THOUSANDS of families may be at risk from gas boilers that were illegally installed by non-certified technicians, a consumer watchdog has warned.
The Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) said 27,500 gas boilers were sold last year, but only 17,400 were put in by registered gas installers listed on the Registered Gas Installers of Ireland (RGII) website.
It said figures from the Commission of Energy Regulation (CER) also revealed that disconnections of boilers for safety reasons more than doubled last year, and a crackdown on dodgy installations is needed before people are killed.
CAI chief executive Dermott Jewell said they were aware of the financial pressures households were under, but opting for an illegal offer on boiler installation could cost lives.
He called for tougher regulation to pursue illegal installers rather than waiting for accidents to happen.
"There must be immediate action taken to put provisions in place to protect consumers and their families from what is obviously a significant and life-threatening health and safety problem," he said.
CER noted that in the past two years there had been a fivefold increase in the number of disconnections carried out by Bord Gais Networks for safety reasons.
"The frequency of these disconnections has seen a significant increase, especially since the second quarter of 2010," it noted in its 2011 Natural Gas Safety Framework report.
These had risen from 310 in the second quarter of 2010 to 1,504 in that period of 2011.
However, fewer than half of consumers are aware of the RGII scheme to list approved installers, even though it is illegal for unapproved fitters to put in a gas boiler.
Around two people die every year in Ireland because of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the home related to domestic heating or other fossil fuel installations.
TV's ' Coronation Street' will even feature this theme at Christmas. Character Fiz Stape, played by Jennie McAlpine, will be rushed to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning after a misguided attempt at DIY boiler fixing.
The CAI survey was carried out among all the main suppliers of boilers.
However, the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) said the problem with illegal boiler installations could be even worse, as more may have been supplied by small independent operators.
"A large part of the problem is that there is a serious lack of regulatory enforcement which allows these illegals to go from job to job without worrying that someone was going to take action against them," said APHC chairman Sean Giffney.