What's wrong with my boiler?

(35 Posts)
Worried345 Wed 20-Feb-13 13:55:18

Gas central heating Potterton Nettaheat boiler began to flare in fits and starts rather than stay on this morning. It's now finally died.

Got someone coming out tomorrow to have a look but in the meantime, can anyone knowledgeable suggest what it might be? Will it be days/weeks before we have heating and hot water again?

I'm trying to recover from pneumonia and flu - after over 2 weeks being ill - and am still feeling very unwell - so am panicking a bit about the ice cold house - particularly for the nights - and also for the sake of the DCs.

PigletJohn Sat 02-Mar-13 18:33:24

if you are having a hot water cylinder of some kind, I doubt you need a 34kW boiler. Mine is 24kW which is ample for a 3-storey house, though it is modern and well-insulated. Combis, with no hot cylinder, have to be more powerful. I had a 30kW boiler in a 5-bedroom detached Edwardian house.

If your current boiler is adequate to keep your house warm even in frosty weather, measure your radiators. If they are 600mm high, each metre length can provide up to about 1kW of heat. A typical room might need about 1.5kW. Modern condensing boilers run less hot than your old Netaheat so the radiators will not be so hot so will give out less heat. I oversize all my rads a bit so the house will heat faster from cold (often you can do this by fitting double rads of the same length) and have a boiler which is more than big enough.

A modern boiler will modulate its power up and down accordig to demand, so it will try to tick along at a minimum flame size and fan speed, which is quieter and more economical. Mine goes down to 8kW or up to 24kW, I expect yours will have comparable figures.

I've noticed that Viessmann installers seem to aim at the customer who wants a really good quality installation, so they include all the details, and this tends to push the price up, this is not a problem if you want and can afford it. I do recommend the TRVs as well. Is your Viessmann chap on their Approved list, and will he be going the work himself (not subbing it out to someone less skilled, or his lad)?

I'm glad he includes a Powerflush (this is the best part of a days work if done properly so adds £hundreds to the cost) and filter. I recommend the Fernox or Sentinel rather than a Magnaclean (which has a reputation for leaking). Ask about that. A budget installation might omit both. Repiping and a new 3-port valve are good and will bring your system to modern standards. Ask for a Programmable Room Thermostat but not a Wireless one as they are less reliable. Taking up floors and repiping is very labour-intensive.

If your hot water is working now, and (I keep hoping) the cold weather will soon be gone, you don't need to be pushed into a quick decision, summer will be here before the boiler is in. Heating engineers are rushed off their feet in cold weather, and often give discounts when it gets quieter.

You can get a quote from BG or your electricity company; these are almost invariably higher than anyone else will charge, and they will probably offer a Vaillant or a Worcester Bosch, which are both considered good, though IMO the Viessmann is better.

If in future you choose to do it, you could fit a Megaflo in place of your existing cylinder, but there is no need to think about that now.

The deposit is IMO a bit high. Don't pay the 50% before the boiler, controls and all parts have been delivered to your home and you have taken possession of them, they should cost him less than £1500, make it clear in writing that once you have paid 50%, they all belong to you and he can't take them away. See if you can get away with a 25% payment. I paid 10% on order, and nothing more until completion, as I have an honest face.

Do not pay the balance until it is installed and you have seen it working faultlessly for a week, and you want the Installation Certificate to be handed to you in exchange for the cheque (if not before). Tell him this. He should not be surprised or put out.

Worried345 Sat 02-Mar-13 16:53:42

Calling PigletJohn again! I've now had two quotes for a new boiler and wondering which is the one to go for?

The man who said he'd do it 'on the quiet' privately and not through his company, quoted me £2,500 for a Baxi Solo. He didn't give me anything in writing.

A separate company quoted me for a Viessman at either £4,120 for a 100W 34KW boiler or £3,700 for a 100W 26KW boiler. This company have given me a written estimate of everything, including chemical power flush plus inhibitor and various other works to pipework, which will include taking up carpet and floorboards.

Obviously there's a big difference on costs. My gut feeling said I trusted the Viessman fitter a lot more as he spent an hour here today on a Saturday, explained things much more clearly to me, answered questions and volunteered helpful info. about home heating loss etc. But this is a HUGE outlay.

I guess what I'm wondering is is the Viessman estimates are typical, if they include all the works necessary (like different gas pipes, fitting boiler with Magnaclean magnetic strainer, Honeywell 3 post zone vavlve, cylinder thermostat, twin channel programmer for independent control over heating and hot water, new Grundfoss pump and valves, Myson 28mm central heating de-aerator and automatic bypass and all the other main aspects of fitting a boiler)?

He also suggested, at additional cost fitting thermostatic radiator valves and lockshield valves at an additonal cost of £41 per old radiator (there are about 12 I think).

Finally, the company request a 10% deposit with acceptance of estimate and a 50% of balance on commencement of works! Is that ordinary practice?

I am also waiting for a locally recommended installer to get back to me recommending a colleague, as he himself is too busy at present. Would it be worth waiting to hear from him - though I've been waiting a week now and his last message said he hadn't forgotten but was still waiting to see the friend?

All advice much appreciated as usual!

Where abouts (roughly) are you as I would be happy to suggest a couple of local guys if of any use?

PigletJohn Tue 26-Feb-13 17:30:14

have a look at the recommended list, it is preferable to have someone who is based with ten miles or so as he is more likely to want to come out and service or repair it when necessary.

I live in a small town and the local person (who had a unit within walking distance) has retired, and the nearest is now about 25 miles away, which is tiresome.

Most people are happy with Vaillant or Worcester Bosch, so keep an open mind. A good local installer makes a big difference.

Worried345 Tue 26-Feb-13 15:35:40

PigletJohn, is it worth looking outside my immediate locality for a Viessman installer who is further away, just to get a Viessman? I only have info. of them from the internet and no recommendation personally.

There is another highly recommneded local installer but he's busy till April and isn't on the Viessman installer list.

Otherwise, there are hundreds of local companies to choose from and I've no idea at all who's good and who isn't.

PigletJohn Tue 26-Feb-13 11:24:01

Baxi is not as good as the other brands we mentioned.

He is right to mention flushing the system, yours is old so is very likely to have a lot of sediment in it. I recommend fitting a System Filter is well which will cost £100+

Your immersion heater will have a adjustable thermostat under the cap. Be sure to turn off the power at the consumer unit before looking. Immersion heaters are far less powerful than boilers so take longer to heat up. You can tell when the thermostat has clicked off, because the electricity meter will flash or turn slower. Immersion heaters are available in different lengths, the longer ones give more hot water but take longer. With luck yours will be a 27" one if it goes in from the top. Some cylinders have immersion heaters going on through the sides, one at the top and one at the bottom, but this is not normal if it is built to be mostly heated by a boiler.

An off-duty installation will probably not be officially notified and might not have the usual guarantees. His employer probably forbids it. He is probably talking about bringing the controls and piping to meet modern energy-saving standards, which are compulsory on a new boiler.

Worried345 Tue 26-Feb-13 10:59:26

Well the immersion heater is reconnected, although the water is luke warm for a tiny bath - but better than boiling kettles!

The service engineer told me he could do a boiler installation, outside of his worktime for the company (but on the quiet). He could do this probably within a couple of weeks instead of me having to wait months. He seemed v upfront about everything and suggested i also get other estimates.

I didn't feel he lied about anything but he was saying things about having to upgrade parts of the existing pipework etc to comply with modern health and safety standards and to ask anyone else who did an estimate and that they'd say the same thing.

However, he's not an official installer for his firm. I checked out his Gassafe registration, which he gave me and told me to do and it shows he's a senior enginner who can do the plumbing stuff as well as electrics but he wasn't an installer.

Should I be wary of this - or will he be faster, cheaper and just as good? He said he'd fit a non-combi Baxi Solo unit and flush the system.

Meanwhile, I managed to get the WM working again - not sure why or how but having put it all off and then retried on a 30 min wash, it worked and then did it again for a normal wash! Never thought I'd be so happy about being able to do the laundry!

PigletJohn Mon 25-Feb-13 13:01:29

winter will soon be gone

if you can get your immersion heater fixed, the pressure will soon be off and the heating engineers will be twiddling their thumbs when they get back from their Caribbean villas, so you will find it easier to get a quote and installation, and perhaps a "summer sale" price as well.

A good quality installation will be appreciated long after this year's problems have been forgotten.

It sounds as if your WM is fed from the cold water tank in the loft. Do all the taps work?

Worried345 Mon 25-Feb-13 10:32:57

PigletJohn - really helpful as usual! The WM is in a separate room to any sink. It has one cold water fill pipe straight to the machine that runs through the airing cupboard upstairs and from there to the loft.

The WM drained effectively yesterday but still wouldn't work on any wash cycles including fast or cold wash. I have a horrible feeling it's broken - by coincidence.

Waiting now for service guy to arrive to see if he can fix the immersion heater. Been told by a few places now that it'll be months even before I can get an estimate for a new boiler, let alone a new boiler put in! That's a nuisance.

Would it be worth seeking a firm that is slightly further away from where I live but is one of the Viessman installers from the website list - or should I just find the first company that can fit any kind of boiler asap?

PigletJohn Sun 24-Feb-13 15:19:21

leeloo, I know what you mean but that is not the cause of the boiler fault. It could be the cause of the washing machine, except that in that case, other taps or WC cisterns would also fail, which does not seem to be the case here.

BTW, when it does happen as you describe, a good test is to try bleeding the highest radiator in the house. If water does not squirt out forcefully, the feed and expansion tank is empty, or the feed and expansion pipe is blocked (usually with hardened sediment)

ATB

leeloo1 Sun 24-Feb-13 14:30:44

Disclaimer - I'm not at all an expert like PigletJohn, but...

We once had a problem with the heating not working. In the attic there's an open vent bit (ours looks a bit like an shorter version of an old round black bin - they're meant to have a lid, but ours doesn't) - above the open vent there's a ball float (like inside a loo). On ours somehow the float had got stuck up so new water wasn't getting into the system - when my dad we released it the heating magically worked again. It might be worth getting a ladder so you can explore?

There's no reason why your DW/WM have stopped working unless there's a problem with the amount of water being sent to them. Get someone to run a tap whilst you twiddle the old knob that you think is attached to the stopcock. Hopefully the water flow will improve and you'll have working appliances.

You have my complete sympathy with all the hassle - we had no boiler/kitchen/appliances for 4 weeks earlier in the year and it was a total nightmare! Luckily we got a new open-vent boiler at the end of it all, which is much better and more efficient than our 30yr old one was but I'm not sure it was worth all the heartache!

PigletJohn Sun 24-Feb-13 14:25:02

count the number of flashes (e.g. flash, flash, flash, pause, flash, flash, flash, is three), and look in the washer instructions. Modern machines often self-diagnose and flash to indicate the problem. If you have lost the instructions you can download it from the manufacturer's website but you will need the model number.

Have you cleaned the machine filter recently to remove the socks, bra wires and loose change? Probably isn't that though.

It is such a coincidence that I would suspect the plumbing is not providing enough water. If you look under the sink you will probably see the plastic filling hose attaching to a service valve. If so, is it on the same pipe that feeds the sink tap? Does the sink tap flow OK? Are all the valves you can find open?

btw measure the water flow into a bucket or washing-up bowl to verify that it really is as high as 24 litres per minute - that is unusually high for an old house.

Worried345 Sun 24-Feb-13 14:06:05

Many thanks again, PigletJohn. I wish I'd been taught all this kind of thing at school rather than stuff that I've never needed to know throughout the rest of my life!

No it's not a modern house: it's 1930s. I can't see anything blue or black plastic near what I think is the incoming water main/stopcock, although I'm not 100% sure that this is the stopcock/water main. There just seems to be a white painted pipe and an old fashioned copper/metal looking tap.

Still don't understand why the washing machine isn't working? As far as I know, the boiler man didn't turn off any valves at all when he was here and the taps and loos are all working, although the water pressure at the cold water tap to fill the bath seems to be less than usual. He just disconnected or put off the boiler itself.

I can't access the loft (no ladder) to look at the water tank and check if it's empty. Do they not just refill once water is used?

The washing machine definitely only has one cold water pipe coming down from ceiling to fill it. When I start any kind of cycle, some of the cycles do elicit a few gushes of water sporadically but then that stops and the start button flashes and nothing further happens.

Can't get out to look for a laundrettes without having to take the children, who will protest hugely. Not sure where there's a laundrette round here nor opening times. Will have to think what to do for the best.

I've got 3 electric conductor heaters purchased on Friday but that means only 3 rooms can be warmed and as soon as you put them off, the rooms cool down rapidly. Won't get time to get out to Tescos as I'm working all next week, including some evenings, except the window of time that the man comes to try to fix the immersion heater tomorrow - unless I can force the DCs to go there as well as a launderettes today.

Thanks for the links for heaters and electric blankets. Wearing so many clothes to sleep in that it's not really a problem. The main issue today is not having a working washing machine and the thought of having to get up tomorrow at 4.45am to heat enough water for our baths before school run and work!

PigletJohn Sun 24-Feb-13 13:22:11
PigletJohn Sun 24-Feb-13 13:09:21

1) Flow of water from kitchen tap sounds very good. I calculate you are getting about 24litres per minute, which is plenty. Have you got a fairly modern house with a blue or black plastic incoming water main up to your stopcock?

2) If you don't have a combi boiler, the usual setup is to have a well-insulated hot water cylinder connected to the boiler with well-insulated pipes. Most of the time the gas boiler will heat the water. Gas is much cheaper than electricity and modern condensing gas boilers are very efficient. A modern boiler can nominally heat a modern cylinder in 20 minutes (though in practice it is usually longer, especially in winter when the incoming water is very cold). When the boiler is out of action, there is usually an electric immersion heater in the cylinder, which will also heat it, though much more slowly as gas boilers are very powerful.

3) If the washing machine is not filling, it should not matter that you have a fault with your boiler. I think, unless it is a coincidence, that you might have turned off too many valves and the water is not getting through. When a boiler breaks down, unless it is leaking, you don't need to turn any of the plumbing off. The water will continue to flow, but it will be cold. You can switch off the boiler at its programmer or electrical switch if you want. If the washer has stopped mid-cycle, you can turn the knob to off, switch off or unplug it, after about a minute the door will unlock and you can take the stuff to the laundrette. But that might not be necessary. Are all the other hot and cold taps in the house running, WC cisterns filling, cold tank in the loft filling? The loft cold tank usually contains about enough water for one bath, so if you have drained it, and taps and pipes fed from the tank will now be empty.

I don't know how short money is, but you might like to get an electric oil-filled radiator from Tesco or somewhere, and see if their electric blankets have been reduced yet for the end-of-winter clearance. Oil filled radiators are safer than ordinary convectors as there is no red-hot element and they can't cause burns or fires.

Worried345 Sun 24-Feb-13 11:01:07

PigletJohn - you're extremely helpful! Thank you!

I've just timed the flow of water from the kitchen tap and the outside tap. The kitchen tap gives 1 litre per 2.5 seconds (not totally accurate as don't have large enough container really) and the outside tap was about 1 litre in 3 seconds.

What does that indicate please?

We have an upstairs bathroom and a downstairs shower room BTW and I was planning (before saga with boiler) to get a third shower room put in downstairs this year.

If you don't have a combi boiler, does that mean that all hot water is heated by an immersion heater only and if so, won't that take ages to heat up every day? However, I can see massive advantgaes to having 2 separate systems if a new boiler packed in again. It took 55 minutes to boil enough kettles for a lukewarm bath this morning - that I used last!

Distaster has struck with the washing machine. I put on a wash as it does indeed only have cold water feed. However, the water going in was slow and sporadic and then stopped and the on light flashed and the whole wash stopped. I started it all over again on a cold quick wash - again - it just stopped. Restarted on normal wash (it's all the white shirts and stuff for DCs school tomorrow!) and it did the same thing.

Will this be related to the lack of circulating hot water in the house? Could it be that the 1 hr of using water to boil kettles, drained part of the water system and there's nothing left for the washing machine?

I've tried just leaving it and seeing if it fills slowly and restarts but it doesn't seem to be doing this and I suspect that the machine itself has some mechanism that puts it off when the timing of water infill is 'wrong' or something?

Now I can't open the washing machine door and access the wet dirty laundry and DCs have no shirts for school. This isn't going v well today and the house is icy cold!

Any further advice is HUGELY appreciated!

PigletJohn Fri 22-Feb-13 12:52:40

(about immersion heaters, I just asked the makers, and they have stopped making the dual-element ones. Just get an Incalloy one as it will last longer than plain copper. The longer it is, the more hot water it will make as it will go nearer the bottom of the cylinder, which is important, if you want a bath. It will take quite some time, hence my suggestion of a timer so it can come on in advance of need. A well-insulated cylinder and pipes does not lose much heat.

MumVsKids Fri 22-Feb-13 00:44:44

We've just bought a 24kw Vaillant ecotech24 for £1128 inc vat, and that includes 7 rads, 7 trvs, 2 lock shields, inhibitor and fernox plus yards and rads of plastic 15mm pipe.
See previous link to www.mrcentralheating.co.uk

DH is gas safe and installing, along with decommissioning and removal of old system for grand total of £3650 for our landlord which includes everything.

PigletJohn Thu 21-Feb-13 23:38:21
PigletJohn Thu 21-Feb-13 22:51:32

btw you mentioned laundry piling up.

Assuming you have a working washing machine, even it has Hot and Cold fill, it will work OK if the water is cold, it will just take a bit longer to heat it up. Dishwasher will work fine as it too heats cold water.

PigletJohn Thu 21-Feb-13 22:47:51

I am guessing you just have one bathroom and no additional shower room? In which case a combi may do. But first, fill a bucket at the kitchen cold tap, time it, and calculate how many litres per minute it delivers (this is important for a combi). Also measure it at the garden tap if you have one, and report back.

If you can get the immersion heater fixed, and a few electric heaters (and preferably an electric blanket in the end-of winter reductions from Tesco or Aldi), the pressure will be off as soon as the weather improves, and you would find it difficult to get a new boiler fitted any sooner, so don't be rushed.

As expected, all the good heating people will be rushed off their feet at this time of year. Availability, and prices, will improve as soon as it gets warmer.

If by any chance you have to get a new immersion heater, ask for a dual-element Incalloy-sheathed one (they will know what this means) of the maximum length that will fit your cylinder (probablty about 30 inches) and for an Immersion Heater Timer to be fitted, with the clockwork wheel, not an electronic one.

Old plumbers are more skilled in removing old immersion heaters, which are often seized in place, without damaging the cylinder.

The two most popular good-quality mass-market brands of boiler are Worcester-Bosch and Vaillant. I have a Viessmann which IMO is a bit better and has a long guarantee, but they are less common, so be sure to have an Approved Installer as listed on their website. You can get a cheap boiler for about half the price, if you happen to want a cheap boiler.

You can get a combi or a regular (heat only) boiler, it will not make much difference to the cost of installation or running. For some reason, a lot of people think that if you get a new boiler, it has to be a combi. This is not true. As you have an old, open-vented system, it is pretty well essential that you have it powerflushed, and a system filter fitted, before the new boiler is connected to the dirty pipes. Always ask if this is included in any quotations you receive. If not it will cost £hundreds extra. You can get a boiler quote from BG, or any other supplier of Electricity or Gas. Generally speaking it will be more expensive than a local independent, but you can be 100% confident they will not go bust or run off with your money, and if you have a complaint they will (eventually) deal with it.

Combis are more complicated and go wrong more often than regular boilers.

As you have noticed, if you have a hot water cylinder with a working immersion heater, you can still have hot water even if the boiler is broken. This does not apply with combis. It is very upsetting that your immersion heater is not working, because it would have been a boon to you.

Worried345 Thu 21-Feb-13 21:17:02

Thanks Ginger. We don't have time to go to a local leisure centre as I work daytimes and some evenings and weekends. No near neighbour or friend who can help either.

Bad news is that the boiler can't be fixed as it's too old for a necessary spare part. Cost over £100 just to find this out today. Getting someone back on Monday to see if they can reconnect immersion heater so we can get hot water. Hope this works - but it'll be yet more money and then....

Got to start getting estimates for a new boiler which I think is going to be a massive expense. The firm I'm currently using can't even do an estimate for about a month as their estimate guy is off sick. So I'll have to look elsewhere.

It could be months, from what they said, to actually get estimates, order boiler and arrange the time - with maybe at least a week off work for me - to get a new boiler put it! I absolutely can't take any more time off work either and don't have time to start calling round companies and arranging for people to come out and do estimates - but it'll have to be done.

Meanwhile, bought a couple of convector heaters so that we can at least warm up 2 rooms. It's already well below freezing tonight. Guess I'll be wearing my coat to bed! Still not recovered from pneumonia either. Why do these things happen at the worst possible time?

Regarding boilers, any recommendations as to what to go for?

GingerPCatt Thu 21-Feb-13 11:17:58

Worried, I'm no help with a boiler but is there a leisure centre or something similar nearby where you and the family could have a hot shower? When our boiler broke, I went swimming everyday just for the shower. Also get a little electric heater so at least you can be warm(ish) in one room. Hot water bottles/heating pads are great to warm up the bed. Do you have a friend or neighbor where you could wash up and do essential laundry?

Worried345 Thu 21-Feb-13 11:09:07

Thanks for all the input. I'm now waiting for the heating service guy to call - anytime till 3pm today - and desperately hoping he fix the boiler straightaway and also reconnect the immersion heater.

Only one day without hot water and everythins becomes SO much more difficult! Was up at 4.45am boiling kettles to heat bath water that we all used, one after another. Not had time to start handwashing dirty dishes that can't be put in dishwasher and the laundry is already mounting up. Sitting in 3 fleeces and a coats and scarf!

Hope we soon get hotwater at the very least!

PigletJohn Wed 20-Feb-13 23:33:50

"You can buy boilers from just over £400 inc vat"

And you can buy donkey burgers at 99p for 8.

I wouldn't.

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