas installation should be relatively straight forward and well understood. However, getting evidence the gas meter is not so easy. To test this process, I phoned my own gas supplier and pretended that I was selling my house and a potential buyer wanted documentary evidence my gas meter had been inspected within the last two years and was safe. Here is what happened:
- When I got through to a real person at my gas supplier’s call centre, I had to wait ten minutes while this genuinely very helpful person gave me the phone number of their ‘meter asset manager’ (MAM);
- I phoned the MAM who was surprised to be phoned by a ‘customer’. Another genuinely helpful person told me that they did not carry out specific safety inspections but their meter readers were trained to spot ‘safety issues’. She gave me all the dates on which my meter was read but could not provide me with any correspondence proving this. She told me to contact my gas supplier;
- I contacted my gas supplier, spoke to a less helpful person and his supervisor and was curtly informed that gas suppliers had no responsibility for the safety of the gas meter.
It is at times like this when I say to myself ‘Keep it simple’. As residential practitioners we operate a ‘triage’ or ‘signposting’ role. We are not expert engineers but should be able to spot the most problematic installations and indicate what our clients need to do next. If we go beyond that function, not only will we expose ourselves to challenge but we may also endanger our clients. In this particular case, if we are not provided with appropriate evidence the gas meter is safe then we should allocate a CR3 and tell the client to ask their legal adviser to investigate. This may seem like a ‘passing the buck’ but we do not have the time (or the fee) to follow this through ourselves.
What should go in a HomeBuyer Report
Looking at this case study, here is what I think should be included:
There is a mains gas supply and the meter and control valve are located in an external meter box in the corridor between the bungalow and the converted garage. The meter box is in an unusual position and I did not see evidence the gas supply pipe or the meter has been recently inspected. This is a safety hazard (see J3).
Condition rating 3. Further investigation
You should ask you legal adviser to check with the gas supplier for evidence the gas meter is properly located, properly installed and safe. If evidence is not available, you should ask an appropriately qualified person to inspect the gas meter and supply and provide you with a report.