What to Do When Your Boiler Breaks
If your boiler breaks down it can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and, if the failure occurs in the depths of winter, downright dangerous. You’ll want your boiler back up and running as soon as possible, so you continue living - and bathing - in comfort.
But boiler repairs can be costly: a survey found the average cost of a fix was more than £300. But although they’re crucial and expensive, boilers are usually excluded from standard home insurance policies. Boiler cover policies can cover the cost of repairs, emergency engineer callouts, and even replacement of the unit. They can also provide free annual servicing, which is the best way to keep your boiler healthy and prevent future breakdowns.
Here’s what to do and who to call when your boiler surrenders.
In this guide:
- What to do right after your boiler breaks down
- How to stay safe if your boiler has broken
- Who to contact if your boiler breaks down
- If your boiler is under warranty
- If you have boiler cover
- How to prevent your boiler from breaking in the future
When your boiler stops working and your home starts to cool or water runs cold, it’s easy to panic. Here’s how to contain the situation:
- Identify a broken or ailing boiler: If you lose heat and hot water, you’ll know fairly quickly your boiler has failed. But there are other symptoms of a sick or broken boiler to be aware of. Failing to recognise them could be costly, and even hazardous. These signs include:
- an orange or yellow or lazy pilot light or flame. Pilot lights should be blue and crisp. Also look out for a pilot light that keeps going out
- banging or clanking noises
- irregular water pressure, usually too high
- too much or increased condensation in the room
- increased gas consumption (as seen on your latest gas bill or, if you have a smart meter, more immediately on your in-home display). This indicates a boiler that isn’t working as efficiently as it should.
If the boiler is showing any of these signs, switch it off immediately.
- Write down its error number: Before you switch it off, see if the boiler is displaying an error number on its digital screen. This number could help a professional diagnose the problem.
- Check supplies: If your boiler isn’t functioning, before you assume it’s broken see that it’s being properly supplied by gas, electricity, and water. See if other gas appliances, like ovens and hobs, are working in your home. If not, you may have a gas supply problem and will need to contact your gas transportation network. Also check if your boiler is plugged in.
On rare occasions, a broken boiler can cause serious illness, fires, and even death. Usually boilers are fitted with safety precautions like pressure relief valves, oxygen depletion sensors, and overheat stats that will shut it off automatically if something is seriously wrong. But it’s sensible to know the signs of danger from a boiler.
- Danger signs
- smell of spent gas or fumes
- signs of scorching, soot, and black spillage marks
- Smell gas? If you smell gas or suspect a gas leak, it’s important you turn off the boiler and contact the Gas Emergency Service as soon as possible, using the number listed below:
- England: 0800 111 999
- Scotland: 0800 002 001
- Wales: 0800 002 001
- Northern Ireland: 0800 002 001
- Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: Carbon monoxide can sicken and kill quickly. You should have a carbon monoxide detector installed and working but also be aware of the symptoms of exposure. These include:
- a tension-like headache
- nausea and vomiting
- stomach pain
- shortness of breath
- Stay warm: If your boiler has gone out in winter, you’ll need to take precautions to stay warm without central heating. This is especially crucial for elderly people, children, and those with chronic conditions. Wear layers, draw curtains, use hot water bottles, and if you think situations are unsafe, relocate to a family member or friend’s home or go to a hotel.
- Evacuate the home, if necessary: If you smell gas, experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, or are advised by an engineer, you should leave the property and stay elsewhere until the boiler is repaired.
As with any gas appliance, you should never try to repair your boiler by yourself. Not only is this dangerous, it could invalidate any warranty or insurance policy you have on it. If you have a warranty or insurance policy, the terms of it will specify who you should use for repairs. For more information, see the sections about warranties and boiler cover below.
In any case, you should always use a Gas Safe registered engineer. You can check the register online or contact them via phone on 0800 408 5500 to ensure anyone you’re using is fully registered. You should also ask for the engineers Gas Safe Register identity card when they arrive to fix the boiler. Check both sides of the card, paying attention to the photograph and expiry date.
When you initially contact the engineer by phone, tell them the make and model of the boiler, and any error number it’s displaying. They may guide you through a few steps over the phone to help you address common minor boiler issues you can rectify on your own, such as issues with low pressure, frozen condensate pumps, pilot lights that have gone out, and incorrect boiler or thermostat settings. Based on the information you provide, they’ll also likely be able to assess if the situation is dangerous, if the boiler needs immediate repair, or if you need to leave the home.
Many boilers have a manufacturer’s warranty or guarantee, a time period in which the manufacturer will fix any genuine fault in the boiler free of charge. Nearly all boilers on the market will have a one-year guarantee and you can sometimes pay more to get an extended warranty. These generally protect your boiler for two to 10 years.
If your boiler is under warranty, you’ll need to use the manufacturer or one of their approved engineers for any repairs. Engaging someone else will compromise the warranty.
If your boiler has broken, you should contact the manufacturer first and they should send a service engineer to your home.
Boiler cover is an insurance policy that pays out for the repair and even the replacement of a boiler if it develops a fault. There are several different products on the market that can constitute ‘boiler cover.’
- Emergency Boiler Cover: policies that cover the cost of repairing a boiler if it suddenly fails. These can be packaged with existing home insurance policies, as home emergency cover. When you compare home insurance it’s worth seeing if you can bundle some level of boiler cover with your home contents policy - you can often add it for as little as £5 extra a month. Emergency boiler cover provides for quick engineer callouts, using their designated service, but cap repairs, generally to £500 or £1,000, and don’t cover replacements.
- Specialist Boiler Cover: more comprehensive policies, sold separately, which have no maximum claims limit and will even make a contribution or cover the full cost of a replacement boiler, if yours is beyond economic repair and below a certain age (usually seven years). You may have to pay an excess toward any engineer callouts (often between £50 and £100) but these policies typically come with free annual servicing, which is the best way to keep your boiler healthy and catch problems before they escalate. You can often buy these policies through your gas supplier and pay the premiums alongside your usual gas charges, via your energy bill.
In both cases, you’ll need to use an engineer either sent or authorised by the provider of your cover. The provider should run an emergency helpline so you can call out an engineer for emergency repairs, and won’t have to go without heat and hot water for long. But not only will the use of another engineer not be covered by your policy it will invalidate your policy in the future, meaning you’ll have to pay for it and won’t be able to claim for the cost of labour and parts.
The best way to prevent costly, inconvenient, and even dangerous boiler faults is to have your boiler serviced regularly. In fact, you should have all gas appliances in your home safety checked and serviced annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer. It’s often the case that to keep your manufacturer’s guarantee, extended warranty and boiler cover valid, you’ll need to have your boiler serviced. Specialist boiler cover policies should provide for annual servicing and cleaning at no additional cost.