A geyser hanging dangerously above a stove. A high percentage of geysers are installed incorrectly, posing a safety risk, says the Institute of Plumbing SA. Picture: Dumisani Dube/ANA Pictures
Geyser problems are no joke, which means caution is needed when hiring a plumber and it's best to check if they're registered, warns Georgina Crouth.

Geyser issues happen at the worst times: You wake up to find hot water pouring from your caved-in ceiling; return home after holidays, ankle-deep in water; or discover your geyser’s got fire power, having shot through the roof like a rocket, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

On a Friday the 13th in 2015, a Washington family had a narrow escape when their hot water boiler exploded in the children’s playroom, sending shrapnel, nails and debris flying around the room. The blast was caught on nanny cam, which showed the boiler ripped 5m from its foundations.

“We are all lucky we are alive,” homeowner Chris Renoud told Komo News.

It might sound sensationalist, but when your geyser or boiler packs up, it’s safe to say you’re in panic mode.

You search for a plumber - whom you find either with Google or in the biggest Yellow Pages advert - and hope for the best. Only thing is, if the plumber isn’t registered and affiliated with the trade body and they mess up, cold water might be the least of your concerns.

Reader Monique Jammot contacted me in desperation, telling me she was heartened by a recent column on consumer rights and the various ombuds, but was finding enforcing her rights difficult. She spent R16 000 on a geyser, which was appallingly installed (verified independently) and the plumber wasn’t admitting any fault.

The geyser was fitted outside (her request), 3m from her kitchen sink, which meant she wasted an awful amount of water in an effort to get a hot supply, the piping was non-compliant with South African National Standards (Sans) and installation non-compliant with by-laws.

Jamotte turned to the provincial consumer commission. It referred her to the National Consumer Commission, which told her it did not have jurisdiction in the matter and referred her to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, which in turn told her it couldn’t assist because the plumber wasn’t co-operating.

Who has your back when mediation is not an option and you don’t have the resources to take on a supplier legally?

The best hope seems to be with trade associations. In this case, the plumber wasn’t listed with the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (Iopsa). The association, established in 1989, warned against using unregistered plumbers.

Executive director Gary Macnamara said: “A high percentage of electrical fixed geysers have been installed and continue to be installed incorrectly, with a huge safety risk to the consumer.

“Poor installations and the need for manufacturers to be price competitive have also prompted geyser manufacturers to be more stringent with their warranty claims.

“This, driven by lack of government enforcement and consumer choice of price over quality, is creating an inequitable, unsustainable plumbing environment.

“A manufacturer is within their right to void a warranty claim if the geyser installation is non-compliant with the South African National Standards (Sans). There is, however, a distinct line between failure due to poor installation and product failure. This should not relieve a manufacturer of their obligation to support their product in the industry and therefore Iopsa is in the process of issuing a guideline to industry.”

McNamara said members were registered with the Plumbing Industry Registration Board.

He advised that Jammot contact the municipality as it was tasked with enforcing the Sans regulations and standards. Legal action was an option; the cheaper route though would be the Small Claims Court.

Witkowsky, which declined to comment on the matter, is not a member of Iopsa.

MacNamara told me: “As a voluntary body, Iopsa has no jurisdiction over enforcement of the regulations. In the case of complaints against our members we do an inspection and resolve the problem between client and plumber. If a member has transgressed and not willing to rectify, they go through a disciplinary procedure and may be suspended or expelled.”

In an advisory, Iopsa said: “It is law that any person working on any plumbing within your property must be trained (as a qualified plumber), or work under the adequate supervision of a trained plumber. An unqualified individual practising plumbing is doing so unlawfully.

“Typical problems that arise when using unqualified plumbers can include leaks, bad smells from drains and pipes, flooding, damp, mould and poor water pressure. Other more serious issues can include contamination of clean drinking water, the breeding of disease, scalding and burns, and even explosions.

“Iopsa members ensure accountability, quality service, required insurances, community growth and reliable results. You can approach Iopsa to intervene and facilitate a suitable solution.”

Iopsa encourages consumers to make use of its online platform to find a local Iopsa member. For more information or a list of qualified and accredited plumbing companies visit www.iopsa.org.za

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @askgeorgie

The Star