Budget blues after electrician job

Golda Lowenstein, 82, wants Budget Electrical to repay her the R1 000 she paid them to replace the thermostat in her geyser at her Sea Point home.

Ms Lowenstein said Pierre Slabbert, the owner of Budget Electrical, fitted a new thermostat but the water started boiling two days later. Eventually the geyser packed up.

“When Mr Slabbert finally arrived, after calling him several times, I had been without hot water for four days. He said he couldn’t do anything and left. I called a plumber who said the problem was the element and fixed it in no time. The plumber said I should ask Budget Electrical for a refund as they had obviously done the wrong thing.

“I explained this to Mr Slabbert who asked for my banking details but he has not refunded me.

“Besides the hassle I cannot afford to spend more than R1 000 and then have to pay a plumber as well,” Ms Lowenstein said.

It took quite a while to get hold of Mr Slabbert whose business address on the invoice was listed as Sea Point.

I also left a message on his landline which he ignored. I sent him three emails and after the third one he replied that I owe him an apology because he had already sent his reply. If I had received a response I wouldn’t have asked him three times.

Mr Slabbert told me he is a fully qualified electrician, licensed and registered, “and not in the business to rip people off”.

But said he had moved from his Sea Point premises a few years ago.

“I was called out on a Friday at 6pm and found the geyser switched off at the wall. I switched it on and tested it to see if the element was drawing power, and it was. No charge for this call-out. I returned on Sunday afternoon after a call from Ms Lowenstein because the distribution board was tripping and Ms Lowenstein had no hot water,” said Mr Slabbert.

The thermostat had burnt out internally and was shorting.

“Ms Lowenstein was shown the part that was replaced and I returned on Sunday, again, no call-out charge, to install a new thermostat. I tested it and it was working. I tested the element with my instrument and it tested fine and no fault was shown in its standard condition.

“In comparison to the amount of work I did, the charge was minimal.

“Ms Lowenstein was charged for a call-out and the cost of the part plus VAT. The element apparently gave up a few days later,” Mr Slabbert said.

“What qualifications does the plumber have to comment on the electrical side of the geyser for the element and thermostat?

“According to legislation, it is illegal for unqualified people to work on the electrical side of a geyser. I am a fully qualified wireman. This is my final comment and I will not entertain any further correspondence,” Mr Slabbert said.

Ms Lowenstein said Mr Slabbert doesn’t mention that she waited all day and he only arrived at 6pm.

“I also phoned on Saturday morning but he only arrived on Sunday.

“I am not that useless that I didn’t check the board to see why it was tripping. It was not the geyser.

“The plumber replaced the ‘new’ thermostat, which I want to return to Budget. I also paid the account immediately. They should have told me from the beginning that they were too busy to attend to me properly. The plumber gave me the old part that he replaced in the geyser, and it was heavily covered in a white fur-like substance and obviously causing the problem. Naturally I kept it for a few months and then disposed of it,” Ms Lowenstein said.

Is Mr Slabbert correct that a plumber is not qualified to work on the electrics of a geyser?

David Olivier, the owner of Drainmen Services in Table View and past chairman of the Institute of Plumbing of South Africa (IOPSA) Western Cape, said it is a controversial issue.

“If, for example, the electrician finds that the element is at fault, by law he is not allowed to tamper with the plumbing.

“But to replace the element he has to shut down the water; relieve the water pressure; drain the geyser; then replace the element; open the shut-off valve; fill the geyser and do the pressure test. An electrician is not permitted to do this work,” Mr Olivier said.

“Picture the scenario. Under the current regulations if the consumer called an electrician to check why they had no hot water based on the fact that the element needed replacing he would have to check the electrics and then ask the customer to call a plumber who would have to do the necessary because the electrician is not allowed to work on the plumbing side.

“Once this was done the electrician would have to return to disconnect the wiring, replace and rewire the new element. Then the plumber would have to come back fill the geyser, do the tests and then call the electrician to test and turn on the electrics again,” Mr Olivier said.

Obviously the plumber and electrician would charge for their time: call-outs, labour and parts.

“This is not only unreasonable, impractical and uneconomical, it would be a nightmare trying to organise the logistics with the plumber and electrician,” Mr Olivier said.

“The standard is to call a licensed plumber or qualified company who usually have the necessary testing equipment.

“However, if the cause is due to a specific electrical fault, the isolator switch or a problem on the distribution board then there is no question that you need a qualified electrician who is compliant with industry standards.”