Boiler servicing and safety

Thursday 25th July, 2013 By Martin Fagan
Boiler servicing and safety

Faulty gas boilers are dangerous, so safety as well as maintenance should be a serious consideration. We look at ways to keep your boiler running safely.

A decade ago, gas boilers used to require constant attention and frequent fixing. However, developments that allow you to set digital controls to take care of everything have meant you're less likely to notice if something is wrong with your boiler.

Boilers that are not properly looked after or have blocked or leaky flues can release carbon monoxide into the house. According to the NHS, more than 50 people die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, with 200 people who are seriously injured by it.

Nevertheless, there are a set of safety checks that you can implement to ensure that your boiler and home gas appliances stay safe.

You need to make sure that your boiler receives a yearly service - but you should never attempt to replace parts or service your boiler yourself - it must always be done by a registered technician.

If you have a gas boiler, you need to check that your technician is registered with the Gas Safe Register (previously known as Corgi - Council for Registered Gas Installers). If you have an oil heating system you can contact Oftec (the Oil Firing Technical Association for the Petroleum Industry) to find a local, registered technician.

Having your boiler regularly checked and serviced will prevent unnecessary problems and help to avoid the cost of emergency repairs.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and potentially lethal gas - it's known as the "silent killer" for good reason. It can be given off by the incomplete burning of gas by household appliances, when there is an insufficient air supply - this is called "incomplete combustion".

CO poisoning can occur via a shared flue or chimney, or even from a neighbour's appliance.

Incomplete combustion can occur when:

  • There is a problem with the appliance, following poor maintenance or servicing
  • The appliance was incorrectly installed or commissioned
  • There is a lack of ventilation around the appliance

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include tiredness, headaches, nausea and chest or stomach pains. It is often confused with flu but if you experience any of these symptoms while using a gas appliance, you need urgent medical attention.

Because of the way that carbon monoxide affects the body, smaller people will succumb to its effects quicker - making children and the elderly particularly vulnerable.

Although you can't see or smell carbon monoxide, you can check your gas appliance is working correctly by looking at the flame. If it's bright blue, it's healthy. If it's yellowy orange, this is evidence of a possible carbon monoxide presence.

Brownish-yellow stains around the appliance, pilot lights that frequently blow out and heavy condensation in the room where the appliance is installed are also indicators that you need to get your appliance professionally checked.

You can also fit an audible CO alarm. These cost around £20, are available at most DIY stores and will alert you in the same way as a fire alarm if carbon monoxide is detected in your home.

The gas safe Register Corgi does not recommend the cheaper "black spot" detectors available for around £5. It says: "Do not use the 'black spot' detectors that change colour when carbon monoxide is present. These will not make a sound to wake you up if the poisonous gas is present while you are sleeping."

Boiler care

Taking out boiler cover from your energy supplier or from an independent company will ensure that you'll never have to pay expensive emergency fees if your boiler or heating system breaks down suddenly.

Most cover is in the region of £15 a month - a total of around £180 a year. Check to see if this includes your annual boiler service - if it does, then that's between £70 and £100 that you would have had to pay out anyway, so you will in effect be getting a year's emergency repairs and parts cover for around £80.

However, if you've recently had work done, or had a new boiler or heating system installed find out whether or not you're already covered - many new installations come with a year's guarantee on the work, so you could end up paying for something you already have if you take out additional cover.

Costs

If you struggle to meet the cost of your yearly boiler service, contact the Energy Saving Trust, your energy supplier or your energy supplier or local authority to see if you qualify for free checks through the Priority Services Register.

Otherwise, you could think of boiler insurance as a monthly installation to cover the cost of your essential yearly check - with extra benefits.