The winter months are not the best time to be having cold showers or living without central heating. In this article, I want to look at some of the common problems affecting boilers after they’re switched on again in the winter. It could be that your boiler has a simple issue that you can address yourself but it should be noted that it’s always better to contact a professional if you are unsure what the problem is or how to tackle it.

Let’s look at some common causes then…

The Condensate Pipe is Frozen

Does your boiler make a gurgling sound when you attempt to use it and won’t fire up? If the weather has been particularly cold outside it could be that your condensate pipe has frozen. This is a common cause of winter boiler breakdowns. You can attempt to solve the problem yourself, thawing the pipe by pouring some warm water over it.

Low Pressure

If your boiler starts making banging noises, switches itself off and the radiators furthest from the unit stop heating, then it could be to do with low pressure in the system. The quickest way to solve this is to turn the pressure relief valve. Make sure that the control panel reads between 1 and 1.5 bars.

Once you’ve re-pressurised the system, you may have to reset your boiler. Check out the manufacturer’s manual on how to do this. If the boiler continues to lose pressure it might be due to a leak somewhere in the system. If this is the case you will need to call out an engineer to look at it.

You Cannot see the Pilot Light

Pilot lights go out for many reasons, but they should always be easy to reignite by following the instructions in your boiler’s manual. If you smell gas, or the flame has changed colour, it’s best to call the gas emergency hotline on 0800 111 999.

Thermostat Settings

If your boiler isn’t firing up and doesn’t come on when it is supposed to, then this could be down to your thermostat’s settings. It may be that the settings on your timer have changed due to a power cut, so check them to make sure they’re OK. Also check the temperature settings of the thermostat. If the temperature is below 21 degrees Celsius then the boiler may well not fire up, so you’ll need to increase it.

It sounds obvious, but also make sure the batteries are working. If you can’t see anything displayed on the thermostat panel, this may be the reason why.

Resetting your Boiler

If the boiler is showing an error code on the control panel and won’t start up, then it could be something as simple as it requires a reset. The reset button should be located somewhere on the front of the boiler within the control panel. Check the manual if you are unable to find it. If the reset button doesn’t work, then the other option open to you is to switch the boiler off and then on again. If this works, but you have to keep repeating the process, it’s probably best that you contact your nearest heating engineer.

If you have considered these five things, taken the appropriate steps and your boiler still doesn’t work, then it is time to call out the professionals. Ensure that whichever engineer you use is Gas Safe and OFTEC registered. But while you wait there are a number of things you can do to keep warm.

  • Clothing layers: The more clothes you wear, the warmer you’ll be, so make sure that you put on another jumper, grab those woolly hats and socks and keep warm under the blanket until the engineer arrives.
  • Remember to eat: Eating keeps you warm by creating heat as it is digested while drinking a warm drink such as hot chocolate or a cup of tea will also increase your temperature.
  • Keep the heat in: Make sure you pull the curtains closed and grab a couple of draught excluders to place under the doors. You can always use rolled up towels and blankets if you don’t have any draft excluders to hand. This way you’ll stop the warm air from escaping through the spaces under your doors.
  • Additional heat source: It is always a good idea to have a few electric heaters tucked away somewhere in the event of a boiler failure, in addition to electric blankets and even the odd hot water bottle.
  • Get selective: Don’t use electric heaters to heat the whole house as that will be needlessly expensive. A better approach is to heat the main room of your house and make sure the whole family spend most of the time there.

Heating Water when the Boiler is down

The best way to heat water is to use a kettle, or a saucepan if you have an electric stove. Of course, if you have an electric shower that heats water as and when it is needed that will prove invaluable. When it comes to the dishwasher, in the majority of cases the water is heated by the machine itself.

Just make sure that you follow good health and safety practices when you’re transporting hot water throughout your house. Boiling hot water can cause third-degree burns which will require immediate medical attention.

A boiler that breaks down in winter is not only an inconvenience, it can also be a traumatic experience. Having your normally warm and snug home suddenly become cold and inhospitable, is an extremely unpleasant experience, especially for little ones. By doing a little bit of investigating though, you may be able to deal with the problem without having to call a plumber.

If you’re not sure though then don’t try to fix it yourself as you could do more damage, invalidate your boiler’s warranty or even cause a gas leak. If in doubt, leave it to the professionals.