When considering buying a property, giving the plumbing an in-depth inspection isn’t high on many purchasers’ priority list. However, if you’re a buy-to-let landlord, it pays to familiarise yourself with the water system before the deal goes through, as the quality and complexity of the plumbing has a direct impact on Legionella risk, and if the system needs an expensive overhaul you should factor that into your calculations.
Landlords are legally obliged to control the risk of Legionella in rental property, which means ensuring that the domestic water supply is safe and well-maintained, with proper risk management procedures in place. There are several things to look out for when assessing a building’s plumbing set-up at the pre-purchase stage which could save you a lot of money and hassle in the long run.
- Water tank
Ask to see the water storage tank (if there is one) and check its condition carefully. In our experience many tanks are installed and then never looked at again until there’s a problem, but replacing an old or corroded tank is a major expense. It needs to have a well-fitted lid and be free of rust and corrosion. Check pipe inlets and outlets and also have a look at the lagging. Tanks should be insulated to try and keep a safe cold water storage temperature below 20°C and hot water storage over 50°C.
If it’s an old building you may find that the pipework is a bit of a maze where it’s been added to and adapted over the years. If the property has previously been let the current landlord should have a schematic drawing as part of the Legionella risk assessment. Use this as a map of the pipework and do a thorough check. There are a number of things to look out for: dead legs, blind ends, long runs of pipe where water could collect and stagnate, as well as rust and corrosion.
Is the property in a hard water area? Most of the UK is affected by limescale, which not only clogs your plumbing over time but also acts as a food source for bacteria. Heavy calcium deposits in the boiler, pipework or other plumbing components can be hard to shift and in some cases may ultimately require you to replace parts of the system. Aside from the requirement for regular descaling, you may want to consider fitting a water softener if the property is particularly badly affected.
- Hot water cylinder
If possible, inspect the internal surface of the hot water cylinder for signs of sludge and scale. Again, such contamination acts as food for bacteria and can adversely affect the performance and efficiency of the water system.
Some domestic plumbing features thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) to blend hot and cold water together. While these reduce the risk of scalding at point of use, they can increase the risk of bacterial growth in the water system. As a general rule of thumb, the closer the valve is to the outlet point (i.e. tap or shower), the better. The Health & Safety Executive’s advice is that the TMV should be situated no more than 2m from the outlet, and in an ideal world should actually be a part of the tap fitting.
In general terms, the simpler and more modern the plumbing system is, the lower the risk of Legionella. A combination boiler and minimal storage of water are preferable, although in most domestic situations the risks are generally low. They key is to understand what you’re dealing with and make sure that any problems are addressed early on, and if alterations or repairs are required, negotiate this with the vendor upfront rather than having a nasty surprise once you get the keys.
A careful assessment of the plumbing system during your second viewing – even bringing in a professional to make an assessment if it’s a significant deal (such as buying a block of flats) – will be time well-spent for the responsible landlord. Costing from just £65, it could pay dividends. Get in touch for more details.