Letter to the Sunday Times editor:
I write regarding the article entitled ‘Don’t let it go’ by Bruce Millar and Jonathan Leake in your 1st April edition, charting the ‘scandal’ of frozen condensate pipes.
As the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) - a body concerned with protecting the public health, while raising standards within the plumbing and heating industry - I found, while the article raised some valid points around insulating pipework, it also contained glaring inaccuracies and unfair misrepresentation of plumbers, with both journalists having a rather outdated notion of what it is to work in the modern-day plumbing industry.
To reiterate, the recent weather conditions have been particularly dire, with freezing temperatures and snow being the worst we have seen in many years. The plummeting temperatures and the length of time the country was in minus figures, is simply not the norm in the UK.
Therefore, bodies such as the CIPHE, (along with manufacturers and plumbing professionals themselves) issued lots of guidance before the snow and ice arrived on how to protect properties from issues such as frozen and burst pipes. One of our members appeared on TV to forewarn consumers on how best to minimise the risk of any plumbing and heating system problems occurring. The CIPHE also gave subsequent guidance during the cold snap and the big thaw, so that the public could deal with common problems before calling in the services of a professional plumber. Hardly the actions of an industry that loves this time of year due to profiteering opportunities it seeks.
I do not see that the industry has been embarrassed by the number of frozen condensate pipes. Condensing boilers are extremely energy efficient and have been required for many years to help reduce our carbon footprint. Though there will always be some installations that slip through the net, the overwhelming majority of boilers will have been correctly installed, within the Regulations and to the manufacturer's recommendations. There is no nationwide condensate pipe conspiracy, with plumbers waiting in glee for a ‘cold-snap cash windfall’. To suggest so is irresponsible and potentially downright dangerous if consumers are tempted to try DIY on these systems having been given a false impression of the professionals they should use.
That is why we at the CIPHE contributed to the industry response hosted by the HHIC, and it is why we have pledged to help take forward any ongoing recommendations. In fact, the CIPHE would welcome regulatory change to further improve standards and is an advocate of bringing in licensing of industry professionals to help further protect the public.
CIPHE feels strongly that issues such as those recently experienced reinforces the need for an annual boiler and plumbing system 'Compliance' health check, to ensure all systems are running, efficiently, effectively, safely and within current Regulations / good practice – prevention being more effective than cure and scheduled appropriately rather than in an emergency situation.
Before I sign off, just a word of praise for the many hardworking and talented plumbing and heating engineers out there who went above and beyond during the Beast from the East. The article fails to mention those installers risking their lives in hazardous road conditions to get their customers' heating systems back up and running. Neither does the article cover the installers who gave customers free advice over the phone, so they could deal with the problem themselves. Additionally, the article fails to mention that a number of condensate pipes would have been at height, or been in homes with elderly or vulnerable occupants, who would have been unable to thaw the condensate pipes without the help of an installer.
I hope the Sunday Times will use its powerful voice to raise awareness of the real issues facing the plumbing and heating industry, such as bringing in system ‘compliance’ health checks, licensing, education, regulation and the growing problem of illegal parts and spares. Your publication can do so much to help raise the public’s awareness of the importance of regular system maintenance and on how to find professional, skilled tradespeople, such as the CIPHE members available at www.ciphe.org.uk.
The plumbing and heating industry sits at the very heart of public health. It is populated by thousands upon thousands of talented, dedicated plumbing and heating engineers who have trained for years to be qualified. Yet, it is an industry continually vilified in the media, with pieces such as ‘Don’t let it go’ exemplifying the myth of the industry-wide cowboy installer preying on consumers. It really is time this stopped.
CEO, The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering