/ 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?

Comments
Gerard Phelan says:
30 August 2012

I have a 20 year old Glow-Worm boiler, with an open flue. For peace of mind I have had a Service contract with British Gas and over the past 20 years various control items have needed replacement – motor in the 3 way valves – many times, the pump – once, the programmer – once, the flue joints were re caulked – once. The boiler itself has never needed any repair or replacement parts. Therefore over the 20 years I have certainly NOT received value for money for the service plan fee – 268 in 2011.

I have just had the annual service and the engineer found a crack in the flue. “British Gas Service Plans do not cover Open flues” he told me. He said I would have to find another boiler service company and pay for the work myself and no they would not recommend any. So much for peace of mind!

PeterW says:
30 August 2012

Old open flue boilers, unlike the current generation, often used to go on for 20 years with few problems.

Had a similar experience. British Gas service contract for many years, they fixed two minor faults with the programmer and diverter valve but never had to repair the boiler. The system then developed an inability to heat most of the radiators and the BG engineer said “it’s all sludged up – we don’t cover that – your system needs powerflushing, we can do that in 3 or 4 weeks time and it will cost you £700”.

A quite disgusting level of service – taking no account of the many years we were loyal customers paying over £200 a year for very little work. Not only that, but their diagnosis was wrong. On cancelling our BG contract and calling in somebody else, we found all our system needed was a new pump at a cost of £60.

Moral – avoid BG!

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

just a small tad of info,a few councils are ditching gas boilers,too much trouble,see they are not just pretty faces on the council,

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

hear hear.

Keith Rands-Allen says:
30 August 2012

I had a Potterton Kingfisher boiler which I installed myself and gave sterling service for over 20 years. I finally replaced it because I was not confident that the installation met current safety standards, as was confirmed by a local heating engineer.
I had Weissmann boiler installed 18 months ago by a local engineer which came with 5 year guarantee provided it had an annual service (£50 – local engineer), and so far no problems, just a reduced gas bill.
Personally, I would not let British Gas near my boiler, I’ve heard so many bad comments about them. I’m convinced that the best solution is to find a local engineer you can trust (mine lives in the village) and stick with him.

I have a Glow-worm Space Saver 50 balanced flue gas boiler that was in the house when I moved in in 1982. I was given the installation and servicing instructions, that are not intended to pass on to the householder. I have used these to service my boiler for the last 30 years. It is still working fine and the only spares needed have been two thermocouples. One of these was bought in a Do-it-All closing down sale, years before it was needed. I’ve spent less than £10 on the boiler in 30 years. Maybe I should not be servicing my own boiler but I live alone and I’m not putting anyone else at risk.

I would be happy to pay for a new, efficient condensing boiler and to have it serviced professionally, but I am put off by all the problems I hear of. I still remember when Corgi-registered fitters installed a new boiler for my parents. There were two water leaks and one gas leak under the floorboards and they ignored the instruction about the size of pipe required for the gas supply. I hope that Gas Safe fitters do better than this.

Bleddyn Harris says:
6 September 2012

This all goes to show how vitally important it is to have a good, trustworthy engeineer to call upon.

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

where? I have been doing this job for forty five years,top brass at gas safe told me I am the same as a day old qualified rookie,hes not afraid of loosing his job,eh.

I had an intermittent problem too. It was the PCB that had a ‘known’ fault. So many people had this fault that an enterprising agent set up a repair service on eBay selling exchange repaired PCB with a set of VERY simple instructions on how to make the replacement. The removed PCB was then returned for a deposit refund. Total cost was less than £50 (cheaper than a call out engineer).

What this boils down to (pun intended) is that boiler manufacturers are crap at designing and building a device free of long term problems. In my case a PCB with underrated diodes* and in your case an ignition device that wasn’t self-cleaning. Why should we have to pay for their ineptitude? The PCB and automatic ignition devices should both outlast the boiler. And in your case, why was the reset button not on the front panel for the user to press?

*Fortunately, the agent used upgraded diodes for the PCB repair so that the fault hasn’t recurred.

I was introduced to design faults in the early 70s, when the common problems with different models of TVs in particular were well known by engineers and documented in books and magazines. The designer probably specified higher spec diodes for your boiler PCB but someone decided that lower rated components would be adequate, making it cheaper to manufacture. Often the saving is pennies and the effect can be to shorten the working life of consumer products by years. If you know the number printed on your diodes you can easily find out how little they cost.

Industrial and laboratory electronic goods are generally built to a much higher spec. The only quality products commonly found in the home are hi-fi separates. Mine are working perfectly without repair after 25 years. I’m still using home-built electronics that I made with decent parts when I was a student, and now I’m retired.

I would like to see manufacturers held responsible for stock faults with particular models. Not only do they cost the consumer a lot to fix but we have mountains of electronic waste due to products beyond economical repair.

My 30 year old boiler is probably still going because it is too old to have a PCB. 🙂

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

when theboards are made in Thailand they are not lacquered to save money,two pence,thats confidential,keep it quiet.

I have an oil boiler of indeterminant age (it was old when we moved in three years ago!) It goes wrong, regular as clockwork, once a year in July! No chance of a service contract with oil, so we call in our local OFTEC engineer. On each occasion he has repaired it, then it has gone wrong again about a week later by which time the engineer has gone away on his three week summer break! On each occasion he has repaired it again on his return from holiday (no further charge) and it has been fine for another year! All rather spooky. It’s just a good job the engineer takes his holiday in August when we can manage without the boiler.

It would be worth finding out about the problem. Sometimes contaminated oil can block up filters. If it soots up regularly that may indicate a problem that could be resolved.

Martin says:
8 September 2012

I have a 4 year old condensing Halstead boiler under maintenance contract with Scottish Power – they supply gas and electricity to my property. The boiler repeatedly failed last January – kept stopping. After over 12 visits from contractors working for Scottish Power, who variously replaced PCB, electrodes and expansion tank as well as some damage to books, walls etc – none of these visits/ repairs addressed the problem – I contacted Halstead and they recommended a local engineer. Within thirty minutes he had resolved the problem (the gas was far too fuel rich) and the boiler has functioned without any problem ever since. \i gather all the replacement parts were unnecessary.
I consider that we were wasting gas and running a potentially hazardous gas appliance under these fuel rich conditions. Because of all the days I had to wait in and being without continuous gas and water heating for so long (4 months) I sought compensation – we received £40 from the contracting company and £100 from Scottish Gas. Given the circumstances I view this amount as derisory.
The advice given in a Which article, after the maintenance contract here was started, was very sound. I think it best to use a manufacturer’s recommended local engineer for routine servicing and repair.

Nortoner says:
16 December 2012

I’m having the same problems with my Ideal boiler – the company engineers can’t even mend their own equipment (which worries me slightly). The boiler is under warranty so I can’t use a local gas engineer. I would MUCH prefer to use a local person – Ideal are only open 8m-6pm and there is no 24 hour emergency line. A local person could maybe visit during an evening.

I’m given 2 hour slots but it takes me 30 minutes to get from work – I can’t keep taking time off work and I’m having to use fan heaters, which is bumping up my electricity bill – whilst I’ve got an 18 month old boiler that I can’t use!!

I think the money you were offered is pathetic (although better than nothing).

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

millions of others are working,and when yours is working someone elses is broken down, its a numbers game,times thousands,when will they stop making these things?

If cars had the reliability ratings of boilers they would all be labelled ‘Don’t Buy’ ! And this for a device that has a far less arduous life.

If my simple boiler with convection flow heating of hot water and pumped central heating, goes wrong I believe that I will be obliged to replace it with a more complex and much more expensive condensing boiler which will require considerable rearrangement of pipework and kitchen plan. I seriously question the accepted wisdom that my carbon-footprint will be reduced.

Most cost translates into energy expenditure and thus energy waste products. The increased call-outs of the heating engineer requires transport and fuel. Even his wage is used for food (Which I in no way begrudge him!), holidays, heating bills, etc. The increased cost of the new boilers reflects increased material and manufacturing costs.

To add insult to injury, because my home is very energy efficient my gas bills are low and the few pounds a year by which they will be reduced are very unlikely to cover my costs before the new one breaks down and must be replaced.

Has anyone really done the maths? (Apart from the manufacturers, of course.)

I have a Glowworm Ultimate 50FF boiler which is exhibiting intermittent problems – most commonly the boiler is coming on in the middle of the night when the sytem is cold.
The pump failed last Xmas and was replaced, also I’ve had two new PCBs fitted by a Glowworm engineer in less than a year and no solution in sight. Before Xmas, when both central heating and hot water were on – sometimes for long periods during the day, the pump – or the boiler – started making fairly loud fog-horn/siren-like noises, usually once or twice a night. More worryingly, the pump and boiler were in the habit of coming on in the early hours, well after the normal pump overrun (approx 5 mins) was complete, after the boiler had cooled down and the programmer was not calling for heat. With the new pump, the siren noises have now almost completely disappeared except when the system gets very hot – but is this through faulty boiler beviour or when operating for long hours in winter?
Perversely, sometimes the boiler/pump wouldn’t shut down at the set time so we had to switch off mains power to the system. Is the system malfunctioning because it’s getting too hot?
Hot water cylinder stat, stat in hall, black boiler stat control knob, motzd valves and pump over-run all seem to operate OK. Wiring has been checked and reported OK – but not checked whilst odd behaviour is occurring, so it may be an intermittent wiring fault. Harness/wiring from new Honeywell electronic programmer to the boiler the culprit?
If I switch the mains power to the boiler off for a few days and then on, normal behaviour usually resumes. Removing the control box, letting it dangle for a while and then replacing it has also worked.
Boiler neons – 4 on…boiler flashed up and running, pump on.
One on…calling for heat, not flashed up yet but pump running or pump on overrun.
No neons…system off, controller not calling for heat, but mains power on.
Is this neon behaviour correct?
Sorry about the length of this Q and if this is not where it should be, but please – any ideas?

Sounds horrible! The first two points I’d check:

1. Make sure that at least ONE of the radiators is designated as a ‘bypass’ radiator. It should NOT have a thermostatic valve and both valves should be fully open – ALWAYS. Usually it is standard practice to designate the hall radiator as the bypass – but it depends on the house layout, of course.

2. Check out the ‘frost stat’ settings. Most boilers usually have a frost controller to make sure that the boiler never freezes (especially important for homes where the boiler is installed in an exterior cupboard). It may be that it is set to too high a temperature which is making the boiler fire up when the air temperature is only slightly cooler (at night). The frost stat overrides other control settings and is usually set to 5 degrees C.

I suppose you should also make sure that it isn’t a stupid plumbing error and that the hot water and radiator outputs/inputs haven’t been crossed.

Just a tip – to the person who just commented by hitting ‘report this comment’ – make sure you click on the ‘Reply’ button, not ‘Report this comment’ if you’d like to respond to another commenter. Thanks.

Oops if that was me!

Perhaps the font size for REPLY should be larger than the Report This Comment?

I think it was dmitri – I’ll take that idea to our developers, thanks Terry.

Thanks Victoria…I have been in contact with a Which? Local installer, and am holding him ‘in reserve’ since my current heating engineer (who I trust more than most) is aware of my problem and may be able to sort things out.
Over the Summer, my boiler has been switched off as we’ve not needed any central heating and have relied on the immersion heater for hot water, but I’m sure the problem has not gone away. Reading about the problems people have been having with sub-standard PCBs makes me think that perhaps I’ve yet another faulty one.
Can a dodgy PCB cause the boiler to switch on if the programmer is not calling for heat?

Problem solved (I hope)….
Nothing to do with a by-pass radiator (we have 2) or a frost-stat (we don’t have one) – but thanks Terry anyway.
Since the problem never happened when only the radiators were on, but only seemed to happen when the hot water was on – and especially when the water got very hot (sometimes the boiler cut off button would come out), it set me thinking about the hot water side in particular.
The obvious control here was the motzd valve (which seemed to be working OK since the lever always moved as expected), but I had a discarded one so took it to bits, and spotted the microswitch. Using a circuit tester I found that this switch worked, but intermittently – just like the odd behavior of the boiler. Perhaps this switch was misbehaving either when it got very hot (and wouldn’t switch off) or was switching itself on due to extreme temp changes (or something) in winter. An electrical engineer subsequently checked everything and did a thorough job (see my entry on local trader) and when I mentioned the microswitch he said that was the only thing left it could be – except possibly the PCB. He replaced the motzd valve – problem solved.
Last winter we might have had a faulty PCB as well – which made diagnosis extra difficult then – but after two new ones I thought it unlikely that this was a contributory cause last Summer, so in the end concentrated my mind on the valve.

Dmitri

I can see that having 2 faults, especially one intermittent, would make diagnosis especially challenging! I’m please you got to the bottom of it though.

Kathy C says:
11 September 2012

We have an air source heat pump (ASHP) and Solar Panels (evacuated tubes) as our only source of heat and hot water. Has been installed about 3.5 years. We have not had too many problems except the installer went bust about a year and a half after installation without warning. We wondered if you know
“how to find local, reliable experts to maintain and repair ASHP, Photovoltaic panels and Solar Panels (evacuated tubes)” Which local does not list anyone. There are a lot of controls, timers for different functions, most of which we understand but could do with a review on that. We have had boiler people look at it for service etc but some have no experience of ASHP and some say its hard to understand because someone else installed. Any suggestions welcome.

Thanks for the reply, Victoria, but my main point was that devices that require frequent, expensive maintainance and/or frequent replacement, do not, I believe, reduce carbon-footprint.
I have not myself ‘done the maths’ but I suspect that Overall Cost is closely related to ‘Total Energy Expenditure’ which is itself related to the ‘Carbondioxide Cost’, and that this applies for both materials used and wages.

I have a 1970s Potterton Neataheat which is still going strong. When it broke down midwinter 2 years ago the British Gas engineer who came under my service contract just looked at it and said it was irreparable and that if he took off the front case he would probably have to condemn it and shut off the gas! So much for my contract with B Gas. I phoned an independent local (Gas safe) fitter and he quickly diagnosed a broken fan and replaced it for a fee the next day. It took me a few months but I reclaimed the fee I had had to pay and the payments I had made under my repair contract from British Gas. Moral? don’t rely on service contracts – put an equivalent sum aside each month to fund annual checks / any repairs that occur by an independent fitter (use Which Local to find a good one). And make sure your immersion heater works just in case!

gas brains says:
24 October 2014

[This comment has been removed for breaking our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

truth hurts.

I have a Thermocon oil boiler some 14 years old. It has been maintained every year by a LOCAL engineer. This year I extended my home insurance to cover home emergency including boiler coverage. Recently my boiler failed and I contacted the home emergency company (AXA) and they sent out an engineer from ERSUK ltd (a 24 hour emergency repair company). Over a period of almost 3 weeks I had 7 visits by 5 different engineers who comprehensively failed to fix the problem. They left me with oil leaks on two occassions. They claimed to have fitted three new pumps ( alas they were all left handed when the boiler requires right handed). At the fitting of the final pump and the second oil leak they declared the they would not be responsible for any further problems as the system did not have aTIGERLOOP installed. I rang my maintainance engineer and related the saga to him. His response was that TWO PIPE systems do not need a TIGERLOOP and that he would call in that evening. Within 5 minutes he had fixed the system ( new CAPACITOR) and within an hour had fixed the oil leaks. It is interesting to note that the ERS engineers on average spent almost 3 hours per visit!
The ironic thing is that I then had a phone call from the insurance company to say that they would not cover any further repairs as ERS said that that not having a TIGERLOOP was contrary to installation regulations (WRONG but a good get-out). They then said I was not covered for the repairs as they (if you look in the small print) only cover GAS but as it was their mistake there would be no charge.
The moral of this tale is to employ a local man who you know and who knows your system.
Finally I have to question the business model of these emergency repair comanies. On one occassion I asked about the chance of an engineer visit. “unlikely, one engineer in Bristol, one in Scarbourough and one in Southampton”. They would be better as couriers. But seriuosly, someone is paying for the 6 hour round trip to repair a boiler. Who is it?

I have a friend who used to call out an engineer to fix his oil-fired boiler. It was expensive because the nearest engineer had to travel a long distance. My friend had watched what the engineer did to clean the boiler and replace faulty parts. The boiler failed when I was visiting and I suggested we should have a go at fixing the problem, which we managed to do. He now has the confidence to tackle his own repairs and keeps spares for the parts that have had to be replaced in the past. Obviously it is essential to take appropriate safety precautions, but householders can do a lot to carry out repairs and to look out for developing problems.

We’ve got a 10 yr old condensing boiler and started a central heating contract about a year ago. After the initial inspection they listed a range of works we’d have to get done for them to take it on (approx £700 upfront which included a power flush), then the monthly charge. Ever since we’ve had no end of problems, probably now running upto over 20 call outs and various instances of missed appointments, wrong parts, lots of separate bits replaced but problems not fixed etc. The latest is that the boiler banged with a small flame and we’ve shut it down waiting for a visit within the next few days. It’s been a pretty dreadful experience and we’ve got small kids – luckily have got an immersion water heater so at least have been able to get hot water. I’m wondering where we stand if it now needs replacing as the contract seems to indicate that if it’s beyond economic repair then as it’s over 7 years old they wouldn’t replace it. What if the problems were caused or at least related to all the work they’ve done on it? Any advice as to where we might stand or what we should expect?

Cmoynan says:
30 October 2012

We have a ferroli optimal HE 31C. We had the boiler fitted in 2009 it has been serviced every year. the boiler has a 5year warrenty and quite rightly so as it has needed the diverted valve changed twice, and it has gone again today so we are again without hot water until the engineer can come to fix it. We have 2 young children which makes it very difficult. Can anyone tell me if I can ask for a replacement boiler? As when the warranty runs out we are sure to encounter tha same issue and will have to pay out lots of cash that we would rather use elsewhere.

Right…lol..We have an ongoing issue.

8 weeks ago our Ariston combi boiler started to have an intermittent fault where basically we had to keep pressing the reset button. The boiler is 5 Years old and up until this point it has been brilliant.

I took out a ‘home emergency’ policy on top of our home insurance with Direct Line.

To cut a long story short…8 visits, 2 PCB’s and various other parts…we now have no heating or hot water at all. Oh…and on visit the engineer managed to spray the laptop with water which was on the other side of the room! (it still works though)

The last engineer has just left as of 10 mins ago and says he cant think of anything else only they will have to get Ariston out….8 weeks this has been going on…

Cor blimey! Great time of year to happen too. It really does pass on a poor message on the quality of “engineers” used by DL. Engineering used to be the sign of a well-qualified professional, who undertook a 3 or 5 year training scheme with on-the-job training and theory with proper examinations at a good University. But the proliferation of rubbish ‘Universities’ and watering down of courses to just 6 months have provided petrol pump attendants and bag packers with ‘engineering’ qualifications.

Please keep us updated.

I don’t disagree with you about declining educational standards, Terry, but at one time, heating engineers did not have to cope with complicated and unreliable boiler control systems. Intermittent faults can be very difficult to fix, since the fault may not show up when the engineer is present.

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

pay your money and you can be who you want,how much does it cost to be a quack?fancy an operation,cheap,might not survive,who cares.

Thanks…your right!

I kinda new this would happen. The reasons I chose the Ariston were it was ‘fairly cheap’ for the spec of boiler..about £800 at the time. It has a lot of settings on it that can be adjusted to help keep those bills down…not many boilers have this and lastly…I liked the LED read out! I love gadgets!

I also fitted a electric shower as well as the shower that runs off the boiler so as when the boiler failed, we still has hot water for a shower.

We looked at Aristons website when this first happened and noted that they give a ‘fixed fee’ call out to fix their products of £250 for any fault. We have ’emergency boiler cover’…why would I want to do that? Wish I had!!!

Leigh

We have heat now.

The insurance said ‘no..we wont be going to get Ariston to come out,we’ll get the contractor to send a senior engineer…” We told them we dont want the contractors in the house anymore and we will sort out the problem ourselves!

Paid Ariston £250 and they arrived the next day and sorted it (i hope).

We are now in Direct Lines ‘complaints process’

Well we’re pleased you have heating again. Good luck with claiming back from DL. With the level of competence displayed in those other 8 visits I think you had good grounds to reject yet another incompetent visit. Just how many visits does DL think the customer should suffer. Terrible service.

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

they are not incompetent.they just don’t know,there is a difference you know.

Nortoner says:
16 December 2012

I have an Ideal Logic Combi 30, 18 months old and I’m onto my 3rd service engineer.

Boiler doesn’t fire, doesn’t run in programme mode, doesn’t re-set, the remote thermostat doesn’t feed a signal to the boiler and I’ve had no heating or hot water for over 3 weeks. If it does fire, it overheats and shuts down.

Ideal have replaced the pump and remote thermostat. They then get the boiler firing, leave and the boiler then doesn’t fire that night when I come home from work. It’s then another 2-3 days to get them back out. At wits end, cannot keep taking time off work and would NOT recommend an Ideal boiler.

I am in exactly the same position ! Please keep me updated if u manage to get it fixed 🙁

gas brains says:
15 November 2014

see that,flying pig,tip,dont take it serious,heating equipment today is like putting a corpse on your wall and then trying to revive it.its like investing in financial products.nearly.

Chris Tmus says:
19 December 2012

My father had a new boiler fitted 7 years ago by a local engineer. It recently started failing so the same engineer went to inspect. He’s since ordered a new part.

My father called him to check how much the repair & parts have cost so far…..£3000! 3 THOUSAND POUNDS.

Is this not completely absurd? One of the articles above suggests that the average cost of a NEW boiler is less than £2500, yet the the engineer has (so far) charged £3000…

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

that’s his poker debt.

gas brains says:
30 October 2014

carribean this year.