With the clocks changing this weekend and a damp chill in the air, there’s a single question that’s been taking over British homes and offices - have you turned the heating on yet?
If you haven’t flicked the switch yet, then there’s another pressing question - can you turn the heating on? Boilers these days are more reliable and efficient than they’ve ever been, but after months of disuse, now is not the best time to discover there’s an issue with your heating. If you’re worried about your home's heat this season, this guide is designed to get things warmed up, with everything you need to know about boilers and central heating.
Check your radiators
If you haven’t fired up the heating yet this autumn, make sure you test your system as soon as possible - turn it on for 30 minutes and check the boiler seems to come as normal, and check your radiators warm up evenly. If there are cold patches, it could be a sign of blockages or obstructions in the system - or even just trapped air.
If a radiator is cold at the top, it is most likely to be trapped air, and you will need to bleed the radiator. This can usually be done by loosening the valve at the top of the radiator with a radiator key, letting the excess air escape. Wait until the system has cooled before trying this. Let the air escape until water starts to come through, then re-tighten the valve and turn the heating back on. If you’re unsure about doing this, a tradesperson will be able to help and give everything a more thorough once-over.
On the other hand, if your radiator is cold at the bottom, it is often a sign of a more serious blockage in the system, such as limescale or rust. The best way to clear this is by powerflushing the system, running a chemical through the pipes and radiators to flush out the obstructions. A heating engineer will be best placed to do this.
Service your boiler
There are three common types of boilers:
- Combi or combination boilers
- Traditional boilers - also called regular, heat only, or open vent boilers
- System boilers
You might also hear the term condensing boiler - but all boilers you can buy these days are actually condensing boilers.
Combi boilers are the most common and tend to be the most efficient kind of boiler, heating the water directly from the mains - so there’s no more chance of someone taking a shower, only to find the hot water has run out. Traditional boilers on the other hand still rely on a water tank in the loft to feed the system - which can be useful in a home with low water pressure or multiple bathrooms. System boilers are also fed by a water cylinder, but one which is self-contained within the unit, saving space.
All boilers can face similar issues, so it’s worth getting them regularly inspected - at least once a year is recommended to ensure your boiler is running as efficiently as possible. If you notice any particular problems - the boiler shutting itself off, leaks, unusual noises such as whistling, or low pressure, then it’s definitely worth finding an engineer to take a look at it as quickly as possible.
Only hire qualified tradespeople
Only engineers who are on the Gas Safe Register are legally allowed to work on gas in the home. Unlike many other trades where experience may be the only qualification needed, it is essential that you only hire a Gas Safe registered tradesman. The Gas Safe Register replaced the CORGI gas register in 2009. Tradespeople who are on the register are allowed to carry out works such as installing or servicing gas boilers, fitting or repairing gas hobs, and any other work on a heat producing appliance connected to a natural gas or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) supply. Tradespeople on MyBuilder who are Gas Safe registered will mention it on their profile - however, you should always check their registration yourself when you meet them. They will carry an ID card with a number you can look up to ensure it’s up to date.
Aim for efficiency
As well as being good for the environment, having an energy efficient boiler will also save you money. Heating accounts for more than half of the average energy bill, and the savings can be stark - a modern boiler with an "A" rating in terms of efficiency can save larger homes hundreds of pounds a year over older, more inefficient models.
To make sure your boiler stays efficient, it’s vital that you carry out regular services and checks both to your boiler and to the rest of the system. On a day to day basis, the settings you use can also make a big difference. If your boiler has separate temperature controls for hot water and heating, then it’s generally suggested that you set the water at around 55c to 60c, then change the boiler temperature based on the season - up to around 80c in winter, and down to 55c to 60c in summer.
If you have modern, smart thermostats you can set the heating to your exact requirements, using it only when you need it. A comfortable room temperature is usually around 19c to 20c in the day, and 16c to 19c at night.
Generally, the lower you keep the temperature, the lower your heating bills will be - so effective insulation can also play a part in controlling the heat in your home.
Sort out your heating
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