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Changing weather driving boiler breakdowns

Britain’s increasingly changeable and unpredictable weather is driving a rise in callouts for emergency boiler repairs, according to theboilercompany.com. 

The boiler repairs and servicing company has seen dramatic increases of up to 278 per cent in emergency boiler repair call-outs during cold and snowy weather events over the last two years.

The data shows a 71 per cent increase in emergency call outs during the snow earlier this spring (April 1-5) and an almost three-fold increase during last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ weather event.

London saw the largest increases in emergency call-outs during cold periods, followed by Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and then Manchester.

A major contributing factor is the changing way in which Britons are using their central heating, according to theboilercompany.com’s co-founder Soyfur Rahman: “From the hottest Easter Monday and February day on record to snow in April, 2019’s weather is already proving to be unpredictable. However, research shows that hot spells are actually getting longer and bitterly cold snaps are becoming less frequent.

“This has a knock-on effect for how people use their central heating. Boilers will often be switched off for long periods when it’s warm or mild, and then suddenly cranked up high when the cold arrives out of the blue. The cold already means heavier boiler use and the potential for frozen condensate pipes, so putting the heat on full blast after lots of inactivity puts sudden added pressure on systems components, making a breakdown more likely. The extra increase we’re seeing in emergency call-outs during unpredictable and irregular cold snaps supports this.” 

The data also shows that boiler repair call-outs also drop by up to 156 per cent during warm weather, suggesting that homeowners are ignoring their heating systems for long periods when its warm.

Over 2019’s hot Easter Bank Holiday weekend (and the hottest Easter Monday on record), call-outs also dropped by nearly two thirds compared to the previous four days.

However, there are several simple tricks that people can do at home to keep their boiler as fit as possible to brave variable weather. Nottingham-based theboilercompany.com engineer, Richard, gives his top five simple tips to preventing a boiler breakdown during a cold snap:

1. Prepare the condensate pipes for cold snaps.

Modern condensing boilers have a condensate pipe which discharges waste water from the condensation process. In cold snaps these can freeze and burst, causing boiler failures. It is worth investing in some lagging (insultation) for the external pipes. Put the heating on low, not high, to prevent frozen pipes if a cold snap is forecast.

If it does freeze, try carefully pouring warm (not boiling) water over the pipe to thaw the ice before restarting the boiler. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to call in the professionals.

2. Don’t overwork the boiler

It’s tempting to crank up the thermostat high when it suddenly gets cold, but this puts extra stress on the boiler when it is already under pressure from the cold weather. Start with it on a lower temperature and heat the house efficiently by keeping internal doors closed.

3. Turn the heating on monthly during hot spells

Leaving the boiler switched off for long periods of warm weather can lead to pipes seizing up or a build up of dust or corrosion that can stop the boiler functioning as it should. As unbearable as it sounds, it’s advisable to turn the central heating on at least monthly, even during the summer or heatwaves. The good news is that it only needs to be on long enough to check that it’s working. 

4. Bleed the radiators in early autumn

Bleed all of the radiators at least annually, and especially if the boiler isn’t heating the house as it should. Trapped air in the heating system will put pressure on the boiler to work harder. This can be done at any time of year, but early autumn is often an optimal time to ensure the heating system’s health before most of the cold weather sets in.

It’s simple enough to do; after turning the heating off, slot a radiator key (available from hardware stores) into the radiator bleed valve. Turn anti-clockwise until gas can be heard escaping. Close once water runs freely from the valve. If the radiator is cold at the bottom, this may indicate a build up of sludge, in which case a power flush of the system may be necessary.

5. Service the boiler annually

It’s advisable to get the boiler serviced at least annually by a Gas Safe engineer to ensure its health and prevent future problems. Not doing so could land homeowners in a tricky spot when the boiler is under pressure during cold snaps.

Regular services also ensure that any boiler insurance remains valid and there are many other benefits, such as improved safety and energy efficiency. 

4 July 2019

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