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Choosing the right heating engineer
Last updated 27th Jul 2017
When choosing the right heating engineer, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- If your job involves gas, check whether the tradesman is Gas Safe-registered
- Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
- Ask each tradesman to explain what they plan to do
- Ask about professional qualifications and accreditation
- Discuss materials before work starts
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Choose someone with lots of specific experience
First, make sure you choose a heating engineer who has lots of specific experience of doing your type of job.
If it’s a boiler breakdown, for example, go for someone with experience of repairing boilers - not just a gas fitter. Because even though someone is a gas engineer, they might primarily be an installer, and not actually have a clue about fixing a boiler. People should look for the MyBuilder feedback specific to the type of job they need done.
Once you’ve found a tradesman with the right experience, ask to see photos of their work, and - if it’s going to be a big job - try to speak to one or two of their previous customers. That will allow you to find out about what it’s like having them in your home, as well as their standard of workmanship.
If your job involves gas, check whether the tradesman is Gas Safe-registered
If your heating job involves gas, the tradesman who works on it is legally required to be on the Gas Safe Register. This is the official list of gas engineers who are registered to work safely on boilers, cookers, fires and all other gas appliances. You can check whether a particular heating engineer is Gas Safe-registered using this search tool.
Every heating engineer on the register should carry a Gas Safe ID card. Ask to see this card when they arrive, and don’t be afraid to make a note of the licence number so you can check it online afterwards. This video explains what all the information on the card means.
Occasionally you may come across a heating engineer who is not Gas Safe-registered: They may have chosen, for example, to only take on jobs that do not involve gas at all. However, this is quite rare, as so many heating jobs do involve gas to some extent.
Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
Be wary of a tradesman who only gives you a quote over the phone - it’s unlikely they’ll be able to be accurate without seeing the situation in person.
I usually go round before I quote - because most of the time what the customer posts as the job doesn’t completely reflect the job that needs doing. Because obviously they’re not technical - so they’ll just say stuff like they don’t have any heating.
That could actually be something really simple that you can fix in two minutes without charging them. Or it could be a really big job.
So I would always recommend you choose someone who is willing to go out for free to assess the situation properly - rather than someone who says that will be £60 or £70 no matter what.
Choose a tradesman who gives you a detailed written quote after the viewing, with all the costs broken down. These should include everything from labour and materials to any possible extra expenses, like a charge for power-flushing your heating system.
The quote should also make clear if the customer is expected to pay for any materials upfront - for example a new boiler or set of radiators.
Heating and gas engineer William Eastman, of One Shot Plumbers, has an excellent MyBuilder feedback rating. He explains that a homeowner should never choose a tradesman who demands full payment before a job is done.
I find a lot of people actually try to pay me before I’ve done the job! Never, ever do that - always wait until the job is finished and you know you’re happy with the work.
I’d also suggest a homeowner chooses a heating engineer who gives them a total price for the whole job in their quote - rather than a per-hour or per-day rate. That’s because if you’re paying someone per hour, they could be doing whatever in your cupboard. They could be spinning it out and just sitting there on the phone!
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Ask each tradesman to explain what they plan to do
As William emphasises, a really good heating engineer will help the homeowner understand what’s going on:
When I’m doing a job, I try to explain to the customer why it’s being done, why I’ve decided to approach the job that way, and how the machine actually works for future reference. For example, a lot of people don’t know how to top their boilers up - and then they pay an engineer £60 to come out and top the boiler up every time.
So I would choose a tradesman who was willing to explain things, and show you how to sort the little, safe things you can do yourself, rather than just fixing something but not showing you what he’s done.
Ask about professional qualifications and accreditation
If a tradesman has a City & Guilds qualification in Plumbing and Domestic Heating, or a relevant NVQ qualification, it’s certainly a good indication that they take their job seriously.
However, because heating projects so often involve unexpected problem-solving and learning ‘on the job’, several years of experience can be at least as valid.
It’s also worth asking whether a tradesman is a member of any professional association. Depending on the specific membership, this may give you extra protection as a consumer.
For example, if the tradesman you choose is a member of the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC), another member engineer should be contracted to complete the job if they go out of business mid-way through your project.
Discuss materials before work starts
If a job involves the purchase of fixtures and fittings, you might be tempted to buy these yourself: Many homeowners go down this route because they see products in high street shops and then think they can buy similar items more cheaply online.
Heating engineer Mark Geraghty - of MG Plumbing and Heating - has been a MyBuilder member since 2009, and has positive feedback from over 300 customers. He explains why this approach can cause problems:
Anything I buy is WRAS-approved - the Water Regulations Authority Standard. Proper plumbers’ merchants will only sell that stuff. Whereas often, cheaper stuff bought online - taps and radiator valves and things - is just terrible quality.
For example, someone bought a load of valves off the internet, and I fitted them on to eight or nine radiators. Once I’d fitted them all, I filled the system as you would do normally, and every single one leaked, because the sizing wasn’t correct - it was just out by a fraction of a millimetre.
That day I was there until nine at night, because they all had to be removed, and I had to refit each one using a PTFE sealant tape to pack it out, which is not how they should have been fitted. That’s why it’s important, if customers are sourcing their own fittings, to get stuff that’s WRAS-approved. All WRAS-approved stuff is stamped, so it’s easy to see what’s what.
A good heating engineer will be able to explain the pros and cons of buying from different sources, and should help you avoid any ‘false economies’.
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