Geyser tips, airline perfume policies and pre-inspections for homes

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s “Watch-outs of the week”

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Perfume is the most pilfered baggage item, while flying. Stock image
Perfume is the most pilfered baggage item, while flying. Stock image
Image: Supplied

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Winter is not your geyser’s friend

Fire and geyser claims rise dramatically during winter in SA — 90% of the last year’s fire claims and 33% of the year’s geyser claims were submitted between June and August, according to Auto & General’s claim statistics.

“We are already seeing more geyser and fire related-claims than usual and urge homeowners to be vigilant,” says A&G insurance head Ricardo Coetzee.

That’s because in winter, the temperature difference between the cold water entering the geyser and the hot water leaving the geyser is much greater than it is during the summer months, which increases the rate of expansion and contraction, and that can lead to metal fatigue. That’s why your geyser is more vulnerable to bursting during cold weather if it is old or if the valves or thermostat are faulty.

As for the massive spike in fire claims during the winter months, that’s because we are using gas heaters, fireplaces, electric heaters, candles, paraffin stoves and electric blankets to stay warm. It takes only one ember close to flammable material, one faulty gas hose or wire or one switch left in the “on” or “open” setting for fire to result.

Here’s how to avoid becoming a statistic:

Fire safety:

Make sure that all heating appliances and devices are SABS approved and, where applicable, installed by a certified service provider.

Read and obey the manual, which warns against using devices on maximum heat for extended periods of time or placing them on an uneven surface.

Make sure that appliances’ piping and wiring are in good condition and take your gas bottles to a gas retailer to have them checked for leaks regularly.

Never leave heaters, electrical blankets, candles or stoves unattended. Before going to bed at night make sure that all heat sources are turned off.

Do not overload one single power source. Unplug and switch off all electrical appliances that are not in use.

Make sure that heating, electric and electronic devices are in a spacious and well-ventilated spot to prevent overheating. Don’t cover heaters with clothing or other material to dry.

Light first, gas second: If you have a gas heater or cook with gas, light the match or lighter first, before turning on the gas.

Have a fire extinguisher where heat sources are frequently used and make sure that you know how to activate and operate it.

Geyser safety:

Geysers should be serviced by a qualified plumber every three years. Among the things they check is the thermostat temperature — it should be no higher than 60 degrees.

Consider investing in a geyser blanket and timer to not only save on electricity, but also to help avoid a burst geyser caused by extreme fluctuations in heating and cooling.

Fit a drip-tray underneath the geyser.

Switch off your geyser from time to time, especially during peak electricity demand periods, but it’s best to not let it get cold, as this additional contraction-expansion cycle could decrease the lifespan of your geyser, while also consuming more electricity to warm the water up again.

Keep an eye out for the early warning signs of geyser failure, for example water coming from the geyser not being as hot as it used to be, and strange humming, hissing or cracking noises.

If your geyser bursts, switch off the electricity mains immediately, turn off the water mains, and call your plumber and insurer.

It pays to pay for a property inspection before buying

If you’re in the market to buy a house, please don’t assume that a house which looks neat, tidy and well maintained is free of defects. And the only way you can know for sure that you aren’t going to have to spend a fortune fixing a leaking roof or dodgy boundary wall is if you pay a professional property inspection company to do a proper assessment of the property, prior to the sale agreement being finalised.

It’s a few thousand rand which could save you a few hundred-thousand rand, as a young couple recently discovered.

They bought a house in Milnerton; a house which, according to the seller, had no defects. It soon became apparent that that wasn’t the case: the roof leaks, the security system doesn’t work properly, the garage door is tearing out of its hinges, and more.

The agreement states: “The property is offered for sale to the purchasers voetstoets, as it stands and with such defects, patent or latent as it may have. The purchaser recognises that it was his/her duty to inspect the property prior to sale, if necessary employing a professional to do so.”

The buyer would have to prove that the seller knew about the defects they’ve now discovered, at the time of the sale, and even then, litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Do not sign an agreement without knowing for sure that you’re not buying an expensive headache.

Never check in a bag with your perfume in it

Did you know that airlines include perfume in the list of “valuables” they won’t “entertain a claim on” should it be stolen from your check-in luggage?

So that’s cash, jewellery, electronics and the expensive smelly stuff that, if stolen from your checked in bag, you have absolutely no recourse.

Believe it or not, perfume is the most pilfered baggage item.

Strictly speaking, that stance is not compliant with the Consumer Protection Act, which requires service providers to take appropriate care of their customers’ belongings, but all the airlines do it anyway.

So if your “non valuable” clothing or shoes are nicked from your check-in baggage, all you can expect as compensation from the airline is R140 per kilogram for the missing item.

Forget about its actual replacement cost; you’ll get a fraction of that with that formula, which is applied by all airlines, worldwide.

Is it any wonder so many people board planes with stuffed-to-capacity carry-on bags? On many flights there are too many bags for the overhead bins to accommodate, so a few passengers have their carry-on bags removed from them by airline crew, to be put in the hold. And if any “valuables”, such as perfume or earphones, are stolen from those bags, there is not even the R140 per kilogram compensation to be had. Yep, flying is a risky business all right.

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