Dangerous solar water heater installations made safe

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An operation by Building Commission inspectors has resulted in the rectification of 43 dangerous solar water heater installations. The issue came to the Building Commission’s attention in April 2013 when one of the units slid off a roof and fell into a swimming pool.

An investigation was subsequently launched, which identified a particular contractor and supplier responsible for the installations. A Building Commission plumbing inspector and investigator then worked together to ensure that all the faulty installations were certified and made safe.

Building Commissioner Peter Gow said the dangerous installations had posed a significant risk to public safety.

“In the case of the solar water heater that fell into a home owner’s swimming pool, and others fitted by the same licensed plumbing contractor, the installation was not fixed to the roof in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions,” Mr Gow said.

“This could have had far more devastating results if someone had been in the swimming pool at the time. As it was, the resulting leaking water pipes caused substantial damage to the ceilings and carpets in the home – all of which could have been prevented if the installer had done the job properly.”

Upon being contacted by the plumbing inspector, the supplier of the solar water heater provided a replacement to the homeowner free of charge, which was installed within days.

The plumbing inspector obtained documentation from the supplier which detailed a further 170 solar water heaters installed by the same licensed plumbing contractor. These were installed without the required notifications and certificates being submitted to the Plumbers Licensing Board.

The plumbing inspectors established that 59 of these installations were at risk of being non-compliant. Forty-three of the installations were later confirmed to not be secured to the roof and rectification notices were issued. Other compliance issues identified included tempering; relief drain terminations; and unapproved flexible connectors fitted.

The matter was referred to the Building Commission’s Enforcement Branch for further investigation. Following meetings with the Building Commission, the licensed plumbing contractor agreed to rectify and certify all of the installations for which he was responsible.

The rectification work was followed up with an extensive reinspection program, which confirmed the installations now complied with the plumbing standards.

Given his cooperation in the matter, and the fact that he was planning to retire from the industry, the licensed plumbing contractor responsible was spared prosecution and issued with a formal warning.

“This case illustrates how a diligent inspection and investigation process can help to ensure community safety is maintained,” Mr Gow said.

“The licensed plumbing contractor involved learnt some hard and expensive lessons about complying with the plumbing standards and the importance of directing and controlling work for which they are responsible.”

Building and Energy
Department News
15 Sep 2014

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