Winter can be a demanding time for your condensing boiler, and in recent years a record number of households reported burst pipes and broken down boilers.
There's nothing worse than finding yourself without heating in the depths of winter, just when you need your boiler most. Sadly, that's when problems are most likely to occur.
However, there are lots of boiler maintenance tips that you can follow to make sure you don't end up with a nasty bill for calling someone out to fix a broken boiler. After all, even a cheap boiler could cost around £1,000, so it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to boiler maintenance.
What could go wrong with my condensing boiler?
Condensing boilers are the most common type of new boiler. They are a godsend to households fighting higher gas and electricity costs.
The good news is that condensing boilers are 10-20% more efficient than regular boilers. The bad news, however, is that the system is more likely to freeze up in cold temperatures. For this reason it is important to have regular gas boiler servicing.
If the temperature outside is below freezing and your condensing boiler isn't working, or it's displaying an error, then your condensate pipe could be frozen.
Things to look out for?
The most obvious sign of a dodgy boiler is quite simply when it's not heating up water anymore. There's no surer sign of a boiler not working than the heating not coming on, but the trouble may well start long before that, so it pays to know what to look out for.
One of the clearest signs to look out for is whether your boiler flame is clear blue. An orange or yellow gas flame are a great indicator of a problem and mean it's time to call your boiler engineer.
Boiler pressure is another clear indicator. If your boiler pressure is suddenly dropping or rising, of the pressure remains too high for prolonged periods of time, it may be time to get your boiler inspected.
It's also a bad sign if you hear strange clunking or ticking noises, particularly when your boiler starts up. Similarly if your boiler is using significantly more gas than is normal there may be a serious problem that should be investigated as soon as possible.
How to stop your condensing boiler from freezing
Gas boiler repair can be costly, so avoiding a frozen boiler is a priority. According to the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) "setting the heating timer/room thermostat to continuous is one way to prevent the condensate pipe from freezing up."
The most energy efficient way to do this is to leave your heating on low constantly. While it is likely to cost slightly more to have your heating on all the time you may save costs, and gain peace of mind, by ensuring your pipes don't freeze up.
This strategy may not be suitable all the time, but if there's a particularly cold stretch of winter weather it's an approach that can pay off.
How to thaw a frozen pipe on a condensing boiler
If you are unfortunate enough to end up with frozen pipes your heating will come to a standstill, but luckily it's a problem that's easily rectified.
The best thing to do is to place a hot water bottle on the pipe, or pour warm water on it and then reset your thermostat.
Alternatively you can boil a kettle and pour the boiling water over your pipes. You may need to do this a few times to properly thaw them though.
What happens if it keeps freezing?
While this is a great solution if it works it's of little use if you have to do it every day. If it does become a recurrent problem though you can still do something about it, although it will take a bit more work:
- You could think about having the pipe moved to somewhere internal.
- You could also have your pipe replaced with one of a wider diameter.
- Try installing insulation around the pipe.
If nothing helps the problem may lie elsewhere, in which case it's probably time to call in an engineer.
Keeping your boiler checked and maintained
Boilers often break down in winter, and there couldn't be a worse time to be living in a cold house with no hot water and no access to cheap boiler service.
What's more, the cost of calling out a boiler engineer is extensive, and can involve lots of calling around to try and find someone who is available and able to come out quickly.
That's why it's a good idea to sign up for boiler cover - that way you have protection if something goes wrong, and with some plans, you even get annual cheap boiler service for your boiler included in the cost. Signing up to a gas boiler servicing contract could be a real life-saver if something goes wrong when the temperature outside drops.
What to look out for
The most important requirement of good boiler cover isn't the price; it's the standard of service. Any work done on your boiler should be carried out through a Gas Safe Register engineer.
Only Gas Safe Registered Engineers are allowed to work on boilers in the UK, and will offer you the peace of mind that the work is being done safely and to a high standard.
Just ask to see your boiler repairman's Gas Safe Register card and look out for the yellow triangular symbol.