Everything’s freezing this winter, including the boiler pipe

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With temperatures in Britain taking another dip this week, the coldest winter for 100 years is making its presence felt.

A knock-on effect of these sub-zero temperatures is the vast number of people who have experienced problems with their boilers.

Call-outs to npower soared by 80 per cent and the npower hometeam is issuing advice to prevent pipes from freezing and overworked boilers from malfunctioning.

Condensing boilers are now standard in the UK, working 10 to 20 per cent more efficiently than the regular non-condensing models. However, the process by which waste gases are converted into water can leave systems prone to freezing, which can cause a breakdown.

Joan Coe, marketing manager for npower hometeam, says: “This winter has been particularly bad for boiler breakdowns as people are running their boilers at full capacity for longer periods of time, which often exposes an underlying problem. Here are npower’s tips on how to maintain a condensing boiler:

1. Preventing a freeze up

The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) states that temporarily setting the heating timer/room thermostat to continuous is one way to prevent the condensate pipe from freezing up.

During cold weather it is often more efficient to keep your heating on low constantly, rather than running it at full capacity at intervals throughout the day. This keeps the system at a constant warm temperature and prevents freezing.

2. Thawing a condensate pipe

If it’s too late to implement our first tip, here’s what to do. If the temperature outside is below freezing and your condensing boiler is not working, or is displaying an error message or flashing light, then it is possible your condensate pipe is frozen.

Locate the condensate pipe (often found externally) and thaw it by placing a hot water bottle on the pipe or pouring warm water on the pipe. Then simply reset your boiler.

3. Long-term solutions

If you are concerned that your condensate pipe is liable to freezing frequently, then it might be possible to relocate the pipe internally. You could also have your condensate pipe replaced with one that is of a wider diameter, as this will also reduce the chances of it freezing. Try installing lagging round the pipe to insulate it; a professional can fit this for you or can purchase a kit from a DIY or home improvement store.

4. Keeping your boiler maintained

Ensure your boiler is properly maintained throughout the year to avoid encountering problems during the winter when you need it most. An annual service will ensure your boiler is operating both efficiently and safely.

Joan Coe adds: “If customers experience a boiler breakdown caused by a frozen condensate pipe, they can call us and we will talk them through the measures above to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

“If, however, the problem persists we will then send out an engineer to get the boiler up and running. By following these simple tips and being more informed about how condensing boilers work, we hope that homeowners will be better prepared should they find themselves in this situation in the future.”

Another tip is to try Googling the make of your boiler and problems, eg “Worcester boiler and problems”. There are lots of forums offering advice and you may find what you need there.

npower, along with other companies, offer boiler and heating care service deals too. npower’s costs £10.50 a month, but if you don’t call them for a year, they return 50 per cent of the annual cost if you take gas and elecriticty from them. Tel: 0800 2944 989 or visit www.npower.com/hometeam. For other deals check sites such as www.moneysavingexpert.comand www.moneysupermarket.com