This article was sent to us via The Independent Surveyors Association (ISA) and recalls an account from an Independent Surveyor.
“It’s late on a January Friday afternoon, the volume of instructions is well down due to a combination of the prolonged cold snap and the wretched state of the national economy. The phone rings, and it’s that call we all dread; “You did a Homebuyer Survey for me last June, and a local gas engineer has just condemned the log effect fire in the lounge, and we can’t use the lounge as it is now too cold”.
My policy in such circumstances is to say little on the phone, and instead offer to re-attend the property urgently. This is important as demonstrating that you are going to take the client’s complaint seriously often softens a potentially confrontational situation, as I feel that complainants are almost expecting to be stonewalled or blinded by excuses and references to exclusion clauses and small print.
With file in hand, I attend the client’s home the next day. There is snow on the ground, with a biting northerly wind making sure it stays there. The hall is warm and inviting, sadly the lounge with its half pitched ceiling is not. Helpfully the gas man has left a melted plastic ventilator fitting which he has removed from the ridge vent. Little wonder that the fire was condemned.
I ask if I can erect my ladders and look in the small roof space located immediately below the single storey roof ridge, where the ridge flue terminal is located. This is the moment of revelation, when I remember the extreme difficulty I had accessing this roof space when inspecting the building last June. It is also the moment that I regret not going that extra mile to twist and lean across the head of my ladder to undertake a head and shoulders inspection. Why hadn’t I done the obvious thing and photographed the offset position of the ladder relative to the access hatch, and excluded inspection of the roof space? Well I was keen to do a thorough job!
I’m given permission to take various photographs for my file, and by this time I’ve been offered a cup of tea. Seeing an opportunity to gain some background information I enquire whether gas fire service records had been obtained by the client’s (purchaser’s) solicitor, and whether there had been any servicing of this unit since. Bingo, a double hit, British Gas in both cases. But then the client informs me that she had only first started using the fire at Christmas, and had decided to have it serviced in preparation for the festivities. It was after Christmas that the client began to feel drowsy and nauseous when the fire was in use, and British Gas were called back, only apparently to declare the fire safe. As the problem persisted, a friend recommended a local Gas Engineer, who, reportedly unlike his predecessors, carries out a full inspection of the flue.
Still things don’t look too bad as the Client is understandably very critical of British Gas, which, it is alleged, missed this problem during multiple inspections over a number of years. But then, the client hands me a photocopied extract with some diagrams of piped flues and chimneys. Giving the document a quick scan, I realise that the doubtful access to the roof space, and the melted plastic flue fitting, are no longer of any help, as I should have recognised the breach of good practice and regulations from my external inspection anyway. I take a few discreet measurements, and then explain that in order to satisfy my complaints procedure, I will need to make my response in writing after reflecting on the outcome of my re-inspection and the information provided by the client.
Returning to the office, I have already decided that I am facing a damage limitation exercise, and I dictate my notification report to my PII Brokers. After searching online, I track down the source of the technical extract supplied by the client. Because of the proximity of the ridge terminal in plan to the two storey gable, the use of a ridge terminal was inappropriate, and the flue pipe should in fact have terminated some distance above the ridge of the lower roof. Having discussed my notification report with the Loss Adjuster it is agreed that I seek to settle the complaint by a cash offer. The client obtains three quotations for the remedial work, and I negotiate a settlement based on the average sum, which thankfully is fractionally more than the survey fee which the client had paid to me in June.
So what did I learn from this, thankfully, relatively cheap settlement?
• Don’t exceed the reasonable limitations of your terms of engagement.
• Observe health and safety good practice at all times, in this case, the use of ladders.
• Don’t underestimate the serious hazards to human life that incorrect flue arrangements can have on building occupants.
• Whilst you cannot expect to remember every distance or dimension specified in regulations, technical specifications, etc, do remember that they exist, gather as much data on site as possible and check online when you are back at the office.
• Learn from your mistakes, and be prepared to share them with your fellow ISA members.