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Mr. Miyagi

Did Your Central Heating Break Down In The Big Freeze? Here's Why

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Did your central heating break down in the big freeze? Here's why...

In cold weather, the pipe that takes waste water from the back of the condensing boiler - which isn’t there in a normal boiler - freezes solid, shutting down the system.

Five years ago, New Labour heralded them as the modern, clean and green way to heat your house. As a result, today there are already eight million ‘condensing boilers’ in homes across Britain. In fact, since 2005 it is illegal to fit any other kind.

At the time, John Prescott claimed they would massively reduce your carbon footprint and slash your fuel bills. As a result, every year some 1.2 million old-style ‘dirty’ boilers are scrapped in Britain and replaced by this wondrous new variety.

However, the recent cold snap has revealed a major problem with them. Tens of thousands of people found themselves shivering as their shiny new boilers cut out without warning.

British Gas is understood to have had 60,000 call-outs in Yorkshire alone. And the cost to call out a plumber? It can be between £200 to £300 on a bank holiday. And don’t forget about VAT.

‘We’ve had double the number of call-outs as in the same period last year,’ says Charlie Mullins, MD of Pimlico Plumbers in London, the country’s largest ­independent plumbing company.

‘It is a massive problem. Some customers were ready to move out because their condensing boilers broke. If I had a choice, I’d put in a non-condensing boiler every time.’

It’s all the more infuriating because the problem causing these breakdowns is so simple. In cold weather, the pipe that takes waste water from the back of the condensing boiler - which isn’t there in a normal boiler - freezes solid, shutting down the system and in many cases causing permanent damage.

But this problem is just one of many that have plagued this boiler design since they became popular in the Nineties. Many plumbers consider them to be little more than a multi-billion-pound con-trick.

In a regular boiler, the hot gases produced when the ­methane fuel is burned heat water for your ­radiators, dishwasher, taps and so on. But about 25 per cent of the heat vents out of the exhaust pipe in the form of hot steam and CO2.

In a condensing boiler, a condenser claws back much of the lost heat because as steam condenses into water, it feeds heat back into the system.

This can increase overall efficiency from 75 per cent to as much as 93 per cent, and reduce CO2 emissions - and your bills - by a commensurate amount. That, anyway, is the theory boiler-makers and ­politicians want you to believe.

In 2005, the then-deputy PM John Prescott drew up a masterplan to help Britain meet its CO2 emissions targets, as dictated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This involved a new law ordering that all new and replacement boilers fitted to British homes - some 1.4m annually - must from that date be of the condensing type.

A ‘boiler scrappage’ scheme followed in 2008, which offered people £400 towards the cost of a new condensing boiler if they replaced their old one - even if it was in perfect working order. Boiler manufacturers and plumbing and installation firms could hardly believe their luck.

An estimated eight million homes in Britain made the switch, often encouraged by persistent salesmen who produced an impressive-looking audit offering a seductive assessment of how much money you could save by switching to a new, ‘clean’ boiler.

But even ignoring the freezing pipe problem, it is clear that in most cases it makes no economic sense to scrap an old boiler that is still functioning.

For an average home, replacing even a very inefficient old model with the best new boiler on the market will, at most, save a couple of hundred pounds a year in gas bills.

That sounds good until you realise that at £2,000 for one of the better condensing models, a new one will take at least ten years to pay for itself.

And the problem is that these boilers simply do not last anything like ten years.

‘You might get 20 years out of one of the old ones,’ Charlie Mullins says, ‘but it is more like three to six years out of one of these new ones. In fact, if it goes wrong after four years, you are better off replacing a condensing boiler altogether because of the ­horrendous cost of the parts.

‘On the basis of efficiency, they certainly do not pay for themselves. It makes no sense to take out a working old boiler and replace it with a condensing one.’

man fixing boiler

If you have an old boiler, provided it is working properly and is serviced regularly, you are almost certainly better off keeping it until it is beyond economic repair.

That’s not something the enthusiastic salesmen will tell you. They also won’t tell you that those touted increases in efficiency are theoretical, often not matched in reality. These boilers rarely operate at ­maximum efficiency anyway.

Explained simply, the water returning from your radiators back to the boiler has to be below 55c for the condenser to condense the steam in the boiler into water. For most homes using standard radiators, this will probably not be the case - the returning water might be as hot as 65c, especially when the radiators are turned up in cold weather.

One impractical ‘fix’ would be to fit oversized radiators, which can warm the room to the same degree despite being slightly cooler.

Another solution would be to fit the latest radiant heating technologies, using pipes embedded in walls and floors. But fitting these hi-tech systems, which are fairly common on the Continent but rare in Britain, would cost thousands of pounds for most homes.

The problems don’t stop there either. The condensed water vapour produced in the new boilers is slightly acidic (as it contains dissolved nitrogen and sulphur oxides), which inevitably causes corrosion of the delicate boiler components and also leads to breakdowns.

So the message is clear: if you have an old boiler, provided it is working properly and is serviced regularly, you are almost certainly better off keeping it until it is beyond economic repair. Parts will be cheaper, it will be less likely to break down and there is no danger of it stalling on the coldest night of the year.

If you’re worried about your carbon footprint, just remember that the touted efficiency savings are theoretical figures and might not reflect reality. In a well-designed, well-insulated new home that incorporates the ­latest heating technology, a condensing boiler might be more efficient.

But most of us do not live in such homes - we have poor insulation and ageing pipes and radiators. Remember, also, that manufacturing each new boiler has a ‘carbon cost’ in itself that must be ‘paid back’ by the new boiler.

There is no doubt that the great switch to condensing boilers was motivated by the best intentions. But that’s small consolation if you find yourself shivering in a freezing house this winter, wondering when the plumber is going to arrive.

daily mail link

The chickens are coming home to roost with all this Co2 garbage that the warmists have been peddling for years.

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daily mail link

The chickens are coming home to roost with all this Co2 garbage that the warmists have been peddling for years.

CO2 argument not withstanding, combi boilers are rubbish, I had one fitted when we had an extension few years ago, replaced a perfectly good two year old traditional boiler with hot water tank, very poor system, breaks down on an annual basis, wast pipe freezes solid every time the temperature drops, simply not good, only reliable thing about it is the digital display that tells you it needs a service/attention. This is a £3K Worchester boiler (fitted). Would not recommend to anyone.

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Defrost the pipe yourself for nowt...

well the cost of a couple of kettles of water maybe... (Someone I know did it with a hairdryer)

Good idea but it will just freeze up again. I hate to think what damage it's doing to the boiler if the condensate can't escape.

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Good idea but it will just freeze up again. I hate to think what damage it's doing to the boiler if the condensate can't escape.

None. The boiler shuts itself down.

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If you include the extra manufacturing cost, the extra costs of servicing - (it is necessary to have a seal replaced annually on my Vaillant boiler or it suffers melt down) , then these boilers are far less efficient than an old style boiler. My last boiler went 30 years with only one visit from a gas engineer. This Vaillant crap has failed 3 times in 4 years, spare parts cost a fortune.

IF YOU HAVE A BOILER THAT WORKS DO NOT REPLACE IT

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So why don't these new boilers just come with the required cladding to ensure this doesn't happen ?

Or is it a cunning plan by the companies to ensure lots of profitable 'emergency' call outs....

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Got one of them. I've had no problems with it, and not heating up a whole tank of water that I may use a completely unpredictable amount of (ranging from all and needing more to none) seems a perfectly sensible thing to do. If you've got problems then it sounds like shoddy maintainance, installation, or manufacturing, not the idea, which is good. I think people are (a) trying to find any excuse to have a go at something that isn't delightfuly inefficient, just because "CO2" gets mentioned, and (B) confusing problems due to most stuff being shoddily made and doesn't last these days with the basic idea.

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CO2 argument not withstanding, combi boilers are rubbish, I had one fitted when we had an extension few years ago, replaced a perfectly good two year old traditional boiler with hot water tank, very poor system, breaks down on an annual basis, wast pipe freezes solid every time the temperature drops, simply not good, only reliable thing about it is the digital display that tells you it needs a service/attention. This is a £3K Worchester boiler (fitted). Would not recommend to anyone.

Combi boiler is not the same thing as condensing boiler (although combi boilers are also condensing boilers these days, but not all condensing boilers are combi boilers).

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daily mail link

The chickens are coming home to roost with all this Co2 garbage that the warmists have been peddling for years.

This has far more to do with cowboys installing the boilers. The cowboys take the condensate drain straight through the wall and to the nearest outside drain - it is no surprise that it freezes up. The proper way to do it is to run the condensate drain to the internal drain. Then it won't freeze up. Ours didn't even on the night temperatures dropped to -16.

For what it's worth, since replacing our non condensing boiler with a (non-combi) condensing boiler our gas usage has dropped by about 30-40% - even in the cold weather, based on the same time last year.

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I've had a condenser boiler for 4 years not had any major problems with it apart from the timer needed replacing.

Reading the above it just appears to be a sales pitch to ensure you take out BG cover or something. One of our local shops offers boilers with 10 year warranties.

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So why don't these new boilers just come with the required cladding to ensure this doesn't happen ?

Or is it a cunning plan by the companies to ensure lots of profitable 'emergency' call outs....

If they were plumbed properly this wouldnt be an issue full stop. As someone else said lagging would add extra protection as well.

This is just another w'nk mail story for the masses to blame the Green Movement for everything.

Rallying against condensing boilers has parallels with Napoleons;

Sail into the wind and light a bonfire underneath the deck of the ship - I'll hear no such nonsense :lol:

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Had one of these condensing boilers fitted to a new build I rented.

Always leaked water somewhere.

Plumbers couldnt track down where the leak was coming from.

Also found after about 20mins in the shower, it would suddenly cut out for anything from a few minutes to five minutes leaving you no option but to endure the freezing cold water or get out. :angry:

The design you are describing is a combi boiler not a condensing. However some combi boilers are decribed as combi - condensing in reference to their high efficiency rating.

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Should also have added my boiler is outside in the old toilet, temps have been down to around -10 and I've had no issues with it. However the boiler has been on 24/7 so I don't know if that has had any effect.

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Should also have added my boiler is outside in the old toilet, temps have been down to around -10 and I've had no issues with it. However the boiler has been on 24/7 so I don't know if that has had any effect.

Many modern boilers have frost stat protection so on the temperature of the boiler core dropping below 5 degrees C they automatically start circulating water / start up to protect the boiler.

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[quote name=Oh Well :(' timestamp='1293625084' post='2835883]

If you include the extra manufacturing cost, the extra costs of servicing - (it is necessary to have a seal replaced annually on my Vaillant boiler or it suffers melt down) , then these boilers are far less efficient than an old style boiler. My last boiler went 30 years with only one visit from a gas engineer. This Vaillant crap has failed 3 times in 4 years, spare parts cost a fortune.

IF YOU HAVE A BOILER THAT WORKS DO NOT REPLACE IT

Thank you now I won't..........similar to my old washing machine that lasted 12 years, the new one has had to be repaired three times in the first 12 months, it was replaced and yesterday the replacement went pop after only 18 months, I think it is the circuit board....I give up, nothing is of quality anymore, so I will most certainly stick with my reliable boiler...better the devil you know. ;)

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Thank you now I won't..........similar to my old washing machine that lasted 12 years, the new one has had to be repaired three times in the first 12 months, it was replaced and yesterday the replacement went pop after only 18 months, I think it is the circuit board....I give up, nothing is of quality anymore, so I will most certainly stick with my reliable boiler...better the devil you know. ;)

http://www.iseappliances.co.uk/ise/

Depends on what you are prepared to pay, these come with 10 year warranties for both the washing machines and dryers. Had ours for nearly 2 years now and no problems. Allegedly they are designed so that any repair man can fix them. My washing machine cost about £850 I think. Read reviews stating cheapo washing machines cut costs with poor parts, a lot of which are designed to last just until the warranty expires.

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That really is a stupid article. Here's the Guardian's take on the same thing a couple of days ago(right down to having (different) quotes from the same plumber): http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/27/condensing-boilers-freeze-uk .

Helpfully they tell you that it's usually down to a frozen condensate pipe and tell you how to unfreeze it yourself.

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http://www.iseappliances.co.uk/ise/

Depends on what you are prepared to pay, these come with 10 year warranties for both the washing machines and dryers. Had ours for nearly 2 years now and no problems. Allegedly they are designed so that any repair man can fix them. My washing machine cost about £850 I think. Read reviews stating cheapo washing machines cut costs with poor parts, a lot of which are designed to last just until the warranty expires.

Thank you for that...ise looks a very good reliable machine like mieli, why can't we in the UK make quality made to last products, the machine in question is an indesit/hotpoint never again, I won't touch them again with a barge pole....I was looking at a German made blomberg that comes with a three year parts a labour guarantee, they must at least have enough faith in its robustness to offer that, so that gives me some faith in them, I think they also make beko that are given good reviews in the which report. ;)

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Thank you for that...ise looks a very good reliable machine like mieli, why can't we in the UK make quality made to last products, the machine in question is an indesit/hotpoint never again, I won't touch them again with a barge pole....I was looking at a German made blomberg that comes with a three year parts a labour guarantee, they must at least have enough faith in its robustness to offer that, so that gives me some faith in them, I think they also make beko that are given good reviews in the which report. ;)

ISE machines are made in the UK.

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...Oh, said Sweden on their above website. ;)

Apologies, the about page and the home page implies that they were made in the UK. But you are right hidden on the products page it says made in Sweden.

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We used to have an utterly reliable boiler that came with the house. Every autumn I would hoover the dust out of the bottom of it, occasionally replace the thermocouple, and it would work. Then we got some new fangled condensing thing as part of a kitchen refit. I don't notice any difference in gas bills, but I notice the number of call outs to fix the sodding boiler - which works well for about 6 months, then starts making god awful noises and turning itself off. The little man comes out, charges £200, and it works for another 6 months or so. I'd rather have the higher gas bills.

Our new place has a wood fired rayburn - the only electrics in there are the central heating pump. It has been there for 20 years, is in perfect condition, and will probably last for another 20 years.

Domestic appliances....there is a simple inflation issue in there. Back when I was a child, a clothes washer was about £200, filling up the car was £10 and a decent meal out was about £10 a head. These days we expect the washing machine to still cost £200, while all the rest has gone up fivefold. I've recently dropped a grand on a Miele - it has a 10 year warranty, uses chuff all power and will probably be handed down to my children when I'm gone.

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A huge brand name ownership now is Electrolux. Their after sales support sucks. Wouldn't touch any of their brands.

Unfortunately, additionally, most "Reputable" makes of white goods are now manufactured in Turkey. I have gone away from Bosch for that very reason.

In the end went for a Siemens: superb German engineering and finish and made in Germany.

Came also with their own 5 year inclusive warranty.

That's the other problem with white goods and similar: just one insurer provides almost every other make's extended warranty: and despite the simple reality that each year their risk diminishes ('Cos they will only pay a reduced total amount as each year passes), they want to charge precisely the same monthly premium over the whole term!

Boilers: Condensing boilers are only actually as efficient as claimed when working flat out. To offset this weakness, installers usually specify a much smaller unit (In terms of maximum heat energy output) and de-spec the system (Smaller rads etc) to make the boiler function as near as 100% of time as possible.

So it wears out more quickly.

Additionally, these things are covered with all sorts of detectors and controls: which fail, boringly and monotonously .

Perhaps worse, to properly diagnose faults an engineer needs considerable technical expertise and a compatible laptop/notebook.

A decent condensing boiler needs a purpose designed central heating system: which includes a number of detectors, flow and temperature controls, zoning, valves and decent digital thermostats and complex programmer/controller.

Simply whacking a new condensing boiler into a house and removing the gravity supply tank and hot water storage tank doesn't hack it.

Furthermore, one needs a properly qualified heating engineer as against Joe the Plumber to design the system properly in the first place.

Fat Five Chins Prescott and the rest of the Manic Carbon Gang dream up these whizzy ideas with no wee clue what they are about.

Politicians and their sycophants couldn't manage their way out of a soaking wet brown paper bag.

:rolleyes:

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  • 285 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

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