South African insurance companies say that the most common claim area for homeowners’ insurance involves hot-water geyser failure. Usually, when the geyser fails, the insurance claim is much more than just a few thousand rand to replace the geyser. Damage to ceilings, cupboards, floors and carpets are common if hot water cascades from the roof cavity.
If the geyser has not been installed properly, then the insurer may repudiate the claim. Illegal installations are often the case in South Africa where unsupervised, semi-skilled labour installs the geyser in a hot and cramped roof cavity.
HouseCheck, which inspects thousands of homes nationwide, says that the most common defect its inspectors find in South African homes is wrongly installed hot-water geysers: up to 75% of homes inspected have faulty and often unsafe geyser installations, according to John Graham, CEO and founder of HouseCheck.
So, how can you as a homeowner trouble-shoot common problems and manage your hot-water geyser?
- Water dripping/running from an overflow pipe: Your hot-water geyser should have three overflow pipes discharging to the exterior of the home – probably onto the roof or into a gutter. There should be a 12mm plastic pipe from the cold water pressure balancing valve, a 50mm plastic pipe from the drip tray and a 20mm metal pipe from the temperature and pressure control valve. It is normal for the 12mm plastic pipe to drip occasionally but a steady drip not only wastes water but indicates a problem with the valve. Water discharging from the two other pipes is also cause to call a plumber.
- Hot water and steam coming out of an overflow pipe: This indicates a release of very hot water because of excessive temperature (or pressure). The most common cause is the thermostat. This is a serious safety situation which should be attended to immediately. Switch off the geyser until it’s fixed.
- Faulty thermostat: Switch off until it’s fixed. A faulty thermostat is designed to fault in the open or “off” position. In this case there is no hot water. However, sometimes the thermostat faults in the “on” position, in which case the water will eventually boil. This is a dangerous situation that must be attended to immediately. Switch off the geyser until the thermostat is replaced.
- Water leaking through the ceiling: If a geyser bursts or springs a major leak, immediately switch off the water supply and open a hot tap to relieve pressure. Remember to also switch off the power supply to the geyser at the distribution (DB) board.
- Poor hot water pressure: This could be caused by a number of things: very often old, blocked galvanised pipes, a blocked or dirty valve, or simply an old low-pressure geyser.
- Hot water coming out the cold tap during a water supply failure: This is because the geyser has not been installed correctly. Don’t allow the geyser to drain dry without switching it off. This is dangerous and needs to be rectified.
- No hot water: Check the geyser circuit breaker on the DB board. If the circuit breaker has tripped you should only reset it once. If it trips again then call an electrician or plumber to investigate the cause. If there is a power supply, but no hot water, then it is either the element or the thermostat which has failed. The element and thermostat should always be replaced at the same time.
- Not enough hot water, or water not hot enough: This may be caused by the setting on the thermostat being too low, or it may be a sign that the geyser has reached the end of its useful life. Move the setting to 65 degrees Celsius. Geysers calcify over time and eventually need to be replaced. Modern geysers work better than the old ones. It is not recommended that a geyser thermostat is set at its highest setting.
What the HouseCheck inspectors find (plumbers beware: disturbing content ahead)
Who is John Graham?
John Graham is a South African who has spent more than 30 years in the property industry. He has hands-on experience as a developer, investor, estate agent, home builder and property inspector. John is the founder and CEO of HouseCheck (www.housecheck.co.za) and the principal of the SA Home Inspection Training Academy (www.sahita.co.za). He is the author of a number of popular eBooks including: The South African Home Buyer’s Guide; Quality Control for South African Home Building and The Complete Guide to South African Home Inspection.