Broken boiler? What to do next…
We rely on our boilers more than any other appliance in our homes. We need them to keep us warm, and our showers hot. So, when they run into an issue, it can be alarming. But try not to panic!
Whilst modern boilers are generally very reliable, they are still very complicated machines. They work hard for us 24/7, so it’s inevitable that they will run into a problem from time to time.
And a glitch doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with the boiler itself, you might have an issue with fuel supply or a frozen pipe.
But although it’s understandable, it’s no less inconvenient and annoying. Nobody wants to be without heating and hot water, particularly in winter.
So, what should you do if your boiler has suddenly stopped working?
In this guide, we outline some simple checks that you can do to try and figure out what might be going on, and some steps you can take to get up and running again if it’s just a simple niggle.
Broken boiler? Safety First
But before we get into our ‘niggles’ checklist – we want to add a safety warning here…
Unless you’re a Gas Safe registered engineer, you should never take the cover off your boiler or attempt to ‘fix’ your boiler yourself.
Not only is this against the law (only Gas Safe engineers can legally work on gas), it’s also very dangerous.
So, aside from making the basic checks we discuss below, you should always consult a trained professional.
And if you ever think you can smell gas, you must act fast and follow the steps below – smelling gas is never something you should start investigating yourself!
If you think you can smell gas
If you think you can smell gas, it’s vital that you act immediately. The Gas Safe Register sets out the following steps that you need to take:
- Get fresh air immediately; make sure you open all doors and windows to ventilate the area.
- Turn off the gas emergency control valve (also called gas emergency shut off valve) at the meter, unless the meter is located in a basement or cellar or at the LPG bulk tank or storage vessels.
- Extinguish all naked flames and don’t smoke.
- Don’t operate electrical switches (including turning light switches on or off) because this can ignite escaping gas.
- Contact the relevant National Gas Emergency service number (0800 111 999 for England, Scotland and Wales).
- If the attending emergency operative identifies an issue with any gas appliances, follow their advice concerning the use of the equipment.
- Where advised, contact a Gas Safe registered engineer to fix the appliance and check it’s safe.
- If you’re feeling unwell, visit your GP or hospital immediately and let them know you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
- Don’t turn the gas supply on again until it’s been checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
Broken boiler? Things to check
Ok, now we’ve got the serious Gas Safety issue out of the way, let’s get into the checks that you can make if your boiler has stopped working, or is on the blink:
Check whether your thermostat has stopped working
Before blaming your boiler, it’s a good idea to start with the basics, and check that your thermostat is working.
You should check that your thermostat is:
- switched on with a full charge or working batteries;
- connected to the Wi-Fi;
- set to the temperature you want;
- has not accidentally been switched to ‘holiday mode’.
Broken boiler? Check whether your boiler is showing a fault code
A logical place to start when your boiler stops working, is to check for a fault code. Most modern boilers will display a code when they run into a problem.
By checking what the fault code means, you’ll be able to narrow down what this issue is. You can pass this information onto your engineer, or you may potentially be able to address it yourself.
Different boilers will display different fault codes to indicate different things, so you’ll need to check your boiler’s manual to identify what your boiler’s telling you.
Your manual should contain a chart of fault codes for your boiler, with a description of what the code is signaling, and what action needs to be taken to address it.
If you can’t find your manual, you can use Google to search for an online manual for your boiler.
Check whether you have a problem with your gas, electricity or water supply
Although it’s often overlooked, your boiler will stop working if your power or water supply is disconnected from your boiler.
It’s worth checking the connection to your fuel and power sources, because they could have been switched off accidentally or through a power outage.
To check for issues with your power and fuel, you can check other household appliances to see whether they’re working.
If you find that a power cut has turned your boiler settings off, you can fix this issue yourself by checking your main fuse box and turning the boiler switch on.
If you find that your gas hob isn’t working either, it’s worth contacting your gas supplier who will be able to advise you on any issues in your area.
Broken boiler? Check your boiler’s pilot light
If your boiler is old, you might have a problem with your pilot light.
The purpose of a pilot light is to provide a small flame which lights the gas for your boiler to burn as fuel. If this goes out, your boiler won’t work.
If you have an older boiler, check the state of the pilot light. It should be bright blue. If the pilot light is out, follow the instructions in your boiler’s instruction manual to turn it back on.
If you see a flame, but it’s flickering, dim, orange or a pale yellow then this indicates a problem. You should turn off your boiler and contact a Gas Safe engineer for assistance.
If you don’t have a pilot light at all, don’t panic – this is normal! Most modern boilers use an electronic ignition system instead of a pilot light.
Check whether there’s a problem with your water pressure
Boilers need constant water pressure to function properly. If the pressure drops too low or rises too high, you’ll have a problem.
Low boiler pressure can cause your system to cut out, preventing your central heating from working.
Alternatively, if there is high boiler pressure, the system will be strained beyond normal capacity and could potentially fail.
You should check your boiler’s pressure gauge to see whether the pressure is at the recommended level. As a rule of thumb, the normal boiler pressure is between 1.0 and 1.5 bars.
Your boiler might also flash an error code to indicate that there is a pressure-related issue.
If the pressure in your heating system has fallen below 1 bar, it needs to be topped up. Boiler pressure systems differ, so it’s always best to check your manual, to see if you can re-pressurise it yourself.
Broken boiler? Check whether you have a leak
If you notice a leak around your boiler, you should contact a Gas Safe engineer immediately.
While you wait for assistance, you should switch your boiler off, and turn the water off at the mains. The stop tap is usually found under your sink.
There are several potential causes of a leak, including:
- Corrosion of pipes
- High pressure in your heating system
- Broken seals
- Part failure
- General age/wear and tear
Check whether you have a frozen condensate pipe
If it’s freezing out, it’s possible that your boiler’s condensate pipe has frozen. This pipe takes the wastewater produced by your boiler outside, and into a drain.
If the condensate pipe freezes, your boiler will automatically shut down as a safety measure until it’s resolved. Your boiler will likely display an error code for this problem on its display panel.
Luckily, this isn’t a big problem, and you can resolve it by thawing the pipe with warm water. After you have thawed the pipe, reset your boiler and wait a few minutes and check that it is working properly.
Broken boiler? Check whether your boiler is making unusual noises
If you suddenly notice your boiler making unfamiliar, loud or strange noises, they could indicate a problem, and are a cause for concern.
Try to determine whether the noise is coming from the boiler itself, or from the pipework; and what sort of sound you are hearing.
For example, does your boiler sound like an aeroplane is taking off?
Or are you hearing banging, whistling, or gurgling?
The sound that your boiler is making can be a clue to the problem, and you should describe it to your heating engineer to help them diagnose the fault.
Check for cold radiators
If your boiler seems to be working, but there isn’t much heat coming from your radiators, it could be a sign that your radiators need bleeding.
Bleeding a radiator means releasing air that has become trapped inside your heating system. The good news is that this is an easy job that you can do yourself, using your radiator bleed key.
If bleeding your radiators doesn’t work, or your radiators have cold spots, this could indicate that your radiators have ‘sludge’ in them, rather than air. In this case, an engineer can cleanse your heating system with a power flush.
Still no luck?
If you have followed these simple checks and your boiler is still playing up, you’ll need to contact a professional.
Don’t ignore any warning signs that your boiler has a problem, because this will allow a fault to develop into a bigger and more expensive one.
And remember, that like with so many things in life – prevention is better than cure!
The best way of avoiding breakdowns is to look after your boiler by having it serviced every year by a Gas Safe engineer.
An annual service will:
- keep your boiler running smoothly and efficiently;
- allow any minor issues to be fixed before they develop into more serious ones;
- maintain your boiler’s guarantee.