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Nice fire

A boiler, heating the water with fire.

They work on a pretty simple concept really, our boilers. They have to do one thing – heat water, which is then used for washing and cleaning or keeping our houses warm. They do it by burning fuel in form or another and transferring the heat to the water, which is then pumped to where it needs to be. It shouldn’t be beyond reason to expect them to last for a lifetime, and yet frequently we find that they need to be repaired or replaced after about ten years.

The reason for failures isn’t usually anything to do with the heating part of the boiler itself, it’s more likely to be one of the associated parts or a problem in another part of the system. So which of the other parts can fail and leave you looking at a repair?

Thermostats can be a problem, and may not fail outright. They can lose their accuracy over time and end up turning the heat on or off when you aren’t expecting it. A gas engineer can clean and recalibrate them, but for the cost of doing that you are probably just as well buying a new one and getting them to fit it. A new one will be more reliable and might even come with new efficiency improving controls. One that are programmable around your routine are now freely available and will save you a lot of money, up to 20% in the long term.

Time switches tend to be fairly simple things, as they are mechanical devices and not much can go wrong with them. They can get a bit gummed up over time, so the clock dial might run slow and make the timing go off. They are easily replaceable if required and could be done as part of your regular service.

Programmers these days tend to be electronic, which gives you much better control over the timing of your heating and allows you to set complex programmes that take into account the times when you are likely to be in or out of the house. Unlike the mechanical timers they won’t get gummed up, but when they fail they’ll take out the boiler until you replace them. Fortunately they are easy enough to swap and are cheaply and widely available from DIY stores.

Condensate pipes don’t tend to cause much trouble on their own – the boiler will wear out before they do – but in very cold weather it’s possible for the water in them to freeze before it drains. This can result in water backing up along the pipe to your boiler, which will then shut down as a safety measure. All that is required in this case is a defrosting of the pipe, but you’ll have to do it before the boiler will restart. To prevent it happening, lag the outside pipe.

You’ll see from the above that most problems are fixable without you having to resort to finding your nearest boilers sale and buying a replacement. If you have any questions about these or other problems, ask your maintenance engineer for advice.

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