50,000 boilers will stop working tomorrow in ‘worst day of the year’

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Martin Lewis explains the boiler challenge

Sod’s law suggests the most likely time for your boiler to pack it up is when you need it most. That may be during a winter freeze or just before you put the Christmas turkey in the oven, with the family on its way. 

Yet history shows that the time you boiler is most likely to break down is next week, with tens of thousands of Britons affected.

As well as the inconvenience, a boiler breakdown is expensive, as it costs on average £200 to get it fixed.

If it can be saved and needs replacing, a new boiler can cost between £1,500 and £4,764, blowing a hole in the household budget.

And it’s more likely to pack up tomorrow than any other day, according to data from British Gas.

Monday October 23 marks the big “switch on”, as households reach for their thermostat as temperatures fall and our homes grow colder.

This is roughly a week later than normal, due to this autumn’s milder temperatures, but every year it triggers a huge spike in demand for engineer callouts.

British Gas figures show that around 50,000 homes need help to get their heating and hot water systems running directly after switching their boilers back on, because this is when underlying problems are most likely to emerge. It happens every single year.

However, just because the heat isn’t coming through doesn’t mean your boiler is finished. It may be down to a simple technical error you can fix yourself.

The first thing to check is the thermostat. You don’t want to call out a gas engineer only to discover its battery has simply run out.

If the display is dim or unresponsive, this could be the issue. Most modern thermostats run on AA or AAA batteries, so changing them should be quick and cheap.

Then try a few basic checks, like turning your boiler dials and thermostat, or pressing the ‘boost’ or ‘reset’ button if you have one, to see if you can kick the system into life.

If your radiators aren’t functioning properly, check for cold spots at the top, said British Gas service and repair engineer Joanna Flowers.

“Air can enter the system and form bubbles, which stops them from working efficiently. If you notice cold spots, switch your radiators off and after they cool, turn a radiator key in the valve at the top to let the air out.”

Prevention is better than cure so if you haven’t had your boiler checked for years now could be the time.

Consider scheduling a professional inspection and maintenance service for your heating system, said Rich Mullins, founder and owner of H2O Plumbing. “This will identify and fix any problems before the cold weather really starts to hit. A well-maintained heating system not only keeps your home comfortable but also saves on energy costs.”

Boiler, heating and home emergency cover plans offer 24/7 support in case of problems and may also include an annual service.

The Federation of Master Builders recently named plans by PlusHeat, 24/7 Home Rescue, Hometree, British Gas and HomeServe as the UK’s five best home emergency cover policies. Premiums range from £5 to around £20 a month, depending on the level of cover you require.

Although the energy cap was cut in October, our winter fuel bills could still be unexpectedly high, so it pays to reduce usage if you can.

Fitting self-adhesive foam strips around your windows and doors can save around £60 per year by preventing draughts, and consider keyhole covers and letterbox brush strips, too.

Putting your sofa in front of a radiator will absorb heat that could be warming the rest of the room, so consider moving it if possible, Flowers added. “Cover a thin sheet of card with tinfoil and place it behind your radiators to reflect the heat back into the room. Otherwise buy ready-made foil insulation.”

Turn off radiators in unused rooms and close the door to stop cold air circulating throughout your home. “Curtains prevent heat loss at night but open them during the day so that the sun can do some of the work,” she said.

Set your main room thermostat between 18°C and 21°C. “Turning it down just one degree can save around 10 percent on your heating bills, an average of £115 a year”

Get your heating right for bedtime, too, Flowers suggested. “Set it to start 15 minutes before you wake up and turn off 30 minutes before bed.” 

Low income households should automatically receive a £300 Cost of Living Payment between October 31 and November 19, 2023.

This is the second of three payments totalling up to £900 supporting eligible people on means-tested benefits including Pension Credit, tax credits and Universal Credit.

Eligible pensioner households will also receive a further £300 payment later this year as an addition to the Winter Fuel Payment.

If still struggling, the British Gas Energy Trust offers face-to-face advice, financial support and grants up to £1,500.

This may be available even if you are not a British Gas customer. Or contact your own supplier to see if it offers assistance and grants towards energy costs. Don’t be lulled by recent mild weather. Winter is coming. Time to get ready for it.

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