Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) today released results of a joint investigation into compliance with permitting and inspection requirements for gas appliances that are installed in Montgomery County. The investigation revealed that two-thirds of the gas water heaters sold during the tested time periods in 2010 and 2011 in Montgomery County by four of the large, “big box” type stores had not been properly inspected following installation, posing a potential safety hazard and depriving customers of services for which they paid, but never received.
Under the “Plumbing and Fuel Gas Code” for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, only WSSC-licensed plumbers/gas fitters can install gas appliances, including water heaters, gas dryers, gas heating systems and gas stoves. A permit is required from WSSC prior to installation and the licensed plumber/gas fitter is required to schedule an inspection by WSSC within five business days following the installation. In the majority of cases, permits were purchased for installation but requests for inspection were never received by WSSC. Effective February 1, 2011, permits and inspections are also required for electric water heaters.
The investigation, launched earlier this year, requested that the four “big box” retailers – Sears, Home Depot, Lowe’s and hhgregg – provide a list of all the gas water heater installations they sold to consumers in Montgomery County during the tested time periods in 2010 and 2011. Each of the stores sells installation services but use subcontractors to do the actual installations. OCP worked closely with WSSC to determine the inspection compliance rate for these installations. Following the results of this investigation, the four retailers were asked to work with their subcontractor plumbers to have the gas water heater installations from 2010 and 2011 inspected and to take steps to ensure that future jobs are scheduled for inspection within five days of the installation.
WSSC has taken steps to insert a notice in its quarterly newsletter that alerts residents to the need for permits and inspections when gas appliances are installed. Consumers are being urged to insist that a permit is obtained when having a gas appliance installed and that an inspection is scheduled promptly afterwards.
Consumers who are not certain whether their gas appliances have been inspected and want to determine if a record of a safety inspection is available may call WSSC at 301-206-4004.
“Because of the finding that a majority of installations have not been inspected, we need to review the procedures and take proper steps to ensure that our residents are protected,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “The first step is to create a safety inspection committee comprised of representatives of the retail, insurance and plumbing industries, Montgomery and Prince George’s Fire-Rescue, the public and WSSC to consider ‘best practices’ for the regulation and inspection of gas appliances. Consumer Protection’s Advisory Committee may be able to initiate this process,” Friedman said.
“We welcome the opportunity to serve on this safety committee,” said Fire Chief Richard Bowers. “OCP has a long and distinguished track record of representing the interests of the public. This committee will bring together key stakeholders that possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, each striving to ensure the highest safety practices and standards possible.”
OCP, the County’s consumer protection agency, investigates thousands of complaints each year involving automotive sales and repairs, new home purchases, home improvements, credit issues, retail sales, internet services and most other consumer transactions. OCP provides pre-purchase information to consumers, as well as speakers to the community on consumer issues.
For more information and to check any merchant’s complaint record, call 240-777-3636 or visit OCP’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer.
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