/ Home & Energy

Share your tales of bothersome boiler repairs

A rise in the number of boiler-related emails in my inbox tells me it’s that time of year when people decide whether their boiler will survive another winter. But when your boiler breaks do you get a good repair service?

Our recent boiler brand reliability survey found that 48% of people with a boiler up to seven years old have experienced a fault. And two thirds of these faults stopping their heating or hot water from working.

Luckily not all faults lead to a visit from the repairer, but a third of the people we asked have had to get their boiler repaired since it was first installed.

What those figures don’t capture is the frustration of a boiler that breaks down repeatedly, with a fault that no one seems to be able to pin down. Which brings me to my own boiler…

The trials and tribulations of my boiler

One freezing cold morning, after a spell of unseasonably warm weather, I was woken up by a very bad tempered husband swearing about a lack of heating and hot water. The LCD display on the boiler told us there was a problem with the gas supply. We quickly discovered that this was nonsense, but couldn’t reset our boiler to get it working again.

The first repairman came out, took the casing off, pressed the reset button and it started working immediately. He couldn’t identify the problem, suggested we leave it to see if it happened again and asked for £109 in call-out fees.

The same thing happened a few weeks later when there was another sharp change in the weather. A few hours later I watched the repairman come in, take the casing off, press reset and the boiler sprung back into life. He then spent over an hour unplugging leads, cleaning sensors, running diagnostic tests and phoning the manufacturer to see if they could work out what was wrong.

To cut a long story short the fault eventually turned out to be a build up of debris in the ignition, which meant it couldn’t create a spark to ignite the gas. This made the boiler ‘diagnose’ a gas supply problem and switch itself off, where changes in the weather expanded and contracted the ignition’s metal pins, creating this intermittent fault.

All it took to solve the problem was one repairer who knew enough to come in, clean the pins and bend them apart slightly. Job done, no problems since. The one thing we didn’t need, and every single repairman mentioned, was a new printed circuit board, costing more than £100.

Do you need boiler breakdown cover?

My problem is that it took five separate repairmen, one service and tens of trips into the loft to reset the boiler to get this problem fixed. Without our boiler repair contract we’d have spent more than £500 on call out fees to get a couple of bits of metal unbent and cleaned.

Still, that’s not to say you need to invest in a boiler servicing contract or breakdown cover as not everyone’s as unlucky as me. We’ve found that the average cost of an annual boiler service is £70, while the cheapest annual service contract costs around £140 without call-out fees. It’s likely that your boiler won’t require any repairs when it comes up for its annual service, so you’d be £70 better off if you paid for a one-off service.

I’m curious to hear what boiler experiences you’ve had – have repairers got straight to the root of the problem and fixed your boiler without hassle? Or have you had to pay for expensive return trips to a boiler that keeps on giving up the ghost?

jonnie ferguson says:
23 April 2013

i have an old glowworm back boiler,i moved into my house over 20 years ago,i think it was put in in the late 70,s and it is still running fine,hard to believe but its true,it has never broken down,never cost me a penny in repairs,just servicing costs,the gas engineer always tells me to keep it till it expires,i never had breakdown cover because i dont need it,,as they were built too last,and that very little can go wrong with these old warriors.it heats up the radiators and hot water in a very short time,my gas bills are no higher than my combi boiler friends,all the nightmares folks seem too be having with the new combi boilers breakdowns etc.its a big money racket from the big suppliers,people are paying way over the odds,then you find out where all your money is going,eg british gas big fancy tv adverts and sponserships ,then you find out eon hasnt paid any tax,baxi have a new back boiler on the market,but i dont need a new boiler just yet

Trudi says:
22 November 2013

Baxi Neta Tech boiler that has had numerous callouts, is still less than two years old and under warrenty. Engineers come and it works briefly after they leave before stopping again (within hours) and never anyone available to repair it for days. Now waiting for my third repair (have requested Senior Engineer) in two weeks. As this is a Combi boiler we have no heating or hot water. Last engineer said boiler was rubbish, no longer made and it needs replacing, after research on the internet it would seem lots of other people agree.

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

take it off the wall,remove all the copper bits and skip it,dont you love this country.

gas brains says:
23 October 2014

my word is gas law,prescott signed this country up for condensing boilers,he is the one responsible introducing these machines that cannot be repaired,the manufacturers come out and just keep putting parts on till it works,this is a scam on a massive scale,do not fit a gas boiler,get storage heaters instead.or even better,get a gas fire in your lounge and a hot water cylinder with an immersion heater,yes we are back in the sixties,to put it bluntly these machines are welding every time they come on,and with so many fine electrical connections it does not stand a chance,so enjoy your wall hung welding,frisking you,set on the wall,its nt it for purpose,i am an engineer,i laugh when I go for an interview and tell these big firms that they are naïve to think they can fix these things,and they think they can do it,i have seen thousands of spare parts waiting to be fitted,hey never are.

Trevis Johns says:
3 December 2014

I made a mistake in having a new Vaillant boiler fitted in October 2014 at a cost of £2500. When fitted it failed to fire up and it took two trips from Vaillant’s own Engineer, four printed boards and one valve plus three days before Vaillant would agree that the boiler was faulty. I am 78 and my wife 84 we were left without hot water and heat for 3 days and the comment from Vaillant’s Engineer was that it was my fault as I should have had an Electic Shower fitted then I would have had hot water. The Service Engineer from Vaillant was a waist of space. My Plumber was very good and it was him that twisted the arm of Vaillant and managed to get them to give a replacement boiler at great cost to him. They refused to compensate me for my inconvenience and have only offered 1 extra year to the 7 year guarantee, at my age this of little use. I would suggest to anyone that wants service and reliability do not have a Vaillant boiler.

Paul White says:
15 December 2014

I’ve got a local firm (stl heating) to install my boiler (a Worcester Bosch) a few years ago and I’ve never had a spot of bother ever since. Sure I get it serviced every year – for the warranty, but that’s been ok too. If you live in the North West – might be worth getting them out.

20 years ago I had a Vaillant non-condensing combi boiler installed, and I have had to call out an engineer only 3 times since. The installer advised me to have a non-condensing boiler because in his experience, condensing boilers are more likely to break down, and when they do, it costs more to get them mended because they are more complex. Sadly, he is no longer available to service and mend my boiler, but parts are still available for my boiler, and I will keep it going as long as possible.
If anyone else has an old but trusty boiler like mine, I hope that they also resist sales pressure to buy a new boiler. Unless there is a big difference in running costs (in my case less than 5%) I’ll choose reliability over economy.
Besides, if you want to limit your carbon footprint, it is more effective to keep most old machines running, rather than to buy a new one.

Hi Tom – You have reminded me that I have had my Philips washing machine for exactly 34 years today. 🙂 The only parts I have replaced are one motor and one pump, both over 20 years ago. My Glow-worm boiler is at least a year older and has been wonderfully reliable. I want to be sure that I’m not going to suffer burst pipes because the boiler has packed in over Christmas when I’m away for a couple of weeks.

I’m hoping to move house soon and am relieved that I will inherit a non-condensing boiler that is 18 years old. The owners said that they had looked at the economics of having a condensing boiler put in but decided against it.

Part of the problem with condensing boilers is poor installation, using the wrong size condensate drains and external pipes that can freeze in winter.

Wave you have no idea how jealous you are making me with that washing machine of yours……..
Keep it going and leave in your will to nearby museum………….

I cannot understand why these boilers are so big an issue………….We dont have much natgas around us but oil boilers dont get half the bad press these supposed wonders of efficiency of gas boilers are getting

I inherited an oil boiler…………given to me back around 97…………Manufactured in 1957……………It started to leak in 2009………….How come todays barely last 20 years let alone near 50………

Lightweight efficient aluminium heat exchangers are more prone to leakage than the heavy cast iron versions in older boilers, so having the the correct corrosion inhibitor is important – or so I have read. Circuit boards should be the most reliable part of any household product but they seem to be a weak point of many boilers. Looking up the Potterton boiler in the house I’m buying I see that the circuit board is prone to failure and often shows sign of overheating components. It might be a simple matter to replace them with suitably rated components, preferably before they have failed.

It would be stupid to take a 34 year old washing machine when I move, but I might just have a look for the transit bolts.

Look for the bolts!!!!!!!! She’s been there for you for some time dont let her down……………I’ve moved a couple of times without them anyhow

Aluminium is rubbish…………………Corrosion inhibitor is key
Aluminium radiators in cars are quite successful but dont try asking for antifreeze/coolant……………You’ll get all sorts of warnings fired at you

However our wet system that had not been used much until the fall in oil has had antifreeze for over 20 years now………..50/50 premixed and poured into the header tank…………….Not a leak apart from the 50 year old boiler……………All the rads are pressed steel not cast…………..the gas boiler is an Ideal Mexico with cast boiler…………The oil boiler is a Grant and is already slightly older than some neighbours Grant’s…………

I have looked round a dozen houses since Christmas and only one of the vendors knew that their system contained corrosion inhibitor – and was able to say which type. Fernox MB1 has worked well on my system and was in when I bought the house. The pump is original and only one of the three motorised valves that I installed has failed. I add some more every few years because I believe that corrosion inhibitor becomes less effective over the years.

I’ve found my transit bolts!

Wave,,,,,,,,,You,,,I and a few others ever ask such questions………….
What do they care about corrosion,,,,,,,they are only there a couple of years until they move on again………..onward and upward……………I’d call it torture and torture
We moved a few times over the first ten odd years after we got married
We are about to move this summer if God spares us as one might say but this time we’re moving about 85 meters from door to door
Wifey is beginning to scratch her head as to where all her precious material possessions are going to go and I keep telling her,,,,,,,,,”the skip” which although she doesnt like that,,that is all they are for for………Keep a few mementos and bin the rest,,,,,
Although I’m looking forward to the better than well insulated and therefore very economical and cosy cabin with it’s controlled ventilation which I have diffs living without I am not looking forward to gathering all my little bits together and leaving where we’ve been near all our married life plus I lived here on and off before we were married………………….I just dont want the hassle but there’s only one way to do it

That brings a thought to me……………How do you get on in a house without ventilation???? Even in this old house I had to fit a through the wall MHRV some 15 years ago otherwise I awaked all choked up……

Having a reliable heating system is important to me. Lack of corrosion inhibitor can lead to various problems including leaking heat exchangers and radiators, and the problem of accumulation of sludge in radiators. I have seen carpets stained when radiators have been disconnected for ‘power flushing’. I drained my system recently to replace a faulty motorised valve and I know that the corrosion inhibitor is doing its job. Many put in a great deal of effort to getting the best prices on everything they buy but minimising the cost of repairs and the inconvenience is more important for me.

My home has UPVC windows and doors so I have a small window locked slightly open in each room except the one with a chimney. When I had draughty wooden windows and doors, they provided adequate ventilation! I expect we will see more use of MHRV in homes in the future.

Our three-year old house has wooden double glazed windows which have trickle ventilators above the window panes. These can be be opened or closed to provide the amount of ventilation required. We find that leaving them open [or open in one window where there are two windows in a room] provides enough ventilation for comfort and an adequate supply of fresh air without losing too much heat in cold weather. The casement windows also have two-point catches so that they can be locked slightly ajar to let in a little more fresh air.

It is not often appreciated what a remarkably good ventilator a well-made Victorian sash window was [it’s only drawback being single glazing – new versions can now be made with double glazing]. By opening the sashes a little at both top and bottom, warm air is released at the top and replaced by cooler air at the bottom. A little air is also introduced via the gap between the meeting rails when open. The meeting rails were traditionally chamfered or rebated so that when the sashes are closed and the fish-catch on top of the meeting rails was engaged there would be a tight closure and virtually no draught. Over time the wood might have shrunk leading to rattling in strong winds and some draught but this can be remedied.

The ventilators have the advantage that they don’t compromise security, can include an insect screen and are easily adjusted if there are strong winds.

Unfortunately ours don’t have insect screens so we are home to hundreds of Bishy Barney Bees [or Ladybirds as they are known in the rest of the UK] but they are not a nuisance and we leave them be.

An excellent opportunity to study both etymology and entomology. 🙂

I like the mhrv…………15/25watts and the same air flow whether its a howling gale or dead calm…………….Pretty much no noise except maybe on boost which has various means suggested to switch in on…………I simply use the WC/Shower light as the trigger as one of the exhausts in the cabin is in there and if showering or other little things then a bit of a boost is welcome
It is real good at drying everywhere up especially the shower without throwing heat at it……
The exterior vents come with a gauze and if kept up high they evade the agricultural smells that happen in the country
They can be equipped with an inline filer but to date we have not found need
I’m probably a lot more sensitive to air than many and notice the slightest stale state anywhere and usually get myself out of there……………….
I also have a problem with warm places much the dislike of wifey again because too much heat triggers my chest off
The windows are fine but a bit manual for me and inconsistent for me…….

If it wasn’t raining or freezing outside that’s where I’ll be and I’ll try and hold off the little jobs in the workshop and sheds to it’s rainy which keeps me out where I want to be……………But I get beat or tired and have to retire to the house or the farm slurry has my in like a hare because a large percentage of it is airborn and I dont need that stuff…………….

Have a valiant boiler one year old have warranty of two yes yet are. Asking for moneys up front before they come out ninth pounds asked is this legal as I have a warranty

Just to be clear, Theresa —

(a) is it Vaillant’s own service organisation that are asking for payment in advance?
(b) does your boiler need a repair or are you asking for an annual service?

The warranty will not cover you for the costs of a normal service.

Have a vailànt boiler one. Year old making a noise when turned on have warranty of one year left yet being asked for ninty pounds up front otherwise won’t come out can someone explain why I have to pay as warranty should cover this?

Thank you for clarifying, Theresa. It seems that your boiler does have a fault so you should be entitled to a repair under the warranty. Has the company given you a reason why the warranty does not apply to your boiler problem? If you can’t get a satisfactory answer I think you should try to speak to a more senior person.

It appears that the two or five year guarantee on Vaillant boilers requires that they must be registered with manufacturer and that there is evidence of annual service by a Gas Safe registered engineer: https://self-service.vaillant.co.uk/warranty-registration/step-one/

Yes, there is no escaping the need for regular servicing. Theresa says her boiler is one year old so it might not yet have had its first annual service. She might need to speak to the firm that installed it to exercise her rights under the Consumer Rights Act if it is not performing properly but perhaps a boiler service is advisable which should certainly not cost £90. Again, it might be best for the company that sold and installed the boiler to deal with it.

Oldhenry says:
11 February 2018

I am amazed that this post is still running. I am appalled at the waste of resources people have been conned into to by throwing away good boilers for the sake of CO2 levels which frankly will carry on rising as the population grows. My boiler is a Ideal Standard E type CF 80,000 BTU. It is 40 year old and I love it immensely. I can repair it myself ( one thermocouple) clean it with a thin brush and vacuum. It just works . The waste heat from the case is used in our utility room to dry the washing in winter and brew my beer.I reckon people have wasted more on new boilers and repairs than it costs me in gas!

The boiler that was in my previous home required three thermocouples and a piece of stove rope in the 34 years I lived there. I suspect my present boiler was installed when the house was built, about 19 years ago. The gas engineer who looked at it advised me to keep it rather than replace it with a modern condensing boiler on the basis of reliability. I’m certainly not opposed to more efficient boilers but they need to be reliable for me to be interested.

I have emergency insurance cover with swinton. Recently my boiler needed a new gas valve and it was replaced. I wanted to have annual service cover, 4 days later british gas came for its first service. The engineer said he wouldnt touch it as the carbon monoxide readings were over (3000). I rang the previous insurance who fitted the repair and told them. Would they want to charge me to bring the readings down? If so what the hell is the point of having cover in the first place?


Mike h