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Why boilers break in winter - and what you can do about it 

 

Boilers tend to break in winter – just when you need a warm house the most. There are many possible reasons for this. Some of them you can fix yourself, but for others you’ll need to call in a professional. 
You can try to avoid the scenario altogether of course. There are also preventative measures you can take to stop your boiler breaking at all.
 

 

Condensing boilers explained - and why they do worse in winter

These days, most boilers are “condensing” boilers. For the most part, these are better than older boilers. They have a smaller carbon footprint (which means they’re more environmentally friendly), and they operate more efficiently than older boilers.
The downside is they’re more easily damaged by the cold, so when those cold, winter nights draw in they tend to have more problems.
The reason? Condensing boilers work by re-using leftover gas to heat up water. Because the moisture from this gas needs to go somewhere, condensing boilers are fitted with a “condensate pipe”, that transports the moisture to a drain outside your house. These pipes are prone to freezing. When they freeze, they often burst.
But it’s not just cold weather that can damage condensate pipes. All sorts of debris can work its way in over the course of a year and cause your boiler to malfunction.
 

Why small amounts of damage can still be a problem

We don’t tend to notice boiler damage until it breaks down completely, leaving us all wandering round the house shivering and wearing our coats – but we can, and we should. Even small amounts of damage can mean your boiler has to work harder to heat your home and water supply, which will drive up energy bill.
To stop this happening, you should regularly check the water and condensate pipes for damage and obstruction. 


Note: Your condensate pipe will be located outside your house, running out from the side of your home into a drain. 
 

Fixing a condensate pipe 

You don’t need a professional to fix a condensate pipe. It’s an easy job.
If the pipe is frozen, all you have to do is thaw it. A hot water bottle is the perfect tool for the job. Once you’ve done this, reset the boiler and your heating should come back on.

 

Fixing your other pipes

The condensate pipe isn’t the only one that can freeze – regular water pipes can be affected by cold weather too. If this happens, the water won’t reach your boiler.
It can be tricky to identify exactly which water pipe has frozen, but if you can, you can thaw it just like the condensate pipe – be sure to switch off the water supply using the stop cock first.
But if the pipe has burst, don’t try to fix anything yourself. Switch off the water supply using the stop cock, and then call a professional to repair it.
 

How to prevent boiler damage

You can help prevent boiler damage by running your system on the economy setting. When winter arrives, most people a tempted to suddenly turn their boilers up the highest settings, and this can overload the system.
To avoid being left in the cold over the winter months:

  1. Check on your boiler regularly – even when it’s working. Not only can spotting problems early keep your boiler from breaking when you need it most, it also stops those smaller malfunctions that can have a big impact on your energy bills.
  2. Use the valve on your boiler to check the pressure. Low pressure stops your water and heating working as well as usual. It’s often caused by a leaky pipe. You can use the valve on your boiler to check the pressure and, if necessary, turn it up.
  3. Check your condensate pipe regularly and clear out any blockages. If it’s beginning to freeze, thaw it with a hot water bottle.
  4. Bleed your radiators to stop them developing cold patches.
  5. Get your boiler serviced regularly. Once a year is the recommended minimum.

Note: If in doubt, always seek professional advice before attempting these measures yourself.