Lifting the lid on water heaters

Decentralising the hot water supply at home is vital because of the drought as it can save water and electricity, says Jan Holsboer of Pinelands.

But as Mr Holsboer is arguing with the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) and the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) about the South African National Standards(SANS) applicable to geysers, it’s not likely to happen soon.

The spat centres on the use of a temperature and pressure safety valve (T&P) and the SANS, which, claims Mr Holsboer, are not in alignment.

Mr Holsboer has a vested interest in the outcome, as he imports the Inventeum, an under-the-counter hot water unit and he has been having an uphill battle with the NRCS over the Letter of Authority (LOA) which ensures that appliances comply with international standards.

“Decentralising avoids long runs between the source and the outlet which means you only heat the water you need. It takes a while to get hot water from the kitchen tap and a lot goes down the drain. You can eliminate the waste by installing a unit under the kitchen sink so you won’t have to take small amounts of water from a 150-litre geyser. You also waste electricity because it can take up to two hours to heat a 150-litre geyser which should only be used to supply big volumes. You don’t transport one small item in a container truck,” Mr Holsboer said.

During the day most hot water is used in the kitchen, so it makes sense to install a unit where it is most useful.

“Decentralising hasn’t been implemented properly in South Africa,” said Mr Holsboer, who is in competition with Kwikot’s Prisma which is why the NRCS would not renew his LOA, he alleged.

He is also fighting with the regulator and over the requirements for the hot water systems.

“When we began importing the Inventeum the NRCS issued an LOA but when we started making headway the picture changed,” said Mr Holsboer, who serves on a SABS technical working committee, where he was reportedly outvoted by the local manufacturers, over the specifications.

Mr Holsboer said SANS 151 is set by the plumbing industry while the Inventeum is tested to the standard of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) taking into account South African conditions. “SANS 21 is our version of IEC 21 and is included in SANS 151. Apart from the safety devices stipulated by the IEC, hot water systems must have a Thermal Cut Out and a T&P valve.

“Locally manufactured hot water systems use only the T&P valve while imported hot water systems use only the Thermal Cut Out,” and, claimed Mr Holsboer, “none of the hot water systems complies with SANS 151”.

Mr Holsboer said that at first the NRCS accepted tests from internationally accredited laboratories.

Now, products which have been tested by the IEC must also comply with SANS 151, which contradicts the SABS view. The NRCS has taken one step backward by refusing to accept international test reports. So it’s back to square one. It can also take up to two years to get a hot water system tested in South Africa – and a bucket of money.”

You can import hot water systems which have been tested according to IEC standards but excluding a T&P valve which requires an extra port.

No major manufacturer in South Africa will alter their production line to accommodate a T&P valve in a small tank.

Mr Holsboer has asked the NRCS and the SABS to use the same definition of a hot water system.

“The SABS supports this but the stakeholders disagree. Nobody can amend a SANS without the technical committee’s approval, not even President Jacob Zuma.”

According to Mr Holsboer, Kwikot brings in the smaller systems and transforms them from vented to unvented “which is illegal”.

Unvented hot water systems require a T&P valve and are imported as vented.

They are plug-in systems so “this illegal transformation is not picked up during health and safety inspections”.

“SA hot water systems have become sub-standard over the last few years due to lack of competition: they have a maximum lifespan of five years while a good quality European or Australian hot water system lasts 15 years on average. That’s why the SA plumbing industry does not want imports,” Mr Holsboer alleged.

“The easiest way of avoiding this, is by adding the T&P requirement. Meanwhile, the consumer loses out.”

Dr Tshenge Demana, chief director, (technical), Department of Trade and Industry, said although Mr Holsboer says he is being unfairly kept out of the market, the regulator says the Inventeum does not meet local requirements.

“My understanding is that local requirements are set by industry. Mr Holsboer says the committee setting these local requirements does not agree with him but his system should be on the market because no one else has a product that meets local requirements. The regulator says it’s not the case,” Dr Demana said.

Paul Rawsthorne, regional manager of Kwikot Western Cape, said what Mr Holsenboer is claiming is not true.

Kwikot have been marketing the 10-litre Prisma, a point-of-use geyser successfully for more than 20 years: it meets local requirements and is specced on government tenders.

“The 10-litre unit heats water in 26 minutes while the standard 150-litre geyser takes 2.6 hours. The Prisma puts water where you need it. You will have a long leg of cold water before you get hot water if the geyser is at the other side of the house,” Mr Rawsthorne said.

“SANS requires that all unvented water heaters have a T&P valve and has been part of the legislation for many years. The Prisma unit doesn’t have a facility for a safety valve but it has an open vented or push through mixer we sell with the unit,” he said.

“Kwikot cannot exclude anyone from installing this product with a pressure control and expansion relief valve but we will still honour warranties if the product is installed with the valves and since we were taken over by Electrolux we have raised the guarantee on the Prisma from one year to five years.”