A couple of days ago the ABC featured the following on the news. As many of our landlords have properties built in the last ten years I thought it important that I bring this issue to their attention. What shocked me on the report was that the reporter went to a random street in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne and went into ten homes and they all had the illegal piping showing.
Once again I ask the question “Whose responsibility is to check new homes? Who signs off on this sort of thing? Surely a plumber who installs this piping without the correct protection should be held accountable.
We will be checking as we do routine inspections and will alert our landlords if their property has this issue. In the meantime I will be investigating the remedy and costs involved. Getting in touch with the state regulator is suggested and chasing the original plumber. That may not be easy but will start the process.
The following comes directly from ABC:
Incorrectly installed multilayer home gas pipes pose ‘major safety risk’
Hundreds of thousands of homes across Australia are at risk of potentially dangerous gas leaks and fires due to the incorrect installation of multi-layer gas pipes outside houses, according to those in the industry.
They say the “ticking time bombs” are present in many new homes and apartments built in Australia over the past 10 to 15 years, especially in New South Wales and Victoria.
Forensic plumber Russell Kirkwood, who looked at thousands of homes over the past decade in his role with insurers and as a consultant, said he believed the vast majority of homes built during this period had the fault.
“This issue is a ticking time bomb,” he said.
“It will eventually effect thousands and thousands of people’s houses all across Australia.”
The yellow pipes, which have a plastic exterior and aluminium core, degrade when exposed to UV light.
They were considered safe if installed according to Australian Building Standards with an appropriate cover and had a lifespan of at least 50 years.
But pipes that were not properly protected were at risk of being damaged or breaking down quickly and leaking gas.
In extreme cases of high UV exposure, materials engineer Trevor Rowlands said they might only last years rather than decades.
“If there’s then a gas leak and it’s not detected … there would be a risk of a gas fire and in a worst case scenario potentially an explosion,” he told the ABC.
Mr Rowlands said a source of ignition such as a spark from a lawn mower, cigarette or naked flame could cause an explosion.
Depending on the proximity of any leak, the gas could also enter the house and make the occupants ill.
“This is a major safety issue,” Mr Kirkwood said.
“The regulators have really been asleep in relation to this. They’ve known about this issue for a long time but they haven’t been policing it.”
Other people within the industry the ABC spoke with agreed the issue was a problem in Australia and posed a safety risk.
‘Extreme health and safety issue’
National regulators were considering banning the external use of the pipe altogether due to the level of non-compliance.
Energy Safe Victoria, which regulates the issue in commercial settings, said it had concerns about the installation in domestic homes.
“It’s clearly unacceptable, it’s non-compliance,” CEO Paul Fearon said.
“We wouldn’t say it’s widespread and systemic, but it’s certainly seems to be increasing.”
He had less of a concern about the safety risk.
“One could conceive of a circumstance where the supply is compromised and the remote chance there could be a safety issue,” he said.
Victorian Building Association (VBA) and Fair Trading NSW have told the ABC they do not believe the problem is widespread.
In a statement, the VBA said it conducted 5,617 audits on gas-related plumbing work and found just nine incidents of non-compliant work in relation to UV protection on gas pipework — none of which presented a health or safety risk.
However, when the ABC investigated homes at new housing areas in Melbourne’s west chosen at random, it found the exposed non-compliant yellow gas pipes were common — with some already degraded.
The ABC also saw correspondence from the VBA on a specific case of multiplayer pipe being exposed, in which its representative said: “If this pipe remains it could in the future pose an extreme health and safety issue.”
Despite that, in its formal statement to the ABC, the VBA said its Plumbing Audit Committee had “not identified the issue of lack of UV protection on multi-layered gas pipes as a risk”.
Mr Kirkwood said the audit figures were hard to believe.
“If I go to any new housing estate and walk down through the streets of any new housing estate, I’m going to literally count hundreds of houses with the yellow gas pipe clearly visible,” he said.
“These [pipe installers] are cut on very low margins so anything they can do to save money, they’re going to do.
“So if they’re not being enforced on it, they’re not being regulated — they will go round it.”
‘I felt let down’: homeowner
Altona North homeowner Wayne McCann bought his new property in 2014.
He only discovered his multi-layer external gas pipes had been fitted incorrectly after other plumbing work began failing at his property and a full audit was undertaken.
He said he never would have picked up on it and would not have known about the potential safety issues.
“You pay good money, you expect to get what you pay for — so I do feel let down, yeah,” Mr McCann said.
Copper out, multi-layer in
Mr Fearon said householders who believed they had the exposed yellow pipe should get in touch with their state regulator immediately and a rectification order would be issued to the plumber who carried out the work.
Pipes covered with gaffer tape and UV protective paint were also not considered compliant.
“I’d encourage people to check their connections. Not every installation can be audited and inspected … if you come across it, tell us,” he said.
The multilayer pipes have almost completely replaced copper piping as the way to pipe gas externally into domestic homes, due to cost.
There is no suggestion that the pipes are unsafe if used internally or externally, with proper protection to UV light.