Fortunately, explosions are rare in residential properties - when they do occur it is generally due to gas leaks. Explosions and fires caused by gas leaks rose from 28 in 2017 to 41 in 2020, with 178 people injured in the last five years from flammable gas blasts, according to figures from the HSE.
Sometimes factors beyond our control can cause an explosion, affecting not only our homes, but also our tenants’ ability to live in them. An explosion, defined for insurance purposes as ‘a violent shattering or blowing apart of something due to a rapid increase in volume and the resulting forceful release of energy’, could be the result of a range of causes - from the controlled detonation of an unexploded bomb or a local factory fire, to faults with household appliances or a neighbour’s carelessness.
In this comprehensive guide, we explain everything landlords need to know about protecting their property from explosions - from making sure you are compliant with gas safety regulations and educating your tenants, to what to do in the event of an explosion and how to make sure you have comprehensive cover should the worst happen.
What causes an explosion?
An explosion can happen as a direct result of a gas leak combined with a spark or a flame, for example a poorly fitted light switch, a plug or a gas oven or hob.
For an explosion to occur, three things need to come together:
- Fuel (a flammable substance such as gas)
- Oxygen (which is ever present in air)
- A source of ignition (in a domestic setting this is usually lighting a cooker or the spark created from switching on an appliance or lights)
When it comes to domestic gas explosions, a common fourth cause is human error. This could be inadequate maintenance, poor workmanship or a faulty appliance.
The importance of gas safety
According to data from the Gas Safe Register around one in six gas appliances in the UK is classified as unsafe. Interestingly, some areas of the UK are at greater risk of a gas leak or faulty appliance and subsequent explosion, than others. Their data reveals that residents in Oxford are most likely to have an unsafe gas appliance in the home, with one in 43 people having a faulty device. This is closely followed by Reading, Dundee and Cardiff, suggesting that residents in these areas need to take action to make sure their boilers, cookers and gas fires are inspected as soon as possible. Conversely, Cambridge was found to be the safest city, with just one in 213 people having an unsafe appliance in their home.
Worryingly, the number of dangerous gas fittings identified by engineers increased from 2,299 in 2017 to 3,292 in 2020. The majority of these were in owner-occupied properties, rather than rented properties, possibly due to the tighter gas safety regulations that apply to rented properties.
Evidence shows that this situation is likely to be exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. Gas Safe Register recently found that almost one in three householders will skip booking an annual gas safety check to save money this year please don't and if you need a Gas Safety Certificate? We can offer this service via one of our partners who will contact you once your order is processed. A gas safety check for three appliances costs £95.
As a landlord, gas safety regulations are some of the most important that you need to comply with. Cookers, fires and boilers left unchecked can cause leaks which lead to fires and explosions that cost lives. If you fail to meet the standards for gas safety in your property, you could be fined thousands of pounds. And if a tenant dies while staying in your property due to negligence, there’s even the possibility of being prosecuted for manslaughter, which can lead to a long sentence.
What are the gas safety regulations for landlords?
As a landlord, you are legally responsible for the safety of your tenants when it comes to gas safety. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 apply to any landlords providing a property with a gas appliance or with gas lines connected. Landlords must make sure gas appliances and flues are safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
If you’re letting a property with gas appliances in it, you are responsible for:
- Repairing and maintaining gas pipework, flues and appliances in safe condition
- Scheduling annual gas safety checks on each appliance and flue. During a gas safety check, a registered Gas Safe engineer will make sure that your boiler is working properly and that your tenants aren’t at risk. Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 you can have the annual gas safety check on each appliance or flue carried out up to two months before the date the check needs to be carried out but still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check
- Maintaining a record of each safety check and gas safety certificates, and providing your tenants with copies of the gas safety certificate – landlords must provide a gas safety certificate at the start of the tenancy (before the tenant moves in), and within 28 days of each annual gas safety check, if there is a gas installation
- Any other maintenance associated with gas appliances you’ve provided
- Keeping your tenants informed about their responsibilities while they are staying in your property
Although landlords aren’t responsible for the safety of tenants’ gas appliances, if they connect to the property’s appliances, you are responsible for the condition of the connecting flues and pipework.
Landlords must also be aware that, in respect of Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), a Section 21 eviction cannot be used if a copy of a valid gas safety certificate has not been provided to the tenant before the tenant entered into occupation of the property.
For more information on what to do if your tenants prevent you from carrying out a gas safety check, read Total Landlord Insurance’s guide, How to gain access for a landlord gas inspection.
How to prevent gas leaks in a rented property
Preventative measures such as good maintenance are always the best form of defence against a gas leak which could result in an explosion. By following the gas safety regulations covered above, issues such as faulty installation and infrequent checks to heating appliances can be avoided. However, adequate tenant education is also crucial, particularly as we enter winter after heating systems have remained dormant over the summer months.
- Contact details. It’s crucial to act fast in an emergency, so make sure that your tenants know to contact you if they have any concerns about gas safety, and that they have the appropriate contact details they need to call if they suspect a gas leak
- Flammable substances. Advise tenants to minimise the use of flammable substances and never to leave any combustible substances near heat
- Gas ovens. If there is a gas oven in your property, make sure that your tenants know the correct way to use it and remind them to turn it off correctly. Many first-time tenants have never used a gas cooker before leaving their family home, so it is also a good idea to provide instructions, along with any other gas safety advice, or information on using appliances, in a ‘welcome pack’.
What to do if you or your tenants smell gas
Gas Safe Register has detailed information on who to call and what to do if your tenants smell gas or have been feeling unwell and experiencing headaches, nausea or dizziness and suspect it’s carbon monoxide poisoning.
It’s important that your tenants know what to do immediately if they smell gas, so talk through the following steps with them, as well as providing them with a written version.
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter. Make sure you and your tenants know where it is and how to shut it off. The exception to this is if the meter is in a cellar or basement
- Air the property to disperse the gas. Immediately open all the windows and doors and leave them open. If you can’t open the windows, get outside as quickly as possible
- Do not use any electrical switches or light anything. Any spark acts as an ignition and can cause an explosion. This includes switching on the TV, turning on a light or even pressing the doorbell. It may sound obvious, but make sure your tenant knows not to light matches or burn any naked flames (e.g. candles) as these can also all ignite any gas present
- Call the experts. Make sure your tenant has the National Gas emergency helpline 0800 111 999, that it’s easy to find in the rental property (again, it’s a good idea to include this information in a ‘welcome pack’, as well as talking them through it), and that they call from outside the property
If you smell gas, want to report a gas leak or require gas emergency services, there’s a free, 24-hour National Gas Emergency Helpline you can call.
The gas emergency number you need depends on where in the UK you’re based and the type of gas that’s involved:
|Natural Gas (NG)
|Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG)
|Towns Gas/Mains Gas**
|England, Wales and Scotland
|0800 111 999
|Contact number on bulk storage vessel or meter*
|0800 002 001
|Contact number on bulk storage vessel or meter*
|Isle of Man
|0808 1624 444
|0808 1624 444
|0808 1624 444
5.Keep people away from the affected area
What to do if there is an explosion in your property
If, despite complying with gas safety regulations and taking all the precautions we’ve outlined here, there is an explosion in your property, you should carry out the following steps:
- Remove any debris from public footpaths and secure the area
- Enter the property if it’s safe to check for damage and have the electrics and utility lines checked and made safe
- Call the emergency services, giving them as much information as possible
- Take time-stamped photos if it is safe to do so
- Contact your insurers to notify them of the situation and begin the claim process. They will advise you on the next steps to take
As a landlord, it’s important to take preventative measures to reduce the risks of anything going wrong in your property which could cause damage, prevent your tenants from living there, or worse, put your tenants’ lives at risk. But it’s not possible to eliminate risk entirely, which is why it is vital to make sure you have comprehensive landlord insurance cover in place.