Boiler Packed In? What to do Before Calling a Plumber
16th November 2023
Roughly 23 million homes in the UK have a gas boiler to supply their central heating and hot water. But what happens when you wake up to a breakdown?
Boiler breakdowns can be annoying and inconvenient on a regular day. But in winter? They can be downright dangerous. You want to quickly get your boiler back up and running as soon as possible, but are you sure if the problem is sufficient to warrant professional help?
In this blog, we'll provide you with some simple steps you can take before you pick up the phone and call a plumber. Stay tuned and keep warm!
Recognising and Resolving Boiler Breakdown Signs
Recognising the signs of a boiler breakdown and knowing some simple fixes can prevent a major headache.
Not only does this save you the discomfort of a cold home, but it also saves you money on an emergency boiler repair. Let's dive into the common signs of a breakdown and what you can do about them.
1. Strange Noises from the Boiler
If your boiler starts making unusual noises such as banging, whistling, or gurgling, then it's sending you a clear message that something might be amiss. Warm Zilla, a UK-based boiler supplier gives some indications of how to identify boiler problems, how you can do some simple fixes and when you’ll need emergency boiler repair.
Steps to Fix:
Firstly, it is best to ensure it's not due to low water pressure. If so, repressurising the system can help.
If you are hearing hissing noises
If your boiler is making hissing sounds, it may be suffering from a problem known as "kettling." Imagine it as your boiler imitating a boiling kettle, quite literally. This usually happens due to the buildup of limescale or sludge inside the boiler's heat exchanger, slowing down the water flow. This can cause the boiler to overheat and therefore you should call a Gas Safe engineer.
If you are hearing gurgling or knocking sounds
Gurgling noises in your boiler or pipes could be a signal of trapped air in your system. Bleeding the radiators using a radiator bleed key and a cloth may help, however, make sure to refer to a guide on how to do the same. If that doesn’t help, and the pressure keeps dropping, call a professional.
Similarly, the airlock in the boiler pump can also cause knocking sounds from the system. Again, turning on the bleed screw to release trapped air could be a simple fix. Meanwhile knocking sounds from the pipes could be because of loose pipes.
On the other hand, gurgling noises can also be because your condensate pipe is frozen. Worcester Bosch advises that this could be fixed by identifying the outdoor pipe connected to the boiler (usually a white plastic pipe connected to an external drain) and pouring warm water (not boiling) along the pipe and resetting your boiler.
If your boiler is vibrating
If your boiler starts vibrating, it could signal trouble with your boiler pump. Warm Zilla warns that you need to be careful while checking if the pump is warm and not hot. An overly hot pump might have a problem; it could indicate that a part in it has seized up. You can try gently tapping the pump to see if it will free up the seized-up part, but this is just a temporary solution.
If these simple fixes don’t work, you might need emergency boiler repair which can help you address these issues.
2. Water Leaks Around the Boiler
Water dripping from your boiler can create big issues down the road. It might harm the electrical parts and make other parts of the boiler rust. Viessmann advises on when you can take care of the issue yourself and when it’s time to call for help.
Steps to Fix:
- You can check your boiler’s pressure gauge (usually in front of the boiler). If your boiler is leaking, it could be because the pressure gauge is too high. The pressure gauge valve should be in the green zone (around one to 1.5 bar), so if it's higher or in the red zone, you may need to bleed the radiators to reduce excess water.
- If your boiler is old and corroded, it could lead to rust and other debris to build up in the radiators or pipework. A Gas-safe engineer can advise you on whether you’d need to replace a particular part or the whole system.
- A faulty heat exchanger can also be a cause for a leak, as it is the part that allows the boiler to heat cold water. Unfortunately, this is not something that you’ll be able to diagnose yourself. Thus, you’ll need a professional to help.
- Check if any external valves or pipes are dripping. Sometimes tightening can help.
- If the leak source is unclear, it's best to switch off the boiler and call in a professional.
3. Absence of Hot Water or Heating
This can be quite a bother, especially in the cold. If your taps aren’t warming up, the boiler could be the culprit.
Steps to Fix:
- First things first, let's begin with the basics. It's important to check if your gas, water, and electricity are working properly. This step helps rule out simple issues.
- A simple inspection of the wires might save the day. A quick check like this can sometimes solve what seems like a big boiler breakdown.
- If you still don’t have hot water, then it's time you check boiler controls. It is possible to accidentally set the separate controls on heating and hot water turned off. If you have the timer of your boiler, you check the same to see if the timer was affected by power failure, backup battery failure, changing clocks etc.
- Is your thermostat accidentally been set off? Have a quick look at the setting. Turn up the temperature with a timer to set active and see if the boiler heats up in response. If it doesn’t, then there might be a problem with the thermostat.
4. Odd Smells from the Boiler
An unusual odour emanating from the boiler is a serious sign and shouldn't be ignored.
Steps to Fix:
- One of the most common causes of odd smells from a boiler is a gas leak. Especially if it smells like rotten eggs. Turn off the boiler immediately. Ensure there's good ventilation in the room and contact a professional.
- If you notice the smell of gas, dial the National Gas Emergency Service right away at 0800 111 999 or send a text using a textphone (minicom) at 0800 371 787.
- Other than gas leaks, an odd smell from the boiler could also indicate bacterial growth (stagnant water) or water quality (excess sulphur or hydrogen sulphide).
Regular boiler servicing is essential to prevent both gas leaks and bacterial growth.
5. Warning Lights or Error Messages on the Boiler
Depending on whether your boiler has a digital display or not, your boiler might flash an error code or a simple red light to indicate an internal issue.
Steps to Fix:
- Check your control panel and see if a fault code appears. A quick look at the boiler fault code guide may help you identify the probable cause. Identifying the exact problem can help you convey the problem to a professional.
- If you have a manual that deciphers these error codes. It might offer simple troubleshooting tips.
- Resetting the boiler can sometimes resolve minor electronic glitches.
- Resetting the boiler is a bit like turning your computer off and on. Just find the reset button (usually on the front panel), switch off the boiler, wait a few moments, and then press reset.
6. Low Boiler Pressure
Low pressure might be causing a boiler breakdown. But don't stress!
You check your boiler pressure on the pressure gauge. A turned-off boiler should be sitting around bar 1 and a working one should be in between 1 and 2 bar.
If you have low pressure, repressurising the system could be just the fix you need:
- Turn Off the Boiler for an hour and let the water cool down.
- Attach the filling loops (usually a silver hose with two small valves) to both ends (one to the boiler and one to the valve. Then you can open both valves and let cold water into the system. (If your boiler has an internal filling loop, you might only need to turn the switch off on the valve to open it).
- Watch the Pressure Gauge. You want it to read around 1-1.5 bar.
- Close the valves, once the pressure is right.
- Restart the boiler, some may require you to reset the system (there’s a reset button available)
- Remove the filling loops from both ends.
While these DIY fixes can help in some instances, always prioritise safety. If you're unsure about any step or the problem persists, it's best to consult a professional. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry!