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Safe as Houses? – Gas and electrical safety in rented accommodation

Most students will live in private rented accommodation at some point during their time at University. With all the things to consider when choosing & living in your accommodation, one question that can often get overlooked is “How safe is my house”?

However this is well worth thinking about. Ensuring that your gas & electrical supply is safe & well maintained, and that the associated appliances are used correctly, could literally save your life. Here are some points to bear in mind:

Gas Safety

• All gas boilers, fires and cookers use oxygen from the air to work properly, so they must have an adequate supply of fresh air and a means of venting the burnt gases. A poorly ventilated or faulty gas appliance can produce carbon monoxide- a dangerous odourless gas which kills around 20 people each year in the UK.

• Danger signs to watch out for are yellow or orange flames rather than steady blue flames, staining and soot marks on or near the appliance, or pilot lights which go out regularly. Feeling unusually drowsy, sick or headachey when the appliance is in use could also indicate a problem.

• A landlord has a legal duty to arrange a gas safety check every year, which must be carried out by a CORGI registered engineer. The landlord must also give tenants a copy of the current Gas Safety Certificate (the document confirming that the appliance has been given a clean bill of health). If you haven’t seen this certificate, ask your landlord or letting agent to provide a copy! It is an offence for a landlord to let a property without a valid certificate. If the landlord/agent wont co-operate, contact the Student Advice Centre.

• Make sure you do your bit to keep gas appliances working safely. It is very dangerous to cover up ventilators or air bricks which supply air for boilers, gas fires or open flue wall heaters. The same applies to chimneys and flues which must be kept clear.

• For peace of mind, carbon monoxide detectors can be bought and installed reasonably cheaply from home DIY stores such as B&Q. The detector should be of British Standard BS7860.

• Ideally you should also ensure your accommodation is fitted with a general smoke detector in case of fire. Batteries should be checked regularly.

• If you smell gas, turn the supply off at the meter, turn off all gas appliances, open a window, avoid turning on any electric lights or appliances, and phone the Transco emergency number on 0800 111999.

For further information on using gas appliances safely go to http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg238.pdf

Electrical Safety

Electricity is usually very safe – but only when used properly! Keep it that way by following these 10 common-sense tips:

• Never touch plugs, switches or electrical appliances with wet hands.

• Never use mains-powered electrical appliances in the bathroom.

• If you fit a plug, follow the instructions to ensure that you wire it correctly.

• Check plugs and flexes regularly, looking out for damaged or loose connections, overheating plugs or scorch marks round plugs & sockets. If you find anything wrong don’t use the appliance until the faulty fitting has been replaced!

• Check the maximum amps that the fuse in the plug can handle, and don’t fit it to an appliance which exceeds this. Also, don’t exceed the recommended bulb wattage for light fittings. Both of these things could cause the fitting to overheat.

• Don’t overload wall sockets. If you need to use an adaptor, use a multi-socket trailing adaptor, not a square adaptor that plugs straight into the socket. Never plug one adapter into another one.

• If you cut an electrical cable, don’t just tape it up & continue to use it. It may no longer be properly insulated.

• Check your hot water tank — make sure that you don’t cover the immersion heater cap or control with the insulating jacket.

• Never hang anything over convector or fan heaters. If you use a portable electric heater, position it so it is backed up against a wall, facing into the room. Make sure the heater is stable on the floor and not liable to fall over.

• Lastly, if you suffer a flood in your property (from an overflowing bath for instance), ask the landlord to arrange an inspection by an electrical engineer – don’t just assume that things have dried out and that it is safe to use the electrics again!

Student Advice Centre
1st Floor Falmer House
www.ussu.info/advice
advice@ussu.sussex.ac.uk
01273 877038

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