/ Home & Energy

Boiler blips and breakdowns – are you ready for winter?

Radiator with scarf, hat and gloves

It’s one of the most important items in your house and yet few of us understand it. As the temperature plummets, it’s time to think about what tlc your boiler might need.

I’ve seen pictures of warehouses stock piling packages for the winter in the papers this week. Sadly, it’s not the elves filling up the shelves ready for Santa’s rounds but rather companies getting in supplies for boiler servicing and repairs over the winter months.

The dreaded scenario is the boiler packs up on a chilly December morning. There is the inconvenience of not having a hot shower, the difficulty of finding a decent boiler engineer and then, in the worst case scenario, the shock of having to shell out thousands of pounds to get a boiler installed. It’s certainly a headache that most of us could do without.

A costly boiler repair

Now one of the most consistent complaints that we get from members at this time of year is about boiler servicing contracts. Not many seem to be content with the cost or breadth of their cover and yet a third of Which? members still have boiler servicing contracts. So are they worth it?

Well it’s easy to see the upsides of having a boiler servicing contract in place. Earlier this year, our researcher Victoria Pearson wrote about how grateful she was to have a boiler servicing contract in place after her boiler gave up the ghost.

But it seems Victoria may be one of the lucky ones. Last year we did an investigation in to boiler servicing contracts with alarming results. Four out of 10 boiler engineers failed to do their job properly in our undercover test, with two recommending hundreds of pounds of unnecessary work.

Boiler contract unlikely to save you money

Our conclusion was that you’re unlikely to save money if you take out a boiler servicing contract because the average spent on a service is £75 and you’re unlikely to need repairs.

So how do you look after your boiler? If you’ve home emergency cover you might find your particular policy covers your boiler too (although beware as our money investigation discovered a number of home emergency exceptions).

Perhaps you prefer putting aside a little money each month so you’ve got some money for home emergencies throughout the year. But how many of us could could confess to being that organised?

How do you care for your boiler?

I cross my fingers and hope for the best (35%, 95 Votes)

I have a boiler servicing contract and think it’s worth it for the peace of mind (34%, 91 Votes)

I put a little bit of money aside each month to cover home emergencies (16%, 42 Votes)

I have a boiler servicing contract but doubt it is providing value for money (15%, 41 Votes)

Total Voters: 271

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NukeThemAll says:
15 November 2012

It’s all very well for ‘experts’ to declare that the best choice for boiler repair and service is a local gas fitter. But…..you can predict that when your boiler breaks down, your friendly fitter will be on his/her month-long winter sun holiday. Even a ‘small firm’ is subject to the vagaries of gas fitter availability.

Fine if you can wait for the repair, but that’s unrealistic for most of us. Hence we are dealt into the arms of the likes of British Gas, who at least have promises of response times especially for customers deemed to be vulnerable. I could write a much longer post regarding my experiences of local firms v BG, for both my boiler and that belonging to my very elderly father-in-law…..but not today.


I have serviced my own gas boiler for 30 years, making use of the manufacturer’s instructions. In that time it has cost me approximately £7 in parts. If modern boilers were reliable and trouble-free I might have replaced mine years ago, but I know of so many people who have had problems that I would rather stick with with what I have got, even if it is less efficient than a modern condensing boiler.

A common problem with gas boilers is ‘circuit board’ faults. I know enough about electronics to say that properly designed circuits built using appropriate components are incredibly reliable and the increased cost is not great. It is shameful that manufacturers of boilers and many other domestic items make third rate products.

NukeThemAll says:
15 November 2012

wavechange, I couldn’t agree more – well said! Our condensing boiler has been amazingly unreliable, with multiple failures of the heat exchanger and control electronics. Green? – don’t make me laugh! Our previous boiler may have been slightly more fuel-hungry and ‘not green’, but factoring in the manufacturing impact of the new parts and their fitting, any fuel economy advantage has been more than negated. Fortunately for us it’s been repaired under a service contract – otherwise I would now be **very** much poorer. Now, hmmm, let me think, who’s gained £££ by making a shoddy unreliable boiler that needs shiny expensive new parts for every birthday and Xmas and Father’s Day and……(you get the picture)

Anyone out there tried a Sale of Goods action on a boiler manufacturer whose product substantially fails after 14 months?


Sorry to hear that. In order to pursue a claim under the Sale of Goods Act you would probably need to get an expert’s report that indicated that the fault was present at the time of manufacture. I have never seen this service offered despite the fact that every one of us has bought goods that have failed prematurely.

In the case of many faults, the fault probably did not exist at the time of manufacture but arose because of poor design or inadequate components. Your boiler circuit board probably has one or more transistors or other components that are running so hot that they eventually fail. In my younger days I used to upgrade components on circuit boards to help avoid premature failure.

I don’t think it’s within the remit of Which? but some organisation should be doing a failure mode analysis on consumer goods to identify design weaknesses. They could usefully start with Sony TVs, since websites are littered with stories of problems related to overheating of the display.

Steamdrivenandy says:
16 November 2012

When we first moved to our current house 3 years ago I took out a BG contract which cost £200 a year. After a year I spent £1,000 upgrading the heating system and controls, using a medium size local firm who have several employees living in our village, including the MD who drinks in the local pub. BG wanted something like 50% more for the same work.
Since then the local firm have done an annual service at £45 per time and replaced a failing boiler part for £144. They’ve also quoted £1,600 to replace the boiler as it is 20 years old and noisy. BG wanted nearer £2,500 for the same job.
So if I’d stayed with BG for all the work and the contract I’d have paid out about £4,600, whereas using a local firm the costs would be £3,000 for the same work/service. That £1,600 (53%) is better off in my bank account than BGs.


How do we care for our boiler

We still have a late 1980’s Baxi boiler and I’m sticking with it for as long as possible. We have a great “old school” local engineer who we get to give it a service costing about £80 every two years.

And by service he really doesn’t have a huge lot to do because they are so much simpler than the modern boilers – no electronic boards, no fans, no flimsey heat exchangers to disintigrate. He sticks £5 worth of new thermocouple in each service. In the 12 years we have been in the house it has broke down once needing the major component of a new gas valve assembly which cost about £100. About 3 years ago the heat exchanger started to leak water at its joint of its two halves. It got taken to a local engineering firm where they gave the faces a resurface for £20 on the milling machine, £5 for a new gasket and good as new again.

We are surrounded by neighbours who have all had new condensing boilers fittedand guess whos boiler was the only one not to break down at the first signof cold weather.


We had a service contract with British Gas many years ago. After we discovered the number of things that weren’t covered (which we only found out in a boiler breakdown situation, of course) we were put off and didn’t re-new it. Later, after moving, we decided to try again, but were told there were so many things wrong with our boiler they wouldn’t cover it and we needed a new one.

We didn’t take them up on their offer but got a plumber in who repaired the boiler. I seem to remember the repair costs less than the year’s contract would have cost, though I might be wrong about that. I do know it kept the boiler going for a couple more years by which time we could afford to replace it.

Gerard Phelan says:
16 November 2012

Its not just the Boiler that you need to think about, there is also the FLUE. I have enjoyed 20 years of fault free operation from my boiler. so British Gas were getting rich on the money I paid them for the service contract. However this July they condemned the open flue and declined to fix it pointing me to an exclusion clause added to the service contract a year or two ago.
When I contacted a local company (via Which? Local) they advised that the Gas regulations now prevented them from fixing the flue. All they could do was replace it completely at a cost of £1200, a cost that made no sense for a 20 year old boiler.

So now I have a Which? Best Buy Worcester Bosch Greenstar 24Ri condensing boiler installed by a top rated Which? Local installer: Fuller Heating.

As far as servicing goes, the local installer will carry out the mandatory annual safety check for £84, a big saving on the £260 British Gas was charging me for their plan. Given it comes with a Worcester Bosch 7 year parts and labour guarantee, than at current prices I should be £1232 better off on service costs by the start of year 8, when I would have to start paying the cost of maintenance and spare parts.

I am very happy with the new boiler, but I was also happy with the old one and cannot see any gain to my safety resulting from the regulation change that impacted open flues.