Burst Pipes


I never cease to be amazed by people who ignore building rules and regulations, particularly when the regulations apply to plumbing or electrics. Not only are plumbing and electricity two of the most basic facilities in our homes, and vital for everyday life, but when installed incorrectly, they can be downright dangerous. For this reason both plumbing and electric installations must be undertaken by qualified and registered professionals who understand and adhere to the regulations. For many years I assumed that it was impossible not to build and maintain a home without using qualified contractors. But seeing is believing; and as a result, I have many tales to tell. OwnerBuilding3D_Cover1-sHaving written South Africa’s only book on owner-building has allowed me the opportunity to give new house builders some insight into what building a house entails, and point them in the right direction. I wrote the book after a build-your-own home project of ours ended in disaster. I WILL tell the story in this blog, but not in this episode. Rather than start at the beginning, in what I hope will be a useful, interesting and sometimes humorous series of blog posts relating to plumbing and electrics, I’m going to share a range of personal experiences, in the hope that it will spare others some of the pain, misery and immense frustration I have suffered over the years. I’ve been through an immense learning curve, and if you’re reading what I have to say right now, chances are you’re on your own curve.

Fortunately I have a long-suffering husband, and a son who both have a natural aptitude when it comes to things like plumbing and electrics. They are the ones who now fix the leaks and drips and broken connections. Until of course there is a situation like the one that occurred last week!


Proper Plumbing is Vital

One thing we DID do right when we built the “disastrous” home of our dreams was to get the plumbing right – because we DID use a qualified and registered plumber. But ironically, the plumbing was one of the reasons the building project went horribly over budget and resulted in us “losing our socks” so to speak.  In a nutshell, our neighbour’s plumbing was illegal, and so we had to move the build downhill, adding to costs.

In those days we lived in a rather up-market area of what could probably be called rural suburbia. The regulations were tight when it came to building and a whole lot else, other than the squatters who, like the now much publicised British “travellers”, claimed areas for themselves with little regard for consequence.

We now live in a much more rural area which is, in many ways, wonderful. But not when it comes to the plumbing we have inherited. Since we don’t own the property, we can’t check on the building plans; but I’m willing to bet that, if any exist, they bear absolutely no resemblance to what exists “on the ground” – or in the ground – or even in the air (which would take in the telephone and other communications cables).

This was an easy leak to find, unlike the new one!

Pipes pop left, right and centre, and most are sub-standard. The fittings that have been used are too! (Sub-standard that is). Most are so far from the building regulation requirements, it’s scary. Every time a pipe pops we lose water and as a result we waste water. It’s borehole water, so we aren’t paying directly, but popping pipes affect sustainability in the broadest sense of the word, and it costs money to pump the water. That is another irony; electricity costs soar if a borehole pump has to work overtime to keep up with even minimal domestic demands.

The Most Recent Leak

While the boys have stopped the recently leaking water, there’s a hole in a pipe that hasn’t yet been found.

A qualified, registered, and I believe reliable plumber has been to check the leak. He is not keen to tackle the job because the best scenario, he says, is to bash a hole through the wall to access the faulty pipework. The worst scenario is that the bath will need to be removed, the pipes fixed, and then the bath replaced and new tiles laid. He has also identified scores of issues that do not meet building regulations in South Africa.

We can hear water running constantly when all the taps on the property are switched off. There’s a pool of water that has formed near to pipework that emerges from a bath in one of the bathrooms. Unlike most conventional plumbing systems, where the pipes would be encased in concrete under the floor, these pipes simply disappear into the ground (deep down into real dirt). Access is via a wooden lid that at first sight looks like a laundry bin!

An explanation from a former neighbour of the original owner of the house, sheds a little light on the manner in which the house was constructed. Like Topsy, the house just “growed and growed”, as he “owner-built” at weekends using local labour – presumably the ones who buy a spirit level in order to be categorised a bricklayer!

Who knows who did the plumbing? Since the former owner ran off with the former neighbour’s wife, we shall probably never find out.

However, we do know that more than a year ago a linked pipe, in an adjacent bathroom to the one now in question, was leaking. The floor of this “adjacent” bathroom had to be lifted and the pipe was “fixed”.

Now, without inspecting the property, and not prepared to pay a paltry max-R3000 (about US$430) plumbing bill, the property owner has decided that the “plumber” who did the previous fix, and whose credentials are seriously suspect, “knows” that the bath won’t need to be removed to fix the problem – simply because he did the previous repair! It’s odd logic, but typical in the minds of those who tend to ignore our mandatory national building regulations.

This same so-called plumber “repaired” a stop-cock just a year ago, by removing the plunger! While the fitting hasn’t leaked since, we haven’t needed to use it to isolate the water supply until this major leak. Now we discover it doesn’t work at all! So our confidence isn’t at a high.

Within a week we hope to be able to use the two bathrooms again. But with the standard of plumbing, and blatant disregard for the need to adhere to construction regulations, we am wondering whether this old house extension could ever be repaired to meet current building standards.

All I can do is promise to let you know! Please come back soon, and feel free to share your similar experiences.

About Penny

Penny Swift is a highly regarded journalist and author of books relating to homes and construction.

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  1. Wilhelmina Olshan

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  3. Bilal Mohamed

    Good Morning
    I had my geyser replaced and installed (via insurance claim) in March
    2011. This year (May 2013) a plumber replaced the element, thermostat
    and gasket (via ABSA assist). We were informed that that the previous
    installation was incorrect i.e. connection of earth wire to geyser was
    done incorrectly. Do I have recourse to claim from previous plumber
    for (earth connection) costs?
    Thank you

  4. Bilal, You might do, but to be honest, the time, effort and possibly money you will have to output will probably not be worth it. I presume that the original plumber was qualified and registered – and approved by the insurance company. Presuming this to be so, perhaps your best approach would be to go to the insurance company and report the situation. They normally only deal with specific companies and therefore might be able to use some of their own muscle to force the plumber to reimburse you, if in fact the installation was done incorrectly.
    Is the “new” plumber qualified and registered. I don’t want to sound cynical, but as a layperson you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if it was done correctly in the first place.
    Unfortunately there are a huge number of “plumbers” out there who are not qualified and who regularly botch jobs.

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