Top tips to avoid a boiler breakdown this winter

By Richard Jenkins
Thursday, 11th November 2021, 12:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th November 2021, 12:28 pm

As bookies slash the odds of the coldest November on record, British Gas has revealed that over the next week, more than 46,000 calls are expected from customers across the country who need assistance with getting their heating and hot water systems back up and running.

Every winter, British Gas fixes around 1.2 million boilers. The first prolonged snap of cold weather is traditionally associated with a spike in demand for urgent engineer callouts to get households’ heating and hot water systems up and running.

With an icy blast reportedly on the way that could last for up to six weeks – bringing widespread frosts, fog and a number of snow events – British Gas is urging people to prepare their homes now, to avoid being stuck without heating and hot water when they need it most.

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Sunny Solanki, a British Gas service and repair engineer, said: “After an unusually balmy autumn, many of us won’t have used our heating properly for a while – and we’re likely to be unaware of any problems that have developed in the system. Rather than wait for winter to set in for real before finding out something’s not working as it should be, we’re advising households to prepare now.

“Looking after your boiler is key, as well as making a few small changes around the home to ensure the rest of your heating and hot water system is working effectively and efficiently.

“These are my top tips to help people stay warm and safe in the home this winter. Remember, a heating system that’s in good shape also won’t use more energy than it needs – which will help keep your bills down.”

Bleed your radiators

When you haven’t used your heating for a while, air can enter the system and form bubbles at the top of your radiators, which stops them from working efficiently. If you test your heating and notice cold spots at the top of your radiators, switch them off and after they cool, turn a radiator key in the valve at the top to let the air out.  It’s worth having a rag or a small container to hand to catch any drips.

Don’t forget that bleeding your radiators may cause the system pressure to drop – you can spot this by checking the pressure gauge on your boiler, and it’s easy to top up if needed.

Cold spots at the bottom or in the middle of your radiators might mean you’ve got sludge building up – sorting this out is more complicated, and you might need to call an engineer to help flush out your system.

Shut out the cold

You wouldn’t leave the back door open when the heating’s on, but warm air could still be escaping without you realising – and cold air could be sneaking in! Draught excluders are available from most DIY stores, and they’re an easy and affordable way to draught-proof your home. As well as sealing the joins around your doors and windows, don’t overlook extra measures like letterbox brushes, chimney balloons and even keyhole coverings.

Furnish for warmth

Think about where your heat sources are, and make sure your radiators can do their job properly. Putting your sofa in front of a radiator may keep the best spot in the house extra toasty, but it will absorb heat that could be warming the rest of the room.  Curtains and rugs have an important part to play as well – thick material (the thicker the better) prevents heat from being lost through windows and doors – just don’t forget to open your curtains during the day so that the sun can do some of the work!

TLC for your boiler

In our experience, people often don’t give much thought to their boiler until something goes wrong with it. Your boiler is essential to keeping the household going, so it’s well worth looking after – and regular services can prevent problems from arising, full stop. For a regular monthly payment, British Gas' HomeCare products provide ongoing maintenance, servicing and cover for breakdown or repairs, and include an annual boiler service as standard. To find out more, visit: www.britishgas.co.uk/homecare.

Wrap your pipes up warm

We often come across frozen condensate pipes – which don’t require specialist training to fix. The best solution is to stop the water inside your hot water pipes from freezing in the first place – water expands when it turns to ice, which can lead to burst or damaged pipes.  Insulating materials are an easy, cost-effective solution, available from most DIY stores – if you keep your water system nice and cosy, it will do the same for you.

Be energy smart

Unsurprisingly, winter is the peak season for energy usage. Making the most of smart tech like thermostats means you can control your heating on the go and avoid wasting money on energy you’re not using. For example, if you’re stuck at work or delayed on the way home, you can use your smartphone to stop the heating from coming on too early and warming up an empty house. Also, if you have a smart meter installed, you can see how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence, helping you to identify where you can make savings. To find out more, visit: www.britishgas.co.uk/hive or www.britishgas.co.uk/smart.

Install a carbon monoxide detector

Faulty central heating systems are one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home. You can’t hear it, see it, taste it or smell it, and it kills around 30 people a year – but fortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable. As well as getting your boiler checked once a year, it’s essential to have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted. Available through British Gas or from your local DIY store, the detectors last between five and seven years, so check yours is in date and test it to make sure it’s working.

Keep everything ticking over

Like a car that hasn’t started for a while, your boiler can seize up if it’s not turned on for an extended period of time.  It’s a good idea to run your central heating for at least an hour a day during the colder months – even if you’re going away – to make sure it keeps running smoothly. Check out the boiler manual to find out how to set the timer.

Make a plan B

Do you know where your stopcock is?  In the rare event that your pipes do freeze up, you'll want to prevent a build-up of pressure forming behind the blockage and leading to a burst pipe. It’s important to familiarise yourself with the whereabouts of your stopcock and make sure that you can access it easily. It’s the little tap or lever on your copper pipes, often found under your sink.

Get the help you’re entitled to

It’s always worth finding out if you’re eligible for extra assistance with your energy bills, especially before the cold weather sets in.  £140 winter rebates are available through the Warm Home Discount scheme, and face-to-face advice, financial support and grants are available from the British Gas Energy Trust (even if you’re not a British Gas customer).