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Boiler & heating tips to prepare for Winter

December 13, 2018

We know that for many of you, the boiler is one of the last things you think about. Maybe you're here because you're having a few issues with your boiler, or maybe you just want to make sure you're doing all you can to avoid the risk of losing heat & hot water as it gets colder. Either way, you're in the right place - we're here to help you stay warm.

Last Winter, you may have had family, colleagues or friends that suffered from a boiler breakdown on some of the coldest days of the year. Luckily, in a great number of these cases, they're issues you can quickly fix yourself, without waiting in the cold. Better yet, if you're prepared, you'll know exactly what the issue might be, so you have the best chance of getting back to the more important things in life if an issue does come up.

With this winter is set to be one of the coldest on record (or so says the Met office), it's good to be prepared. Let's get into our tips - we'll try our best to make them practical and easy to understand, by highlighting some common issues or situations and how to be prepared for them.

Our tips to keep you warm

1. Check if your radiators are cold at the top

Sometimes, a cold house is purely down to air trapped in your radiators. So, a good first spot check is to see if your radiators are cold at the top – if so, you likely need to bleed your radiators.

So how do you do it? It’s a very straightforward process and you can do it yourself by turning the heating off and simply letting the air hiss out. Just make sure you have a cloth on hand or you'll get a spray of water everywhere. Other than that, all you need is a radiator key (if you can't find it, they're only a few pounds from a DIY store), along with ideally a bowl to catch the water.

If you need some more detail we've got a quick guide here

"How to bleed your radiators was one of Google UK's top 10 searched 'how-to' questions of 2018.”

Bleeding your radiator is something you can do yourselfBleeding your radiator is something you can do yourself

2. Check the boiler pressure

Lots of different factors can lead to a lack of hot water or stop your heating from working properly, but one common one is low pressure. Causes include damaged or leaky valves, or if you’ve got a combi, even bleeding your radiators to solve one problem may cause the system pressure to drop below what’s optimal.

The best place to start is by checking your boiler’s pressure. If your boiler’s pressure gauge reads below 1, that’s when you should top the pressure up (something you can do yourself). You can also speak to a Gas Safe engineer, particularly if you still have issues or the pressure continues to drop – it could be a quick fix, and you could avoid the risk of being without heat and hot water if left unchecked.

Your boiler pressure should be between 1 and 1.5 barYour boiler pressure should be between 1 and 1.5 bar

3. If you hear strange noises from your boiler or pipework

If your boiler starts making strange noises that you haven’t heard before, it could be a sign of a problem, which left unchecked, could result in a breakdown. Unexpected noises include banging, bubbling, gurgling or whistling – the source could be the boiler or expanding pipework.

Both of these typically won't go away, so if you can hear any of these it’s time to get a professional to investigate it properly.

A noisy boiler can be more than just an annoyanceA noisy boiler can be more than just an annoyance

4. When it drops below freezing, be prepared

As temperatures drop below zero, boilers can be at risk of frozen condensate pipes - these are the white or black plastic pipes that sometimes go from the boiler into a drain outside, rather than the ones that carry water. This is often freezing occurs because the wrong size pipe has been installed.

To get your heating and hot water back quickly, you can thaw out the pipes yourself, by using a kettle or towels soaked in warm water. As always, if you’re not sure, call a qualified engineer.

Frozen condensate pipes outside are a common issue that's an easy fixFrozen condensate pipes outside are a common issue that's an easy fix

5. If you haven't got your boiler serviced

We know many of you haven't had your boiler serviced recently. Rather than say that you should get it serviced every year, it might be more helpful to explain what happens during a service, so you can make a more informed decision about getting one done.

Not all boiler services are created equal - if you do get one, make sure you get it done properly. Here's what a good engineer will do:

  1. Ensure the boiler is safe - The first checks are ensuring the boiler is safe - the engineer will check the safety of the waste gas from the boiler, carbon monoxide levels, and that the case is sealing properly.

  2. Check boiler operation - The engineer will make sure all key components are working properly, and the pressure is optimal. If not, they'll make the necessarily adjustments for you to make sure it's operating as efficiently as it can be.

  3. Check for potential issues - This isn't about scaring you into getting a new boiler, it's about doing the quick fixes that ensure small problems don't grow into bigger ones that cost you later. These can include rust on the inside of the boiler.

  4. Clean the boiler and filter - A good engineer knows that a boiler only stays reliable if things are clean on the inside. They'll make sure the boiler is clean (similar to a dental checkup), and also clean out the magnetic filter that accumulates debris over time (like cleaning out the vaccuum cleaner). An engineer that takes pride in their work may also clean the boiler on the outside too, so it looks great.

  5. Ensure the service meets the manufacturer's requirements - All boiler manufacturers require that the boiler be serviced annually to keep the warranty valid. There's a reason for this - it gives them a check that the boiler is clean on the inside and trouble free so you don't need to claim under the warranty! If you're under warranty, it's important that the service covers the points required by the manufacturer. Even if you're not, a good engineer will ensure they're doing the right things by the manufacturer so things are in top shape.

6. If your boiler is over 12 years old

If your boiler is over 12 years old, there's a good chance its non-condensing, as it's before the new condensing technology became mandatory in 2005. These days, boilers are far more efficient than they were in days gone by, with many replacements moving your boiler from 60% to 92% efficiency.

What does this actually mean for you? Basically, think of it in terms of paying for the gas that fuels your boiler. With a modern boiler, if you put in £1, you'll get 92p worth of heat. With an older boiler, that same £1 will only give you 60p worth of heat. This means you're paying more to keep your home warm. With the average gas bill for a three or four bedroom house being £572/year, you could be paying around £195/year less on your gas bill, which adds up to nearly £1,000 over the next five years!

Of course, if you're happy with how the boiler is performing, we can completely understand not wanting to upgrade, but if issues do arise over the season, being prepared means you can make an informed decision to choose to replace, rather than risking things going wrong again by throwing good money after bad. You'll have a brand new boiler with a fresh warranty, a warmer home and the latest in heating controls to keep things toasty and just how you like it too.

If you can’t resolve the problem, or you think you may need to replace the boiler

If the answers above don’t diagnose or resolve the problem, it’s probably a good idea to call out an engineer. A local Gas Safe engineer can help you diagnose the problem and recommend the next step to get your system working at its best and avoid future problems.

If it’s time for a new boiler, our team at hiber is happy to guide you through the options, with no obligation whatsoever.

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