I recently had a client comment that Gold Coast Plumbers bury their mistakes far more than doctors bury their mistakes. It is a comment I cannot disagree with in any way. Increasingly we see underground plumbing work that is so non-compliant it’s confirming Gold Coast Plumbers bury their mistakes, knowingly and deliberately.
Calling them mistakes is not being truthful because we all know it’s a deliberate act to cut costs. We all understand those plumbing companies that choose to undertake construction work are under enormous competitive pressure to reduce construction costs continually.
However, because of these plumbing companies buckling to pressure from project managers, builders and developers, they are in an ever downward spiral of negligently breaking the law. The reality is all of the parties involved in the lawbreaking know the chances of them getting caught are slim as the inspections by City of Gold Coast’s plumbing, and drainage inspectors are cursory at best.
Underground water pipes, house sewer drains and house stormwater drains are all buried underground. Unfortunately for property owners, it can take years before the problems become apparent and they investigate the issue. By this time the original construction job is out of warranty, and the QBCC will show little interest in any investigation of negligence.
Investigation and rectification of non-compliant installation of underground plumbing infrastructure fall onto the hapless property owner. Rectification bills can be enormous, and the likelihood is there is no insurance coverage or any desire by the council or state regulatory authorities to investigate.
I believe we have the best plumbing regulations and standards in the world. We used to have the best enforcement in the world to ensure our buildings met the high standards required. The enforcement of the Plumbing and Drainage Act of 2018 and the preceding laws have become so lax that most buildings constructed in the last twenty years have multiple underground plumbing defects. Disastrously for property owners, the majority of these defects are waiting to break down and cause havoc finally.
When these buried mistakes are covered by insurance and break down, causing water damage, every one of us bears a cost via ever-increasing property insurance premiums on all buildings. If enforcement had occurred at the construction stage, then this water damage would have never happened.
It is our experience as maintenance plumbers that builders and developers perceive they can reduce costs and increase profits by not complying with the Plumbing and Drainage act of 2018.
The legal obligations of complying with the Plumbing Code of Australia, which is Volume 3 of the National Construction Code, is not even a consideration.
I accept this lack of compliance has come about due to multiple factors and pressures. Nevertheless, this short-sighted attitude and systematic non-compliance with what is the law affects property owners with prodigious rectification costs. I believe that the project managers, builders, developers and plumbers involved in this ongoing fraud of property owners and insurance companies are well aware of what they are doing but blame it on:
Competitive pressures in the construction industry where the lowest price wins mentality rewards plumbers who take non-compliant short cuts to reduce costs to win jobs
All builders actively forcing cost-cutting on sub-contractors and suppliers
Time constraints on plumbers to complete the job and be paid
The reluctance of builders to inform clients that unforeseen issues have arisen which will increase the cost of construction
The failure of building certifiers and plumbing inspectors to defect non-compliant work and the turning of a blind eye to incorrectly graded trenches, lack of compaction and inappropriate backfilling of trenches
Continual lack of enforcement by the Queensland Government regulators
Every one of the above has in their view a justifiable excuse for what is occurring but all that is required is for the law to be obeyed. The Plumbing and Drainage Act of 2018 and the Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2019 merely need to be enforced to stop Gold Coast Plumbers bury their mistakes attitude continuing.
By enforcing the law, everyone is a winner and will return us to the standards that previously existed where non-compliant work was defected without a second thought. Every plumber I discuss this with would be more than happy with this to occur as it would create a level playing field for the plumbing industry where efficiency was rewarded rather than non-compliant short cuts. It further protects property owners and the entire construction industry that is already under a cloud due to the cladding non-compliance in buildings throughout Australia.
As licensed plumbers, we are mindful that non-compliant plumbing is a public health risk. I reiterate most of the non-compliant work is knowingly and deliberate which is ultimately negligent behaviour. Sooner or later insurance companies and no-win no-pay lawyers will awaken to the fact that this non-compliance is negligence resulting in the plumbing industry as a whole is portrayed as cowboys with no integrity ripping off poor property owners.
This is a scenario where no one wins except the lawyers. As a critical industry plumbers cannot allow a perception that plumbers as a whole are unable to undertake legally compliant work. We certainly need no more regulation we just need the existing laws and regulations enforced to protect the community’s health as a whole.
Every week we have clients asking why we are required to install a TMV or tempering valve to their hot water system. The short, simple answer is because it’s the law.
The longer answer is because it’s about safety. A TMV or tempering valve reduces the risk of scalding. This is because storage type gas, electric, solar and heat pump systems are storing hot water at between 60° C and 75° C. You need to be aware a severe hot water burn can occur in one second when the water is delivered at 60° C or higher. Hot water burns like fire because:
At 60°C, a severe burn can happen in 1 second
At 55°C, a severe burn would take 10 seconds
At 50°C, a severe burn would happen after 5 minutes
What is a TMV?
TMV or thermostatic mixing valve installed by Whywait Plumbing
A TMV is a thermostatic mixing valve but is commonly referred to as a TMV. The role of a TMV is to mix hot and cold water together to provide you with hot water delivery at your tap that is at a consistent temperature.
When we install your TMV, we set the temperature to deliver the hot water in all bathrooms at 45°C in aged care or childcare facilities or 50°C in all other bathrooms.
A TMV is compulsory for use when used in common areas for aged care or childcare. A TMV is very accurate and very responsive to fluctuations in incoming water temperatures keeping the temperature to within 1° C of the temperature that it has been set at when we install it.
Accuracy of temperature in the TMV is delivered by a thermally sensitive element which expands and contracts in response to the temperature fluctuations of the incoming cold and hot water. This expansion and contraction regulate the temperature by controlling how much cold water mixes with the hot water. An added safety feature of a TMV is that if cold water flows become too low, they shut down to prevent 60°C plus water being delivered.
What is a Tempering Valve?
Non-compliant tempering valve installation connected with flexihoses replaced by Whywait Plumbing
A tempering valve’s role is also to mix hot and cold water together to provide you with hot water delivery at your tap that is at a consistent temperature.
The tempering valve is a simple three-way valve that is temperature actuated to mix the hot and cold water. These days most come preset at 50°C and when we install them, we test them by measuring the temperature of the water from your hot taps in the bathroom.
A tempering valve is commonly used in residential homes as a one-off valve at the hot water service. A tempering valve is slower to respond to temperature fluctuations compared to a TMV plus it will deliver water to within 3°C of the temperature that it has been set at when we install it.
To avoid the likelihood of legionella bacteria growth, an installation shall store water at a temperature of not less than 60°C
All new heated water installations shall deliver heated water not exceeding 45°C for the aged, the sick, children or people with disabilities in healthcare, aged care, early childhood, schools and nursing homes. For all other situations, heated water shall be delivered not exceeding 50°C.
Ultimately when we are installing a temperature control device, we are legally obliged to comply with the requirements above and much more as they are prescribed in AS/NZS 3500.4:2018.
Overall a TMV is more expensive to install initially compared to a tempering valve. However, a TMV has a much longer working life span compared to a tempering valve as they are more accessible to service and replace the working parts. A tempering valve, by comparison, is usually just replaced when it stops working as they are not easy to service or replace parts in.
In Queensland, all work undertaken on a TMV or tempering valve is reportable to the QBCC and must have a compliant Form 4 submitted. For your protection always demand a copy of your Form 4.
Unlicensed DIY plumbing work has never been legal in Queensland. Unfortunately, too many people think because they can buy plumbing products at Bunnings, then they can carry out the installation or repairs as well. In reality, the ability to undertake unlicensed plumbing work is extremely restricted in Queensland.
Technically DIY plumbing is classified as “Unregulated work” in Schedule 3 of the Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2019 which was called into law on 1 July 2019.
So the “Unregulated work” that an unlicensed person can undertake in respect to plumbing work is not a great deal and for a good reason, as outlined below. Specifically, in Schedule 3, Unregulated work generally is defined as the following work for premises necessary for the following:
replacing a shower head or domestic water filter cartridge
replacing a jumper valve or washer in a tap
repairing or replacing a drop valve washer, float valve washer or suction cup rubber in a toilet cistern
replacing caps to ground level inspection openings on a sanitary drain
cleaning or maintaining a ground-level grate for a trap on a sanitary drain
installing or maintaining an irrigation or lawn watering system downstream from a tap, isolating valve or backflow prevention device on the supply pipe for the watering system
repairing or maintaining an irrigation system for the disposal of effluent from a greywater use facility or on-site sewage facility
And those seven tasks listed above are the only legal DIY plumbing jobs that you may undertake without a plumbing licence. The only other exception to this is what is referred to as incidental unskilled tasks such as excavating or backfilling a trench
In Queensland, all plumbing work is legally required to be carried out under the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2018, Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2019, Standard Plumbing and Drainage Regulation 2003 and Queensland Plumbing and Waste Water Code 2019. These acts and regulations are comprehensive in their requirements and outcomes concerning individual plumbing licences and training.
In addition, the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2018 calls into law The Plumbing Code of Australia. This is defined as the document in force from time to time called “National Construction Code volume 3 – Plumbing Code of Australia published by the Australian Building Codes Board. The Plumbing Code of Australia covers every aspect of plumbing and drainage setting out the minimum requirements for the construction, installation, replacement, repair and maintenance of all plumbing systems, specifically:
Sanitary plumbing and drainage systems
To be a plumbing contractor in Queensland, a company or individual must also hold appropriate contractors licences by the QBCC under the Queensland Building and Construction Commission Act 1991.
This is in addition to a plumbers occupational licence that allows us at Whywait Plumbing to lawfully carry out particular plumbing or drainage work. This licence ensures that all plumbing contractors have the correct technical qualifications and occupational license. No one other than a licensed plumbing contractor can undertake plumbing work no matter what the value of the work is. The threshold amount of $3000 does not apply to plumbing, drainage or gasfitting that applies to several other trades with QBCC licenses.
It is not worth the risk to undertake unlicensed DIY plumbing. It is illegal, plus it potentially voids your insurance coverage.
Plumbing laws nationwide safeguard the health of the nation. Plumbing is public health, now, and in the future.
A plumbing inspection by the council is not a guarantee and never have been, they are a compliance audit – nothing more, nothing less.
Recently Kelly from Hope Island sent me an email which began with the comment that, “builders are liars, plumbers are incompetent and the Gold Coast plumbing inspectors are frauds who take no responsibility…..”
I can only repeat to Kelly what many of us know and see everyday in new or recently renovated buildings – “everyone who worked on your home did so because they were the cheapest not because they were the best qualified and skilled to undertake the work.” Sadly that has become the reality in the construction industry.
The pressure by builders on plumbers to reduce prices and take “SHORT CUTS” increases daily as I have stated previously and in fairness is frequently driven by the client demanding a cheaper price looking for the “BEST DEAL”.
In respect to Kelly’s comment about the Gold Coast plumbing inspectors, I understand the remark as there is a common urban myth that once your home or building has had a final inspection that it has been certified by the council and that the plumbing is perfect and that they are guaranteeing it.
This is not correct as the plumbing inspectors functions are set out in the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002. A plumbing inspector’s functions are to conduct investigations and inspections for monitoring and enforcing compliance with-
(a) the Plumbing and Drainage Act 2002; or
(b) the Sustainable Planning Act 2009; or
(c) the Local Government Act 2009.
The important word in the legislation is COMPLIANCE. When the council inspector signs off the plumbing and drainage work on your home after being requested to undertake a final inspection by the licensed plumber who is responsible for the work you will only get a letter that says it is a PLUMBING AND DRAINAGE COMPLIANCE CERTIFICATE and it will state clearly that, “This Compliance Certificate approves the regulated work or on-site sewerage work for the above property in respect of Compliance Permit number…..”
A compliance certificate from the plumbing inspectors are not a guarantee in any way shape or form and should not be construed as such.
Unfortunately and sadly but these days it is ultimately up to you to make sure that you are getting high standard, quality work by ensuring you are dealing with reputable, experienced licensed contractors who perform work to the standards set out in the Plumbing Code of Australia.
Always ask to see the plumber’s contractors license and always ensure for insurance purposes you get a copy of either the council compliance certificate or the QBCC form 4 compliance certificate depending upon the work you have had undertaken.