David Frise battles to find out if his new home from a listed builder is performing as it should

David Frise

I started my career in the Royal Navy, in fact in nuclear submarines. I have signed the Official Secrets Act and clearly see the need to keep secret the design of a nuclear power plant on a submarine. I fail to see, however, why the schematic of a centralised gas-fired boiler system in a 52 apartment block in North London should be a big secret. But apparently it is. 

The latest installment in my diary of my new home purchase concerns openness and consumer information.

Regarding the boiler schematic, the builder has flatly refused to give me a copy. “We have declined to provide a schematic because it is a communal system”. Why not? What harm could be done by providing a resident with information about the installed systems?

I have also been frustrated in my attempts to get a copy of the schematic of the solar thermal installation. I needed this because the building would qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)at a rate of 8.5p KWhr (at the time it was relevant) and I thought this would be sensible to pursue. Again I was refused, only to find out that the installer had entered an Energy Efficiency awards competition – and I was one of the judges (unlucky for them)! They were claiming quite remarkable performance from the system they installed in my block. It was particularly remarkable because I happened to know it wasn’t working because of a leak on the system.

In fact there is, incredibly, a heat meter already installed, but you won’t be surprised to hear it is in the wrong place and not wired

The installer did, however, offer to send over a schematic to allow the installation of the required heat meters for the RHI. Weeks passed and when chased the promised schematic had mysteriously disappeared and, in fact, they said they only did the maintenance. Really? Not what their competition entry said. They are apparently still able to install the heat meters though. How they will do that, without knowing what size they need to be and where to site them is a mystery. In fact there is, incredibly, a heat meter already installed, but you won’t be surprised to hear it is in the wrong place and not wired.

Other items that have the security status of “For Builders’ Eyes Only” include the basis on which a Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 was attained. The developer seems to have the equivalent of a rubber stamp: “Permission Denied”. However, as I am in the know I contacted BRE who administer the Code. BRE have no record of inspections and so pointed me towards DCLG. They again have no records. There is no central registry and, as I did not pay for the inspection, I am not entitled to see how the code level was attained.

Now, as I have two shower valves with a combined flow rate of 43.4 litres per minute, a dishwasher, washing machine and two toilets, I am not really sure how we sneak under the 105 litres per person per day requirement of the code.  But as I’m rapidly learning, it’s all on a “need to know” basis, and in order to bill me Thames Water have installed a meter that I am now able to read (I had to buy a key to the cupboard) so I know my water consumption is 180 litres per person per day.

No wonder they want to keep it all a secret.

David Frise is chief executive of the Association of Interior Specialists