Partners and Suppliers Steve Barnes 13/09/2022

The Complete Guide to Protecting your Property from Explosion

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, NRLA insurance partners, Total Landlord Insurance, 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.

Insurance case study

In May 2019, an unexploded world war two bomb was detonated in a controlled explosion in south west London. Despite the bomb disposal team taking precautions, the subsequent explosion and shockwave damaged a number of buildings and cars in the area, blowing out windows and causing cracks in walls. Total Landlord Insurance paid out a total of £195,986 for one insured property, to remedy cracks and cover replacement windows, doors and domestic utilities, as well as loss of rent, after the police ordered tenants to vacate on safety grounds. While this was an unusual case, it highlights that if the landlord had not had the correct coverage, they would have been seriously out of pocket.

Whatever the cause, the ramifications of explosions are devastating in terms of lives lost, injuries, and damage to properties that are directly affected. Explosions can also cause disruption to nearby homes, which may need to be evacuated.

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:

  1. Fuel (a flammable substance such as gas)
  2. Oxygen (which is ever present in air)
  3. 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. For example, leaking gas from internal piping was responsible for a recent fatal explosion in Birmingham, and corroding service pipes have been established as the cause of other recent explosions that have reduced homes to rubble.

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. A boiler service costs about £80 while a gas safety check for three appliances costs about £60.  

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 pipeworkflues 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.

Steve Barnes, Associate Director at Total Landlord Insurance advises:

“The best way to prevent yourself from facing the justifiably harsh penalties for non-compliance with gas safety, is to make sure you schedule a gas safety check at least once a year (more if you have appliances that need it) and to keep a record of your Gas Safety Certificates and checks. If you use an agent to manage your property, make sure that your contract states who is responsible for what and that your agent provides you and your tenants with new Gas Safety Certificates on at least an annual basis. If you have any questions about how gas safety might affect your insurance policy, feel free to contact our team. Our policy will cover most eventualities but does not include incidences of faulty workmanship or any pre-existing defects or damage or wear and tear.”

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
  • 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

Check your insurance

Steve Barnes, emphasises the importance of protecting your property and your tenants from explosions:

“Explosions are rare in residential properties, but it’s important to check that you are covered as the damage an explosion can cause is likely to run into tens of thousands of pounds. When explosions do happen, it is generally due to gas leaks - every year in the UK hundreds of people are hospitalised and many people die due to gas explosions caused by a gas leak. Preventative measures are always best – good maintenance including a yearly boiler check, making sure your tenants have appropriate contact details to report a gas leak and advising tenants to minimise the use of flammable substances and how to use a gas oven correctly are key.”

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.

Total Landlord Insurance’s Essential and Premier policies both cover most eventualities, including loss of rent or alternative accommodation should a tenant be required to evacuate a property. Explosion insurance does not cover incidences of faulty workmanship or any pre-existing defects, damage or wear and tear. Terrorism isn’t automatically added to the explosion element of the policy, instead it needs to be added on to the policy for an additional premium.

NRLA landlord insurance partner, Total Landlord Insurance, has a dedicated in-house claims team of expert advisers who are on hand to help advise you on the best cover for you.

Check the A-Z landlord property claims e-book below

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes Head of Broking, Total Landlord

Steve Barnes has worked with landlords and leading landlord associations for over 25 years and oversees the HFIS group as Head of Broking for Total Landlord. Our award winning landlord insurance offering has been providing comprehensive cover for landlords since 1996. Whether you have a single property or a portfolio, Total Landlord has a property insurance policy that will give you value for money and the required protection to support your business requirements. Our dedicated claims team of expert advisers deal with more than 82% of claims in-house and provide customers with a sole point of contact should the worst happen. Named 'Best Landlord Insurance Provider' five times at the Insurance Choice Awards and with a rating of 4.8 out of five on Smart Money People, you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.

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