/ Home & Energy

Is it worth paying for boiler cover?

Our annual boilers survey has revealed a surprising nugget: those who pay for boiler cover could be better off forgoing their contract and paying for repairs on an ad-hoc basis. Do you pay for boiler cover?

Almost half of gas and oil boilers will develop at least one fault that needs a repair within the first six years of its life. Of course, getting yourself a Which? Best Buy boiler is a good idea, and drops this to fewer than two in five.

Despite the likelihood that your boiler will eventually develop some faults, we’ve found most people who own a boiler would be £50+ a year better off without boiler cover.

We compared the cheapest servicing contract (£183 per year), which includes an annual service, against the experiences of 5,322 Which? members who don’t have cover. Instead, these members paid for repairs on an ad-hoc basis as well as a yearly boiler check-up. The great majority (93%) are still better off without boiler cover to the tune of £50 or more.

My boiler servicing story

I’ve owned my combi gas boiler for just over three years now, having inherited it when I got the keys to my two-bed flat. I’ve never paid for boiler cover, but I have incurred some costly repairs. Here’s my story (violins).

About two years ago I woke up on a bank holiday weekend with water leaking from somewhere within the casing of the boiler. Being a bank holiday it was difficult to get hold of a plumber, but eventually I found one who was willing to interrupt his weekend to come out and take a look. He diagnosed the problem as a couple of corroded washers and came back the following day to replace them. The cost of the parts that needed replacing – £15. Total cost of call-out and repair on a bank holiday – £261. Ouch.

As a result of that rude introduction to boiler maintenance, I now pay £85 for a service each year to keep my boiler in good working order.

So in the three years I have owned my boiler, I calculate that it has cost me £431 to maintain it. This is the first time I’ve added it up and that seems like a lot for three years – I keep my fingers crossed that I won’t need any more costly repairs going forward!

My experience tallies pretty well with the results of our survey – even though I had a pretty costly repair to shell out for in one year, one of the unlucky few; I would have had to pay at least £549 over the last three years for even the cheapest boiler cover contract, so I am now more than £100 up.

I’ll continue to pay for an annual service and then any repairs as they come up as, despite my bad experience, I don’t see much value in a servicing contract at the moment. I might get scalded again with costly repairs, but for now it feels like an acceptable risk.

Your boiler servicing stories

So, how about you? I would love to hear about how much your boiler has cost you. Are you, like me, in the 93% who are better off without insurance? Or one of the unlucky 7% who have incurred very costly repairs?

Further, are we giving boiler cover too much of a hard time? It would be great to hear from those of you who have had great value from one of these contracts.

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Annual gas safety checks are needed by landlords, housing associations, local authorities, hotels and B&Bs,colleges,boarding schools and hostels. In contrast, there is no requirement for householders to have their own appliances checked or serviced, though having this done annually is widely recommended. Likewise, there is no need to have household electrical installations or portable electric appliances checked. Why is it we are obsessed with some aspects of safety yet pay no attention to others?

Perhaps the high failure rate of modern gas boilers has a hidden benefit, because it means that they are likely to be inspected and serviced when repairs are carried out.

Member
gas brains says:
15 November 2014

modern gas boilers are today the best,probably the biggest scam this country has ever seen,no one can repair thebloody things,a curse on a society,they go wrong on an unprecedented scale,and if you try to repair these things on a large scale I will say that there wil be a lot of gas engineers with mental health problems,in their later lives,and its not good for customers either listening to exscuses why the thing don’t work.fact.

Member
Graham says:
25 September 2014

My central heating system was installed in 1977. The original boiler, which ran a constant pilot, lasted till 1988 when because it had a minor leak and I needed to accommodate the heating requirements of a large extension and a new location we replaced the boiler with a potterton netaheat 10/16, a boiler with +ve pressure inside and a spark ignition system. The system is open vented and contains an inhibitor.

The radiators are thus 37 year old with no signs of failure. The boiler (26 years old) has had two fan replacements and the spark igniter control board failed earlier this year as its only parts. the thermocouple hasn’t failed – yet! The boiler is not serviced. My system has never suffered from blocked radiators, although I confess to removing them when I decorate to flush out any debris in them. For the past 12 years the water used has been softened.

Other parts have failed- there have been several pumps, and a leak to the indirect cylinder necessitated a new one. That was also replaced when I had a solar thermal system put in some 7 years ago, but not because it had failed. The synchron motors in the motorised valves have been replaced too- the motors not the valves.

I reckon I’m quids in by having a solid reliable boiler with few of the more complicated features demanded by building regulations nowadays. These are attempting to save the planet in CO2 terms by making consumers buy and maintain ever more complicated and costly appliances which are inherently unreliable.

So would I be better off would boiler cover? Quite definitely no.

Would a boiler servicing contract have prevented any of the comparatively minor failures ever the years? quite definitely no.

Would I be any safer with a boiler servicing contract? No but other might be and they may also appreciate the peace of mind that such cover brings. I’ve always worked on the basis that I only insure to cover things that would cause me severe financial embarrassment if the happened or because its a legal requirement. So I insure my house, its contents, the car, my health and my life. Nothing else!

I fully accept though that others think differently

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Graham – How do you soften the water? I’m interested because Beryl brought up the issue of water hardness.

In trawling through manufacturers’ instructions I have found some cautions, such as this one in a Worcester Bosch manual: “IMPORTANT: ARTIFICIALLY SOFTENED WATER MUST NOT BE USED TO FILL THE CENTRAL HEATING SYSTEM”

My own thoughts are that simple water softening where calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions would not be beneficial other than to avoid limescale deposits but use of purified water from which salts have been removed (as in water sold for use in irons) could be beneficial.

The nature of the heat exchanger (aluminium, stainless steel or old fashioned cast iron) could be a significant factor.

I agree that producing efficient but unreliable boilers is of questionable environmental benefit. Hopefully we can look forward to a compromise that combines decent reliability and efficiency, even if not the best in either category.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

As far as I can see it is fine to use your normal tap water, with an inhibitor to minimise corrosion (giving the black sludge that accumulates in your radiators). The system is more or less closed and does not require regular additional water, so hard water should not be an issue. Is this the case?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

With boilers containing aluminium heat exchangers, the pH is important. If the system water is alkaline, rapid corrosion will occur. A service engineer should check the pH routinely, using either a meter or simple test strips.

One of the big benefits of modern pressurised systems is that there should be little opportunity for oxygen to enter, except when the system is commissioned or drained for repairs or modification. I agree that tap water with inhibitor is OK but suspect that purified water (reverse osmosis is the primary treatment) will help prevent electrolytic corrosion that would occur when different metals and a conductive fluid such as tap water are present.

A heating system using a suitable grade of stainless steel for the boiler heat exchangers, radiators and plumbing and valves would avoid the fundamental flaw of using dissimilar metals, and might not be prohibitively expensive.

Member
Graham says:
25 September 2014

All my water is softened – apart from the kitchen sink tap and that for the garden. I have a fitted water softener.

My system is fine. It has softened water, inhibitor and no magnetic filter. It utilises an old boiler with an iron based heat exchanger. Realistically there isn’t much to go wrong, and that turns out to actually be the case. If people really took the bother to understand how things work then they wouldn’t allow themselves to be fleeced by boiler servicing companies who charge a lot for doing practically nothing. Where is the evidence that those who have their boilers serviced suffer fewer or less expensive breakdowns? None of the failures I’ve experienced would have been prevented by a service.

Flue and casing safety is a different matter. CO can be fatal and often is.

Profile photo of Sosplumbingandheating
Member

In reply to those who question boiler servicing as useful or not.

As a gas engineer (plumber) I see many systems that have never been checked throughout their working lives and are 100% fine. Mostly standard efficiency models.

When it comes to newer A rated boilers, they produce a higher amount of acidic water from the spent flue gas. If this water happens to leak into the metal parts of the boiler then it will quickly eat its way through. If the main boiler casing becomes badly corroded then it’s pretty much new boiler time.
The A rated boilers are set up precisely to allow the correct ratio of air/gas mixture to burn properly and if this goes out of sync it loses efficiency and also becomes a health risk.

I would say that servicing is probably the wrong word to use for it as generally no parts are removed and cleaned etc like the older types used to need. We charge a standard call out for a “service” as its normally straight forward but still essential once a year I feel.

As for boiler reliability and parts. Absolutely shocking. Some manufacturers should be made to answer for producing such crap yet punishing the unlucky user by charging outrageous amounts for the spare parts to replace the garbage that they put in a boiler.

It’s embarrassing to have to tell somebody how much a part costs sometimes and I do feel bad when it joins a list of other repairs. Due to the amount of bad engineers out there there is a huge amount of distrust by the public towards engineers. The maintenance plans take this problem away as engineers can throw parts at the boiler till its fixed and it won’t cost the customer any more than the monthly fee.

Manufacturers don’t help engineers who are trying to fix their machines either as they want to use their own guys. Problem with boiler company repairs is that the price to even get them in the door is around £250 or higher. That could be for a 2 minute job.

Boiler companies should be made to answer. Training provided by them to assist engineers is only for sales.

Member
rosemary says:
7 April 2016

Good for you! I agree entirely about what to insure and the reasons for doing so. I only pay to insure my house and my boat. Not contents, not my belongings, my health or even my life. Paying for insurance cover the years would have had a substantial financial impact on my life and my lifestyle choices so I am glad I decided to to this.
I do have “free” travel insurance with HSBC. This has proved ineffective to the nth degree, even when I missed my plane because the train I was on broke down I was not covered. Shame on them!

Member
Graham says:
25 September 2014

Further to my previous post you might like to read from this link:

http://www.ukwta.org/technology-areas/faqs/

It appears that to comply with building regulations an inhibitor should be added, and boiler maker’s concerns over use of inhibitors relates to aluminium elements within the boiler which have now been resolved.

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

I am well aware what the building regulations say, and between satisfying a customer with a reliable heating system and complying with building regulations I would choose the former all the time.

This country imports almost all its heating technology (although it makes a few things) and we have no research and development based in the UK other than in, you have guessed it, inhibitors! Thats why we use inhibitors but other countries do not!

The result is that the people who are writing the regulations are not up to speed with the designs concepts behind various components… Importers of boilers, usually owned by the manufacturers just want to sell boilers, and don’t have the desire or inclinationation to (re) educate the people writing the building regulations. Their natural desire, is to sell to the lowest common denominator as defined by the regulations…

Building regulations don’t mention compensation controls either, but these offer benefits interns of reliability (longer running pipe times, lower temperatures, less thermal strain, less starts, less starts from cold). But if you use a cylinder sensor (as opposed to an on-off thermostat) with the boilers embedded controls controls you cannot comply with building regulations as they don’t recognise the benefits.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Alec – You have told us that you would not use inhibitors despite the fact that Viessman list ones that are compatible with their boilers, and now you tell us that you would prefer to ignore the building regs. I do hope you tell prospective customers about this before you start an installation. 🙂

You have mentioned that use of inhibitors is a UK peculiarity, so I am left wondering why the Fernox website can be viewed in a variety of languages.

Like Graham and Beryl, I’m going to stick with my old boiler.

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

that’s great, my recomendation is a decent dirt seperator, a good fush through and no inhibitors.

That’s the way they do it in Europe, and still mix materials in heating systems.

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

Although it should be added that in many cases, but not all, they use demineralised water in heating systems conditioning it as they fill the system, an approach that has yet to cross the channel…

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Alec – This is what I suggested earlier. If you use purified water, exclude air (which should be easy to achieve in modern systems) and top up with purified water, there should be little corrosion. The purified water should be decent quality and it is important to use a conductivity meter to check the system water is free from impurities.

I suspect that when you include the cost of the engineer’s time, this approach will cost more than adding corrosion inhibitor.

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

It is indeed more expensive than inhibitor.

Indeed I am working on a barrel steel system installed in 1953 with 84 rads, a couple have been replaced with panel radiators and some changed to aluminium in about the 1980s..

no inhibitor, open vented system, and water as clean as a whistle..History doesn’t relate as to why the radiators were changed.

However the static pressure is 2 bar at the boiler in the basement, and that indicates to me at least that the expulsion of air is the significant factor.

I am even wondering why I am putting on a dirt separator….

Profile photo of ChrisGloucester
Member

Let’s keep it short and simple, NO.

Member
Graham says:
30 September 2014

When I take my car in for servicing there are things to be checked, replaced and/or topped up – Brakes, coolant, hydraulic fluids, plugs, lubricants etc. Parts that are worn will be replaced to ensure safety and to avoid expensive failures later.

I’ve yet to be convinced that servicing a boiler has any merit, essentially because it doesn’t have similar parts. We don’t service washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, freezers, even gas cookers or hobs are not serviced regularly. There are however insurance policies that one can take out to cover these items in the event of breakdown, and to me boilers come into the same category – take out breakdown cover if it gives you peace of mind and you want that reassurance – otherwise pay on breakdown.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

A crucial reason for having your boiler checked – call it servicing – is to ensure that it is burning gas correctly and that the combustion products are correct. It is a safety matter that should not be neglected.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

http://www.engineerlive.com/content/graphene-paints-corrosion-free-future?

“In an article published in Nature Communications this week, the University of Manchester team shows that it is possible to tightly close those nanocapillaries using simple chemical treatments, which makes graphene films even stronger mechanically as well as completely impermeable to everything: gases, liquids or strong chemicals. For example, the researchers demonstrate that glassware or copper plates covered with graphene paint can be used as containers for strongly corrosive acids”

Might tkae some of the sludge problem out.

Member
Vicky says:
28 October 2014

Re CORGI HOME PLAN Complaint October 2014
* Gas Boiler installed by British Gas November 2006. I was encouraged to have a Magna Clean fitted to the system (its purpose is to filter the debris in the central heating system to allow the boiler to function more efficiently).
Oct 06 to Oct 12 – Magna Clean included in annual service.
01 11 12 – started a Corgi Home Plan Plus
CORGI HOME PLAN COVERS
> Electrical Circuits
> Plumbing Systems
> Central Heating and Hot Water including annual boiler service with full parts and labour cover to your boiler and your entire system
> Free Replacement Boiler if not repairable in first 12 years.

29 10 13 – Annual Service – The engineer explained Magna Clean excluded. When I started this contract I clarified with Corgi that my full Central Heating system was covered even specifying that the Magna Clean was part of the central heating system. I therefore feel that they are misleading their customers.
How did the company respond to my complaint –
First Call – I was told I should have read the small print in the contract.
Second Call – Corgi offered a refund of 1 month premium to help pay for the Magna Clean to be serviced by an independent engineer. This was followed by an assurance that the company policy would include the service of the Magna Clean with the boiler next year. I asked for written confirmation (this never arrived). I reluctantly agreed to continue the contract with my monthly direct debits for Nov 2013 to Nov 2014.
22 09 14 Second Annual Service – The engineer said he could not service the Magna Clean. I explained what I had been told the previous year. He then phoned the service centre so they could clarify the situation. At first I was told that the Magna Clean was not covered because after they are serviced they often leak. I explained what I had been told the previous year and then he said the engineer could service the Magna Clean but if it leaked afterwards it would need to be repaired at my expense. I said I was not happy with this but agreed to the engineer carrying out the work, which he did efficiently with no problems.

FUTURE PLANS – My Policy is due for renewal in November 2014
I contacted Magna Clean Tel No 01242 233702 – their technical department were surprised the Magna Clean was seen as a problem and not included for service, a trained engineer should have no problem servicing a Magna Clean as once installed it is part of the central heating system. She would report matter to managers.

I have cancelled my Policy & DD with Corgi. I feel that I paid over £200 after encouraged to continue the Policy this year under the false assurance that the Magna Clean was covered.

Member
John Creasey says:
28 October 2014

Sadly……..all this over a magnaclean unit that takes less than 2 minutes to service/clean !

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Thank you Vicky for the time taken to give a detailed case. And thanks John for providing a context for the difficulty involved in the extra work!

My only downside is that because of the way Conversations is constructed it is near impossible to do a search enquiry and find the gems that exist in these threads.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

There is plenty online about leaking Magaclean units, though I have no idea whether that’s due to a fault with the product or poor servicing.

In the circumstances I can understand why the servicing company should wish to exclude the Magnaclean from their annual maintenance plan, but they should make this clear before taking payment for the plan.

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

It would be thoroughly pointless to have a service plan in place that does not cover a servicable part.

It amazes me what the public put up with…it really does!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Dieseltaylor – I am disappointed that this site does not have an efficient search facility but I can often track down Conversations by remembering some of the words used. A Google search for
magnaclean “Which? Conversation”
will find this one.

I have also got some pages bookmarked because of interesting contributions, including a couple of yours.

Member
John Creasey says:
31 October 2014

Fitted a ‘Magnaclean Professional 2’ to a system today – not forgetting to put the sticker which was provided onto the boiler (I had forgotten about the wording until now)

It instructs that there is a Magnaclean unit fitted which requires servicing annually.

Surely therefore if it was in place when the boiler service contract was agreed, surely it should included. (petty if not anyway)

Re- the leaking units. Some early units had leaking valves (which have now changed and improved) and there were some instances where the magnet detached inside and created leaks. (had one of these myself).

The new units have changed and seem no problems so far.

Member
Paul White says:
17 November 2014

I’ve never gone without boiler servicing because it’s a bit like a car – if you never service the boiler – what’s going to happen? It may deteriorate – pushing your fuel bills up or worse. Plus, new boiler need to be serviced for the warranty to stick.

Only trouble is getting a decent engineer to come and service it for a fair price, I know some big name firms charge a lot – but thats when I heard about stl heating + energy. Basically they service my boiler every year and don’t charge anywhere near what my last gas engineer charged!

Profile photo of MikeD
Member

I have a combi boiler which we inherited from the previous owner of our bungalow which we bought in 2008. It is now nearly nine years old and about eighteen months ago it started losing pressure. We had a contract with British Gas and they decided to change a number of parts in the boiler over a period of four months (one of which necessitated removing the boiler and re-installing it). This also resulted in replacing the pipework within the boiler, with the end result that access to the pressure valve is now very difficult.
After all this the pressure loss was even worse and they finally admitted we must have a leak somewhere in the rest of the system. None of the radiators were leaking so it had to be under the screeded floor. I had noticed the laminate floor in the hall felt unusually warm in places, so we lifted part of it and found the old parquet flooring (on top of the screed) was wet, so the leak had to be there somewhere. The hallway has numerous joints as it leads off to all the rooms.
To cut a long story short, BG made several attempts to repair at least two leaks (one of which was still leaking immediately after they left) and this lasted another five months. We finally replaced the laminate flooring last summer thinking we had finally cracked it. We then noticed in November the pressure was dropping again and I am certain the problem is in the same place (the hall). We are about to go on holiday so I am going to leave lifting the flooring until I get back.
I have documented this as other members should be aware that BG have more than doubled our original maintenance cost since we took it out and we have still not solved the problem.
I am therefore considering going to someone else and cancelling my BG contract.

I have related this story in case anyone else has had similar problems and can provide advice on where to go from here. I have considered replacing all the pipework in the hall as the first option.

Profile photo of dave newcastle
Member

Mike you have described a central heating nightmare and illustrated that British Gas maintenance is not worthwhile. Just to state the obvious: the leaking pipes must be completely drained of water to enable successful re -soldering. and this is likely to be quite difficult with pipes located below floor as the drain c**k(s) will be at a higher level. I suspect that BG did not drain the pipes. It may be that the only way to drain them is to freeze them at an appropriate spot, then cut them and quickly attach two hoses to drain the residue outside.( It may be necessary to create a syphon if the hoses have to go over the door threshold). Threaten to cancel your contract with BG unless they solve the problem. When the contract ends don’t renew it anyway. Try Which Local to find a recommended local firm to look after your system.

Profile photo of jak
Member

Or you might take the opposite view – that this is an expensive problem to sort out that would cost a fortune were it not for the service contract. The fact that British Gas hasn’t yet solved it is not necessarily a huge criticism of them because the problem you describe is traceable to defects in the original installation. Ideally you would never hide pipe joints under a screed and you would only use pipe materials that were designed for being buried in a screed. As Dave says, working at the low point in a system is always problematic because of the difficulty of draining residual water.

Mike you have not said what sort of pipe is involved. Copper pipe and fittings should never be buried directly in a cementitous screed because cement attacks copper over time. Copper pipe can be covered with Denso tape if it’s in contact with cement-based materials.

Back to the question of the BG contract. No-one else would take it on as a new service contract as it’s a known defect. To deal with the problem properly would require some or all of the pipe to be exposed and replaced. Or, if one can work out the pipe runs, one can replace all the pipe in new positions. This is fiddly and messy – one could easily spend 2 or 3 days doing it, possibly more to make good the screed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it cost around £1000 for a plumber to deal with. I think BG would love you to cancel the contract because they’ve already lost on it. However, I think you’d be better off getting them to do the job properly.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Exactly right Jak.

BG may be hanging out the job on the premise that Mike or anybody will get sick of the incompetence. It strikes me though that they are also laying themselves open to damages for being so incompetent.

This contract for BG is a disaster but their business model is that they take on pretty much everything and win [profit] on most of the contracts. No need to have any sympathy with them!

Profile photo of MikeD
Member

In reply to the comments above, the pipework is copper and I am aware of the claims relating to the risks associated with reaction between copper and cement based screed, but my bungalow is one of over two hundred all built 40 years ago and I am not aware of this being a common problem having talked to neighbors. What I have learnt so far is that British Gas spent about £1000 on the boiler in order to determine the leak was pipe related. This is not necessarily a criticism of them but of pressured combi systems that have no other method of checking the integrity of the boiler in the case of regular pressure loss. Where I am critical of BG is that on at least one if not two occasions their repairs were still leaking (ie on their own soldered joints) after they left. Had I not insisted on leaving the pipework exposed, even more work would have been involved.

However, that is now water under the bridge (or floor!) and I would be really interested to hear from anyone that has had an existing system under screed, re-piped, and what it cost. I am planning to have one more attempt to see if my existing problem is restricted to pipework in the hall before considering the resorting to the nuclear option. For this work I will be using an independent plumber.

Thanks to members that have responded, I appreciate your feedback.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Have you considered the use of the skirting board radiators that are now on the market? Shown on Dragon’s Den they are now a commercial venture through a nationally known plumbing chain.
The system seems to be more thermally efficient than a radiator and uses signiciantly less water.

That way I assume, you can use your existing boiler and avoid the hassle of recovering and replacing all that old pipe.

However as you say only the hall is affected you may simply want to terminate that part of the central heating pipework and see if that solves your problem and then decide what is the next step.

Taking off from the old pipework and doing the skirting board on a single wall might be sufficient to provide an element of warmth in what is traditionally a little used space.

Just as a background I have had installed a hot water system UFH in a very large extension, retrofitted an electric UFH to a small bathroom [trivial work] and had a new hot air furnance from the US installed. The original had been running for over 40 years but the new Lennox is 94% efficient – AND no Water required.

The reason I mention these details is the inherent conservative streak in the building trade and the market bias to existing ways of doing things means better ideas take a long time to become accepted. Probably twenty or more years.

Which?, bless its heart, has revealed a tendency to be as unenquiring and accepting of the status quo .

Profile photo of ALEC MORROW
Member

the issue is that there is no respected authority in the heating industry partly because nothing is designed and researched here, and partly because an industry in a state of chaos with poor training and so vital to people generates much more work, albeit a lot of it unnecesary, and keeps employment rates up.

as an example I cite on of my clients, 5 yrs ago I installed a boiler and upgraded the hot water cylinder. In that installation is a set up that involves a valve, and this can fail over time as it moves anything up to 10 times a day. This client had a service contract, for which they paid an annual fee. The valve started failing about three months ago. The service notes revealed that the diverter valve had been changed (it had not) and a blockage identified on a sealed system with a permanent filter. The client was asked to pay £700 for a power flush which they did. This was unnecesary, and offered no benefit to the system. As a caveat I am told though that very very occasionally blockages do exist but with good knowledge of system design the cause can be discounted pretty quickly. To put that in perspective I have never known a blockage in any system, in 15yrs as and installer

Knowing the boiler the information last to what was wrong was indicated by the status codes..which took me about 30 seconds to interpret. An substitute part was available in the merchants.

The client suffered three months of “stress” about a failing system, incurred extra costs.

Sadly that is called business in the UK, and until the likes of Which and its members start demanding both better heating systems and betters service you the public are stuck with what we have…

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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I have been a member of Which? [Consumers’ Association] for over twenty years and I am sure it used to do in-depth long term investigations of products such as ranch paints.

It seems to me that Which? has dropped the ball on its research side leaving a void illuminated by Alec Morrow. Which? have been spending around £3m a year in India on a failed attempt to set up a profit making magazine. That £10m could have usefully been spent on researching the various heating options in a critical way, and on highlighting good thermal insulation.

For instance the Dutch consumer body recommend a boiler brand that is available in the UK but if you care to look at the Which? page on boiler brands it is a backward looking piece based on a survey of members experiences. I am not saying this is bad simply that it is an incomplete picture of the boiler market as of now and therefore possibly misleading as to what is best on the marketplace now.

Are skirting board radiators truly 13% more efficient or not. What are the actual or potential drawbacks. Aerogel Superslim cladding claims Property U Values reduced from 2.1(W/m-2K) to 0.3 (W/m-2K) Who else but Which? could commission a report on these matters?

Lambasting the energy providers garners much more column inches for many politicians and organisations but who actually does anything useful in an area where no organisation is interested in the nitty-gritty.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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dieseltaylor, I too am concerned about CA ventures. I wonder why they needed to launch in India, ending up with a closed venture and a substantial loss? I would have thought the core business of looking after UK consumers through more thorough testing of products should be the priority. I would also question the need to launch a Mortgage Advisory Service, again with considerable costs, rather than, say, a “trusted” accreditated mortgage advisers scheme?
Is this off topic? I don’t think so – it may prejudice the effort and money being employed on properly testing products and services?
I am happy to be reassured though, and admonished. Perhaps I have a too-simplistic view of what Which? should be about.

Profile photo of Alex Toplis
Member

Hi diesel and Malcolm, thanks for your comments. I’d like to confirm that testing is a priority to Which? and we continue to invest more on our research and testing than ever before. This year we will test 3,500 products and services, up from 2,800 the previous year and up from 1,200 ten years ago.

Our commercial success helps us to both continue to improve our testing and also to diversify our business. We want to work for consumers for the next 60 years and beyond, and so we need to explore new services to make sure we can do that.

Back on the topic of boilers. We changed the way we rate boilers because we rarely received any findings that conflicted with the energy efficiency ratings awarded by manufacturers. We therefore thought using member recommendations and reliability ratings was a better way to evaluate boilers and cover more of the market for our members. I hope that helps clear things up.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Alex – Thanks to the recent Which? report on boilers I learned that there are some respectable manufacturers’ warranties provided these days. That is important when repairs can be expensive and – as reported by Which? – boiler servicing can leave something to be desired.

Like Dieseltaylor and Malcolm I’m keen on more rigorous testing but my request is more modest. I would like Which? to tell us about the length of the standard manufacturer’s warranty for all products tested. I appreciate that manufacturers often do promotions offering longer warranties, which can be a bonus.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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Thank you for the response Alex. I was at the AGM and recognise the mantra but big figures need examining as quality of testing is relevant.

Perhaps if I mentioned yet again the Logiks steamer as a Best Buy despite reader comments, the atrocious test of the Dualit as mentioned on page 11 of the current magazine but removed from the website. Unless Which? introduces details like replaceable batteries, toaster elements, and most importantly durability for both small and large appliances I think it will lose credibility and simply become like Good Housekeeping or Expert Reviews.

As to boilers I mentioned that the Dutch consumer body’s recommended boiler has been marketed for at least a couple of years in the UK. I am not sure that the survey of installed boilers over the last seven years is that helpful in establishing what is newish to the market is superior or not. As we cannot buy backwards in time it behoves some comment on what the current marketplace offers – and that also includes heat pumps etc.

The increasing figures you quote for products and services as tested could you perhaps breakdown to how many are electronic goods like TV’s ,smart phones , tablets etc, and cameras. I see Samsung says it will reduce its range of smartphones by between a third and a quarter in 2015.

I am not sure how much it costs to buy in research from laboratories but it strikes me that perhaps Which? needs an advisory body such as Stiftung Warentest has to make sure that the tests requested make sense. I am still astonished that whereas their washing machine testing actually includes tests for build quality the Which? testing was/is done on optical cleanliness at 40C.

For around three years Which? has had requests for testing the three types of tyre summer, winter, and all-season in a like to like testing regime in UK winter temperatures. What we had a few months ago was something on winter tyres at a cold temperature and a review of all-seasons with testing carried out at 30C which is not a temperature often met in the UK.

The logic behind using these two test together for an article on cold tyres seems less than stellar. There does seem a very good case that technical smarts is required and looking at the executives and the Trustees there seems to be a dearth of scientific or practical engineering background.

Either the technical advisory body needs to be implemented or more use made of subscribers with the knowledge in the subject areas to construct sensible tests.

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wavechange, I agree about guarantees. However, I am even more concerned to know that a product is reliable – how long it is likely to function without a breakdown. Reliability is given stars but actual statistics seem hard to come by.

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Let’s hope we get a Conversation devoted to guarantees, Malcolm. It’s very important we discuss the issue of reliability. The big problem with trying to assess reliability is how a product is used. Think of the way some people abuse products, often unwittingly, or just use them more than others do. Repairability would be easier to assess but that is not much use if spares are not available.

Hopefully we can discuss these issues more in the coming year. I would like to explore what constitutes abuse and fair wear & tear, and striking a balance between the rights of consumers and retailers.

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I think the idea of just testing a boiler is seriously flawed. I doubt people at which even know there are two ways of controlling a boiler…one with a thermostat, a simple on-off device, and one with a sensor that feeds back to the boiler the heat demand, or temperature and kWh required in the system to maintain a comfortable environment.

Installing to the former is how we do things in the UK, but the latter is how the boilers are designed to be used as a higher level of efficiency at the boiler is achieved. A by product is increased reliability, and this is being proved by a few installers who undertake to install things as the design engineers intended.

Many Condensing boilers installed as the design engineers intended have exceeded yr ten issue free, and many are coming up to yr 17 or 18…

I guess though while Which asks the wrong questions, we are all doomed to arrive at the wrong conclusions….

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The question Which? has asked is whether it is worth paying for a service contract and maybe some of us, myself included, are not good at focusing on what could be a useful discussion. 🙁

The fact is that most heating installations in the UK use simple control. If our discussion was about heating systems it would be pertinent to discuss more efficient systems – and possibly more to go wrong, including lack of knowledge and understanding by service engineers and users.

Once installation of boilers using more complicated controls becomes common, it will be worth comparing service options, reliability and cost of ownership.

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You really can’t expect a boiler to be reliable if you don’t use it as the boiler design engineers intended. Modern condesning boilers can be highly reliable if used with embedded controls.

Complexity of controls is highly subjective, and many of the controls in question are highly intuitive to use. Thats why most of the said controls require minimal user intervention and when required are easy to change the settings.

Really the question is when will the UK adopt working practices (no inhibitor, modern controls, filters) to give what the public want (reliable heating systems)

ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer…

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Last year I installed a very simple central heating programmer that a friend’s elderly parents had purchased. They had struggled with a more sophisticated one ever since they had moved into their bungalow and were struggling to see the small text. All they wanted was something that could easily be set to come on and go off at specified times with a manual override. Within a few days they reported back that they were delighted. I could give several similar anecdotes.

The fact is that many people struggle with complex systems even if you and I can cope. Address that and more people will be interested in using more controllable heating systems. ALL controls on all need to be highly intuitive to use. Designers need to adapt to the needs of users.

I rather suspect that if you opt for a more sophisticated system it cost significantly more and there might be the opportunity to charge more for servicing.

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Heating for most people is not a very interesting subject, and in the first best world does nothing other than sit in the background doing what it should. The need for intervention is a failure of the engineering behind the system. Embedded controls provide a stable room temperature that rarely needs fiddling with.

I have many elder clients too and initially were very reserved about the technology, but in the end just loved the fact that the system needs no adjustment…

As for cost these controls are neither more expensive to buy or install than simple on-off controls, in terms of maintenance do not generate extra costs. After all all we are talking about is a few bits of electronics.

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The ‘few bits of electronics’ can cost a fortune to replace. For example, I recently wanted a simple circuit board for a popular stairlift and it would have cost £400 + VAT. You will know how much circuit boards for boilers cost.

People often get charged for parts that are not faulty. For example, last Christmas I watched a boiler service engineer replace a Worcester-Bosch circuit board and another part on behalf of a friend. Fortunately the engineer was still there when the intermittent fault recurred. I have sympathy for any engineer who has to deal with an intermittent fault, but had I not asked for the original parts to be replaced, that could have been an expensive repair. My sympathy disappeared when I realised that he had claimed 45 minutes travelling time and his previous call was less than ten minutes away. My fault for signing the job sheet without reading it.

Unless boilers are different from other domestic products, adding additional electronics will substantially increase the product cost, even if the additional components are not expensive.

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ALEC MORROW says:
22 December 2014

You entirely miss the point! Installing as the design engineers intend with embedded controls enhances reliability not decreases it!

Most worcester boilers are dumbed down for use with on-of controls specifically for the UK, so you have already entered the high maintenance costs game by buying that boiler.

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I disagree. You are ignoring too many factors. No-one else is going to be interested in our discussion, so I wish you Merry Christmas.

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Alec Morrow says:
17 January 2015

I agree with all of the above except the implication that boilers cannot give the service life. Condensing boilers are designed to run at as low a temperature as possible without compromising comfort and should be operated by a modulating controller to achieve that. Such controls are not generally available in the UK, and are poorly supported by the manufacturers, so it is no wonder that issues arise.

Unfortunately the public are set up to think that boilers will always have issues and until they start saying enough is enough, it will stay that way!

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Maddie says:
23 January 2015

Just wanted to make a comment about house insurance, more specifically boiler cover. I have always been sceptical about Insurance and paying out for warranty etc and have found generally that you end of paying quite a bit extra for what you invariably do not need. We have a Worcester oil fired boiler which I have always found very reliable boilers. We decided however, to take out an Emergency Home Cover policy( as we have had a lot of trouble with our drains) with Swinton Insurance. Back in October our boiler kept ‘locking out’ we called out our local engineers and in the space of 4 weeks they came out on at least 5 different occasions and changed numerous parts before finding the fault and fixing it. This would have been a very expensive episode for us. But I cannot fault Swinton, the whole episode was so quick, no problems or questions, very smooth. Not what you really expect from an Insurance company, good on them!