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CROSS Safety Report

Apparently simple home improvement work leads to dangerous situation

Report ID: 1173 Published: 21 August 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


Overview

Apparently simple home improvement work, consisting of reroofing and a loft conversion, resulted in a 'near miss' with potentially dangerous conditions for neighbours.

Key Learning Outcomes

For clients and owners:

  • Blocking a flue serving a neighbouring property may present a high risk to life
  • The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance for domestic clients
  • Check that your proposed builder has experience with similar projects

For construction professionals:

  • The government page Party walls and building work provides advice on works to party structures and The Party Wall etc Act 1996
  • Removal of chimney breasts requires the remaining masonry to be structurally supported

For builders:

  • Work should not be undertaken on any part of a chimney without first checking that the flues are not in use

Full Report

Find out more about the Full Report

The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.

 

Apparently simple home improvement work, in this case, reroofing and a loft conversion resulted in potentially dangerous conditions for neighbours, says a reporter. 

During works by a contractor, a fireplace breast and chimney stack were removed with debris heard falling down a flue by the occupiers of the neighbouring property. The party chimney stack was completely removed and tiled over.

The occupier of the neighbouring property had not been forewarned of the works. Had they not been in the property at the time to hear debris fall down the chimney any blocking of the flue may not have been obvious to them, says the reporter.

The concerned neighbour called in a Gas Safe registered engineer who found that the flue serving a gas fire appliance was blocked. The engineer deemed it necessary to isolate and remove the gas appliance. Water ingress damage to the property also occurred which caused electric circuits to fail.

The reporter is concerned that apparently simple home improvement work is far more complex than untrained personnel believe. Education within the building industry, and of the public, is needed to avoid life safety risks from such projects.

 

Expert Panel Comments

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Expert Panels comment on the reports we receive. They use their experience to help you understand what can be learned from the reports. If you would like to know more, please visit the CROSS-UK Expert Panels page.

The report suggests that a chimney stack serving both properties was removed without the neighbouring occupiers being aware that their property would be affected by the works. Furthermore, it does not appear that adequate consideration was given to the impact of the works on an existing flue. The report does not say how the situation evolved to reach this position, however, a lack of care on the part of those involved in undertaking the works would seem likely.

The builder and anyone else with a building background should have been aware that work should not be undertaken on any part of the chimney serving the neighbouring property without first checking that the flues are redundant and that the neighbour was agreeable to the work being done. Blocking a live flue serving a neighbouring property would show gross ignorance or incompetence and present a high risk to life.

work should not be undertaken on any part of the chimney without first checking that the flues are redundant

From the report, it appears in respect to the chimney stack and flue, that the neighbouring property was damaged by the works. In common law, an owner has the right not to have their property damaged by someone else, and where a property is interfered with, they have the right for the damage to be remediated. Legal advice would normally be taken to fully understand what liabilities exist in situations as reported here.

Works to convert a loft require building regulation consent. If a building control process is followed to completion, with input from competent persons, situations such as those reported should be avoided, as well as the law complied with.

Removal or changes to chimney breasts and stacks requires significant thought to ensure the stability of the structure is not adversely affected. Where chimney breasts are removed, structural support of the remaining masonry is required and will need building regulation consent. Clearly, live flues would also need to be properly considered and allowed for in any work.

Where chimney breasts are removed, structural support of the remaining masonry is required

It was likely that some of the works undertaken came under the scope of The Party Wall etc Act 1996. Under the Act, anyone intending to undertake in scope work, must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions. The Act lays down a framework of actions and timescales to assist parties to agree upon work that is desired or required. The Act is explained online at the government page Party walls and building work. The seeking of an agreement under the Act would have almost certainly exposed that the works should not have proceeded in the form that they did. It should be noted that the Act is only relevant to England and Wales and does not apply elsewhere in the UK.

Home improvement work can be complex

The reporter is right to be concerned that apparently simple home improvement work can be far more complex than might first appear. Nevertheless, clients, designers and executers of works, however simple, are responsible and accountable for doing things properly. If there had been casualties or fatalities from carbon monoxide poisoning, then ignorance would not be an excuse.

Clients have a duty to ensure they engage competent people to design and execute their schemes. They also need to be satisfied that designers and contractors can complete the job safely without risks to health. This applies equally to domestic home owners employing small builders with minimum formalities,

CROSS Report 1062, Dangerous building work on domestic project, published in 2022, suggested some of the issues clients should consider when appointing a contractor for domestic scale works. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance for domestic clients including their duties under the application of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

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