Preparing Your Heating System for Winter


Now that the day light hours are shortening and the leaves on the trees starting to fall, home-owners’ thoughts naturally turn to the prospect of re-starting the central heating system.

The temptation can often be to delay the switch on for as long as possible to save money. Some home-owners may consider waiting until a good early morning frost makes the prospect of getting out of a warm bed so un-appealing that turning on the heating remains the only option.

However, leaving the central heating switch-on until winter starts to bite can leave home-owners vulnerable to unexpected problems with the system at a time when the heating is needed the most.

There is much to recommend planning a schedule of maintenance and service procedures well in advance of the first cold snap.

Although not obligatory for home-owners, an annual boiler service may be a condition of a boiler warranty agreement.  Autumn is good time to get the Gas Safe registered engineer out to service and check over the boiler.

Some boiler checks can be undertaken regularly by the householder, such as checking for a crisp blue pilot light if the boiler has one. Maintaining an adequate boiler operating pressure of around 1.5 bar can be achieved by activating the valves at the base of the boiler. It is important to turn these valves off again once the pressure dial on the boiler reads the correct operating pressure.

Starting up the central heating well before the first frosts are expected will help to identify other problems that may appear after the summer of inactivity.

Thermostats and timers will need re-setting to account for winter conditions.

Electrical components may need turning on at isolation switches.

Occasionally pumps that have been inactive for a period may need the gentle persuasion of a sharp tap with a hammer to dislodge resistance caused by debris.

During first operation, radiators should be carefully checked by running a hand over them. Radiators that are cold at the top may need bleeding. Radiators that feel cold to the touch at the base may have developed an accumulation of sludge and debris.

When the central heating is not operating during the summer months, particles normally held in suspension in circulating radiator fluids, settle out and congregate at the bottom of pumps, pipes and radiators. These generally need removing by power flushing. Regular power flushing will help to prevent this seasonal problem.

Now is also a good time to check the mains water stopcock to ensure that if a winter water emergency arises, the stopcock is free and easy to operate.

Checking the insulation on an external condensate draining pipe of a gas condensing boiler is an absolute necessity. Any deteriorated insulation lagging should be replaced. A frozen condensate pipe will prevent a condensing boiler from operating.

Around the home, other early winter precautionary checks can prevent problems during the colder months.

One of the benefits of good home insulation is that domestic accommodation has benefited by preventing warm air from escaping via drafts and by conduction through walls, floors and roof spaces.

This, however, can create other problems that now need addressing.

Many water service pipes run up into the loft spaces to facilitate good gravity feed to outlets. These pipes are often located above the generous loft insulation layer and if not properly insulated they are vulnerable to frost damage. A burst pipe in the loft can cause horrendous damage to property and contents. The lagging on these pipes should be checked annually, as should the lagging and insulating jackets on water storage tanks that may also be located in the loft.

With home insulation comes a problem with condensation. Autumn is a good time to check that external air vents are not obstructed with leaves and other debris. Air vents in bathrooms should be checked for blocked meshes. Some windows have mesh ventilation panels, or trickle vents, incorporated into the frames. These panels should be in the open position for winter and the mesh clear of debris.

External drain pipe-work that facilitates drainage from washing machines and dishwashers should be checked for blockages and insulated. Blockages in theses pipes caused by frost or debris can result in the appliances pumping drainage water into their surroundings causing considerable water damage.

External taps and water pipe-work should be either drained if they are not likely to be used, or sufficiently insulated against frost.

Although installing double-glazing is a good insulation practice, some period properties are unable to install it due to listing or other practical considerations. In any property without double-glazing, thick heavy curtains, specifically made for winter use can replace light, airy summer ones. Such winter curtains are very efficient at insulating cold windows and reducing cold drafts.

Do not forget to check the working operation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Fitting new batteries annually where required and replacing the appliances in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations, usually every five to ten years.

It can be a good idea to keep a list of emergency plumbing and heating contact telephone numbers at hand, perhaps pinned to the kitchen wall.

It is also good practice to ensure an emergency back-up of torches, electric heating appliances, tinned foodstuffs and a fully charged mobile phone are available should the need arise.

By adopting a pre-winter routine check and review of precautions, and the early trial running of appliances, the household can eliminate most of the potential problems before they occur.

This can prevent considerable distress and damage from emergency situations that could easily be avoided.





Fixing a Leaking Radiator



A leaking radiator may create a myriad of problems and can often be the cause of boiler operating inefficiencies and system pressure issues.

Inconspicuous leaks from radiators and fittings can cause damage to carpets and floorboards and create damp and mould problems in surrounding areas.

Where tiny leaks are suspected or observed, a sealant treatment can be purchased which may provide a temporary solution to the problem.

The sealant is a solution which is added to an open vented central heating system expansion and feeder tank in the loft, or into a sealed system via the boiler loop or a radiator.

Some sealant products are not suitable for use in sealed or pressurised systems so care should be taken to ensure that the appropriate treatment is purchased.

It should also be kept in mind that some boiler warranties can be invalidated by the addition of treatments that are not specifically approved by the boiler manufacturer.

Leaks in the body of the radiator itself cannot be effectively repaired and the only solution to a leaking radiator is its replacement.

Where inhibitors have not been added to a central heating system, the radiators become particularly vulnerable to corrosion. Corrosion can be caused by many chemical processes but electromagnetic fields can cause pitting within the radiator shell. This is because modern radiators are constructed from pressed steel. This is connected to the central heating system by copper and brass fittings. The oxygen in the central heating water creates an electromagnetic field between the two metals causing the steel to corrode.

Radiators supplied by inhibitor maintained systems can last for many years. Where inhibitor is excluded, the radiators could need replacing completely every five to eight years.

On pipe-work and fittings supplying the radiator, a piece of tissue can be used to try to locate a leak. First, dry the area thoroughly with an absorbent cloth. The tissue should then be carefully dabbed onto to the suspect areas and where the tissue comes away damp the location can be identified.

Care should be taken to identify correctly where the water is coming from. Occasionally on a radiator valve, water may pool on the union nut directing attention to a potential leak from the coupling. However, the actual leak may stem from the radiator valve itself.

Where a leak is suspected of coming from the radiator valve, the screw on top of the tap should removed allowing the tap to be lifted off. This will reveal the central spindle and the valve housing. The valve housing itself is sealed and is usually not repairable or replaceable without draining down the system. At the top of the valve housing is a hexagonal nut, which should be removed.

At this point if water has been leaking up the spindle its presence will be evident.

It is possible to re-pack the area around the failed internal washer by gently pushing a length of rolled up PTFE tape around the spindle and then poking it down into the base with a bradawl.

The amount required is judged by trial and error but it must not impede the ability of replacing the hexagonal nut. The replaced nut must not be tightened too much or it will make the operation of the spindle and tap difficult.

Modern central heating systems tend to use compression fittings to join the heating flow and return pipes to the radiator. If one of these fittings is leaking, it may be possible to remedy it by tightening the attachment nut with a spanner carefully by a quarter of a turn. This will compress old PTFE tape and the internal olive slightly and hopefully remedy the problem.

If that procedure fails to prevent the leak, it will be necessary to drain down the radiator or the entire system if the radiator cannot be isolated.

When working on areas where radiator fluids may spill out it essential to protect carpets and floorings from contamination. Usually the residual fluids contain the sludge material, which will permanently stain anything it comes into contact with. It is advisable to have suitable containers on hand ready to collect any unexpected gushes of radiator fluids, particularly where the opening of the bleed valve may have been omitted.

The suspect compression fitting can then be dismantled, cleaned and the old olive removed and replaced. If the old olive stubbornly refuses to be prised from the pipe-work, it can be carefully removed with a junior hacksaw by cutting at a suitable angle.

When attaching the new olive it is good practice to smear some silicon sealant or PTFE tape around the olive prior to final fixing.

The threaded parts of the pipe-work should be thoroughly cleaned and PTFE tape wrapped around the pipe thread. The fitting can be re-attached to the radiator and the system re-filled and operated.

Occasionally, a leak may occur due to failed ‘O’ rings in the lock shield valve. These can be replaced by accessing the internal spindle.

If the central heating system drain valve is leaking, the area will need to be isolated or the system drained down. The spindle can then be removed with a spanner and the washer at the end replaced. The replacement washer should be made of fibre. Rubber washers are prone to deterioration due to extensive contact with the hot central heating fluids.

When repairs have been completed, the system can be re-filled, not forgetting to include inhibitor at the required concentration. Radiators will need bleeding to release air in the system.

After any plumbing and maintenance operation, the system should be monitored for any further leaks or potential problems.



Problems with Central Heating Pumps


With the onset of autumn and the joys of a central heating free summer starting to wane, attention naturally turns to the impending operation of the dormant radiators.

It probably goes without saying that checking the heating system over a few weeks before it is likely to be used is a wise precaution. Too often, when a sudden drop in the outside temperature calls for the need for background heat in the home, a problem with the central heating system is discovered. A panic ensues and a costly engineer call-out is needed to fix the problem.

An early preliminary check will highlight any issues and provide time for a considered analysis of a problem should one be found.

A number of problems that arise with central heating systems can be tracked down to the pump. Pumping hot water can be a demanding task for the pump, especially where the system has been neglected and a build of sludge has developed. This abrasive substance can seriously damage the pump’s impellor.

Where a pump problem is suspected there will be indicators that can help resolve issues. A first check should be the thermostat. If the thermostat is not set correctly or is faulty, it may be the case that the boiler and pump are not receiving instructions to operate. Turning the thermostat to its lowest setting should make the boiler and pump operate.

Occasionally, a boiler will be operating normally and the upstairs radiators will be hot. However, the radiators downstairs may be cool or cold. This can be a good indicator of an issue with the pump.

Where all indicators suggest a pump problem, the pump should be located and examined.

First, check that the pump is actually turned on. Sometimes the main switch can be inadvertently turned off. A red power indicator is always a useful addition to the socket. Check RCD’s and the fuse. If these are not the issue, turn your attentions back to the pump.

Start by cautiously touching the pump. The temperature of the pump housing can give a reasonable indication of a likely issue. A cold pump may be caused by an electrical problem. A very hot pump housing would suggest that the pump has either seized or is running dry. A warm to the touch pump housing coupled with a gentle vibration usually indicates that the pump is operating normally.

Although it might seem a little primitive, a non-operating pump can sometimes be jolted into activity by giving the top of the pump housing a sharp tap with a hammer. This will free any resistance caused by debris settling during a period of non-operation. Take care not to strike the electrical housing casing.

With older pumps, pumping pressure can be an issue. Most pumps have a pump pressure adjustment screw usually located on the electrics cover plate. Adjusting this may address low pump pressure issues, but these are often an indicator that the pump is coming to the end of its working life.

If the pump is very hot, it may need bleeding. The process is similar to bleeding a radiator. A great deal of care should be taken when working on a very hot pump. The internal cavities of the pump may be filled with scolding steam so precautions should be taken to protect hands from accidental burns. With the central heating on, locate the pump bleed screw usually located on the face area of the pump. Loosen this screw slowly by about a half turn and listen for air escaping. Be prepared for a small amount of hot water emerging as well.

If bleeding has not resolved the pump problem, the trouble could lie with a seized spindle. Turn the power to the pump off and carefully remove the pump bleed screw, taking great care not to lose it. There may be some black hot water escaping. Have some receptacle handy for this. A household dustpan is ideal for confined spaces. Remove any debris that might have accumulated. Insert a flat-headed screwdriver into the aperture and connect with the diagonal slot on the spindle head. It should turn quite freely, but if it is stuck, apply a moderate force to try to free it, take care not to strain the attached pipe-work. If it stubbornly refuses to turn, the pump has seized and will need replacing.

For suspected pump electrical issues, isolate the pump from the mains and unscrew the power connections cover plate. Check that the terminals are secure. If you have a voltmeter check that there is a circuit supplying the pump. Next, identify the white cylindrical capacitor. Be aware that this component may store an electrical charge. Check for any bulges or signs of brown fluid leakage. A faulty capacitor can be replaced easily. Replacements are readily available from electrical merchants. If all appears to be visually correct, take a careful sniff of the electrical compartment cover, and if practical, the electrical compartment. An acrid, electronic burning smell will indicate a pump that will need replacing.

Finally, unusual noises from the pump can indicate problems. A slight, high-pitched whishing sound that continues for a few seconds after the pump is turned off can suggest that the impellor has become detached from the spindle. This will require a new pump to be fitted.

A rattling sound when the pump operates could suggest that the pump is not securely attached to the fittings or that the electrical compartment cover is loose.

A gentle scrubbing sound indicates debris rubbing against the impellor.

A resonating groaning sound suggests that there is air in the system or that the system requires topping up with water.

Self-diagnosis of issues can solve many problems, and where the final resort requires the necessity of an engineer’s attention, the prior elimination of suspected faults can save time and money.








Effective Water Pipe Insulation

The loft has been insulated with a thick bed of fibre blanket. The walls are sandwiched with cavity wall insulation. Even the electricity supply is insulated.

Insulation acts as a barrier. It conserves and protects.

Domestic water pipes require insulation for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for installing water pipe insulation is as a protection from frost. Water Regulations require that all external domestic water service pipes and fittings are protected against the possibility of frost damage. This can be achieved by the addition of suitable insulation material and by giving careful consideration to the location and the competent installation of pipe-work.

Although external overflow pipes do not normally require insulation, condensate outlet pipes from condensing boilers certainly do. A frozen condensate pipe may prevent a condensing boiler from operating.

Where the installation of conventional insulation products may be problematic, possibly because of limited space, an alternative product is usually available.  Many plumbers merchants can supply self-regulating trace heating tape. This tape is wrapped around the pipe and automatically senses a drop in temperature. This causes the tape to operate producing a gentle heat, which prevents the pipe from freezing.

Although not an insulation material, it is effective at UK winter temperatures. However, it does require an electricity supply.

Water pipe insulation has a number of uses within the home.

Pipe insulation can reduce the risk of frost damage in winter where a property might be vacant for long periods. It should also be installed on exposed pipe-work that has been located above the insulation layer in a loft.

Exposed water pipes in garages, cellars and in unheated conservatories should also be insulated against frost.

It is worth bearing in mind that insulation does not totally protect pipe-work from frost. It only delays the penetrative qualities of freezing air from affecting the water in the pipe. Depending on the quality and thickness of the insulation layer, and the professionalism of the installation, frost will eventually freeze pipes.

The periodic flow of water through domestic pipe-work will help to prevent ice formation in insulated pipes. However, if the property is to remain unoccupied during the winter months, total drainage of the domestic water system should be considered.

Insulation can also be used within the property to prevent condensation forming on cold water pipes. Cold pipes attract moisture in the air. This condenses on the pipe-work and trickles downwards, where it collects on floorings and carpets causing staining and damp. It can also cause pipe-work corrosion and the formation of undesirable moulds and microbes. When purchasing insulation material to combat condensation on cold water pipes it is important to choose a type with a water vapour barrier coating.

Another important pipe network that will benefit from insulation is the hot water and central heating pipe-work. Where a combi boiler or a hot water storage cylinder is located some distance from the hot water outlets, a substantial amount of heat can be lost. Hot water remaining in pipes after a demand will dissipate heat into their surroundings. When a new demand is initiated, the now cooled water will have to exit the pipe-work before hot water from the source reaches the outlet. Insulating these pipes can help to address the problem and reduce boiler gas usage.

Central heating pipes running from the boiler to service radiator and other space heating appliances can lose considerable amounts of heat into their surroundings prior to reaching the appliances. As these heat-carrying pipes are located within the property, it has sometimes been thought that the lost heat was actually conserved within a well-insulated property. However, with the introduction of room thermostats and zone control systems, this is no longer a practical viewpoint.

Where hot water central heating pipes are not adequately insulated, the extra heat escaping from the pipes into the domestic environment cannot be controlled. Consequently, expensive domestic environment control systems become ineffective and subsequently the boiler fuel running costs are increased.

Insulation has an additional practical use as a safety device. Hot pipes can cause serious burns to children and vulnerable adults who may accidentally come into contact with them. Insulating hot pipes in locations where injury could occur is an important consideration.

Pipe insulation can also act as a protective layer to prevent pipe damage from crushing and as an effective sound insulator to prevent noise being carried and distributed along pipes.

When it comes to choosing a suitable pipe insulating material there are a plethora of different manufacturers and their products on the market. Generically they can be classified as either fibre or foam products.

Most fibre materials are specifically designed to be used in industrial environments. However, fibreglass and certain other mineral fibre products are suitable for use in domestic settings. When installed on cold water supply pipes, they may require the addition of a plastic coating to prevent condensation accumulating and dripping from the material.

There are also a number of spray foam materials that can be applied. These products have adhesive properties and harden to form a protective coating. They can be difficult to remove if the need arises. If a leak develops underneath these products, the source can be difficult to locate and access.

For domestic use, tubular sleeve foam materials are ideal. These often come pre-slit horizontally and are easy to install by slipping them over the pipes. They can be cut to size and manipulated to accommodate bends and junctions.

Flexible, closed cell, foam rubber sleeves are probably the best type available. Because they are of a closed cell formation, they prevent condensation from forming through capillary attraction and are highly efficient insulators. Some branded products also incorporate mould inhibiting compounds and are generally regarded as the most reliable, environmentally stable and durable products available. A two-metre length of such a product should cost around £5 – £6.

The effectiveness of insulation materials is influenced by the external environment and the circulating fluids in the pipe-work.  The diameter of the pipe is an important factor when choosing the appropriate insulation material. The smaller the pipe diameter, the greater the required insulation value of the insulation material. This is often referred to as the R-value. An R-value of at least four is considered an acceptable standard for most domestic requirements.

When installing pipe insulation it is important to ensure that the pipe is clean. The insulating material must be in direct contact with the pipe and once in place, the split tubes section joints should be glued with proprietary products or securely taped with duct tape. No gaps should be apparent. Cutting and manipulating the material should ensure that even the most complicated pipe layouts can be effectively insulated.

A well-insulated property with adequately insulated pipe-work will improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. Protection of pipe-work against frost will reduce the chances of frozen pipes in winter, helping to prevent an interruption to supply and the consequences of water damage from burst pipes. It is also important to consider the insurance implications of unsatisfactory water pipe insulation in respect of a subsequent water damage related claim.








Advice on Boiler Temperature Settings

With the cost of energy so high, there is little wonder that householders have become very conscious about fuel efficiency. With space heating accounting for around 65% of home energy fuel costs, any method of minimising energy wastage is likely to be welcomed by cash strapped families trying to make ends meet.

Heating technology has come a long way in the last 30 years. Compared with the old boilers they replace, new condensing boilers have managed to improve domestic boiler efficiency from below 75% to levels in excess of 90%. However, whilst domestic consumption has fallen as a result, gas prices have fluctuated considerably and although they have recently reduced slightly, the prospect of future rises remains quite likely.

Householders naturally seek to extract maximum efficiency from their expensive fuel. Many modern homes have been furnished with very sophisticated temperature monitoring and automatic heating control systems. However, opinions differ on what the correct boiler temperature setting should be. Turned up high or turned down low.

In the context of trying to establish what the correct boiler temperature setting should be, various factors come into play that can influence the improvement of efficiency, or the complete opposite.

For a modern condensing boiler, the return flow to the boiler must be below 55 degrees C for heat recovery by condensation to take place. If the return temperature exceeds this, the whole purpose behind installing a condensing boiler, and the benefit of reclaiming latent heat from the flue gases, is all but lost. Ideally, the return should be as low as possible, but not at the expense of inefficient space heating throughout the home.

There are a number of schools of thought on what might constitute the ideal boiler temperature setting. One view suggests that the introduction of two temperature gauges, one placed on the boiler flow outlet and the other on the flow return may provide the answer. These will allow an operator to manually correct the boiler temperature. By monitoring the return flow to ensure that its temperature does not exceed 55 degrees C. the operator can observe the outflow gauge to determine the hot water temperature required to support it. The operator can then adjust the boiler temperature settings accordingly.

A second method suggests that operating the boiler at its highest temperature setting continually will reduce gas usage by heating the home quickly to its required temperature and then the boiler will cycle on and off to maintain it.  The boiler will eventually settle down to deliver a return temperature of 55 degrees C. This system relies on the home having a full set of thermostatic controls and programmable settings. It also requires TRV’s on each radiator to turn off the heat supply to the radiator when the pre-set temperature is reached. Initially this results in the return flow to the boiler exceeding the 55 degrees C. required for condensing heat reclamation, so the boiler reduces its burner temperature automatically to reduce this in-balance. In combination with environment control programmers and timers, this method is purported to reduce overall gas consumption by quickly providing and then maintaining the household’s preferred temperature for pre-set periods, but only when required to do so.

A third school of thought would totally disagree and suggest an alternative method. They argue that setting the boiler temperature to a lower setting and running the central heating for much longer periods reduces gas usage. By operating the boiler at the lower temperature, the boiler does not cycle intermittently to boost heat levels, with the potential of overshooting heat requirement prior to room controls operating to reduce output. For this method to work efficiently, the radiators, or emitters must be of the larger capacity and size. Because of the lower output from the boiler, rooms take longer to heat up but expensive bursts of energy are not required to produce and maintain the heat. The condensing heat recovery is enhanced due to lower return temperatures. Heat exchangers in the boiler also tend to work more efficiently with lower temperatures.

Because this method relies on heating by a lower, longer heat supply, the boiler will need to operate continuously during cold weather to maintain internal temperatures and prevent condensation forming due to boiler inactivity caused by pre set programmers.

With this method of operation, the system must have a zone valve operation to provide domestic hot water priority. The domestic hot water must reach a minimum of 60 degrees C. to achieve protection from harmful microbial incubation and proliferation.

The final viewpoint on boiler temperature settings suggests that rather than concentrating on spending valuable time and money fiddling about with internal heating controls, homeowners might be better served by fitting a weather compensator. It probably goes without saying that the outside temperature variation has much more influence on internal temperature than delayed boiler activity to counteract its effects. By predicting the effect of cold weather on internal temperatures, and in combination with internal programmers, a weather compensator can activate a boiler earlier than would otherwise be the case. The boiler responds by gently raising output to compensate for expected heat loss from the building.

Many homeowners and their households enjoy a certain amount of control over their heating. This can be substantiated by observing the growing popularity of remote heating controls. For those who enjoy tinkering with heating controls to improve efficiency the matter of boiler temperature setting is subjective and a matter of opinion. Each home differs in the level of insulation, and indeed, the materials used in the build, and as such, each home will have specific requirements.

For those who simply want a comfortable home with the minimum energy cost, adhering to the guidance surrounding property insulation is essential.  The installation of suitable timers, thermostats and programmers and the addition of a weather compensator will override any contradictory advice relating to boiler temperature settings.

For simplicity and optimum efficiency, just leave it to the technology.


New Boiler Installation Problems

Having a new boiler installed can make a huge difference in operating efficiency and a considerable reduction in energy costs. As nearly all new domestic boiler installations are now required to be condensing appliances by law, most homeowners are delighted by the benefits. New condensing boilers are lean operators when correctly installed and coupled to sophisticated modern programmers and thermostats.

Over the past few years there have been a number of initiatives introduced to attract homeowners into scrapping their old, inefficient boilers. Grants, free installations and competitive finance packages, have proved to be quite attractive to homeowners. Heating engineers and plumbers have also seized the opportunity to cash in on the great energy efficiency spend.

But what happens when things go wrong?

Most new gas boiler installations are carried out by very experienced gas engineers who have many years of boiler working experience under their belts. Coupled with this they are required by law to be registered with Gas Safe. In order for them to be registered, they must undergo rigorous training and assessment procedures designed to establish competence and encourage safe installation practices and procedures.

It is against the law for any person who is not competent to undertake work on a gas appliance.

However, being Gas Safe registered does not necessarily of itself mean that a gas engineer has the interests of the homeowner at heart. In what can be a very competitive market, with the major energy companies muscling in with the ability to negotiate advantageous bulk purchasing deals from boiler manufacturers, cutting corners to save costs can become an issue.

For some homeowners, the leaflet pushed through the letterbox offering a deal too good to miss on a new boiler installation can be the beginning of an unexpected nightmare.

The quoted installation costs might seem attractive, but the boilers are often of unreliable eastern European manufacture and the finance associated with the packages can have hidden costs and unfavourable interest rates attached.

The danger with these operatives, quite apart from the questionability of the safety and suitability of the installations, is the difficulty of obtaining redress if things go wrong.

Warranties may turn out to be void due to poor installation, finance deals may have variable interest rates and contacting the installer may become problematic. Finance agreements can be sold on to other brokers and financial houses, and some installers have a bad habit of periodically ceasing trading as one company and starting up again as another.

Even with the better-known national boiler installation businesses, things can sometimes go wrong. New boilers can be installed that have inherent faults that, if not rectified, develop quickly into customer satisfaction issues. On occasions, and despite considerable investigation, the cause of the fault is never pinpointed. Manufactures and installers struggle to remedy the situation with neither keen to accept liability.

With a myriad of clauses and exemptions built into warranties it can be difficult to know whether a boiler fails to operate correctly because of an existing fault, or whether the fault results from damage caused by poor plumbing, or problems with central heating components.

Conversely, it can be a case that an incorrectly sized or poorly installed boiler causes considerable damage to a central heating system and to the occupant’s furnishings.

So, when things go wrong, where does the boiler purchaser stand?

Well, where a boiler has been purchased from the installer or the installer’s company, then they are responsible for putting right any installation problems that are obvious immediately, or within a few days of installation. They are also required to replace a faulty boiler should the need arise. It is their responsibility to take the matter further and seek their own redress from the boiler manufacturer. This matter is covered under the Sale of Goods Act 1982.

Where the boiler has been independently purchased by the homeowner, then the homeowner must contact the boiler manufacturer before engaging a gas engineer to investigate the problem. It is the boiler manufacturer’s responsibility to quickly remedy the situation. The homeowners could invalidate any obligations on the part of the manufacturer if they proceed to try to repair a fault independently.

Where householders have unwittingly entered into an installation contract with an un-reputable company, they may find that seeking redress can be quite unproductive. It is often advantageous to have paid for installation on a credit card. This can sometimes provide insurance cover when goods are not of a serviceable nature. In these cases, the purchaser should contact the credit card company.

The small claims court can be a final tool in the armoury of the homeowner when new boiler installation issues remain unresolved. The mere threat of legal action can make slow to respond companies jump into action. Although engaging a solicitor can be helpful, there are suitable templates for letter formats available on-line. It is quite easy for homeowners to proceed through the small claims process themselves.

Perhaps the best way to minimise the chances of becoming embroiled in issues around new boiler installation problems is to carefully consider any installation packages and procedures.

Always buy products and services from reputable companies.

Ensure that any gas engineer is Gas Safe registered and authorised to undertake the specific tasks required. The competence in various areas of gas engineering work will be stated on the engineer’s photo ID card. Always insist on seeing this prior to engaging an engineer’s services. Always make sure that the photo on the card corresponds with the engineer carrying out the gas work.

Gas Safe registered does not necessarily mean that the gas engineer is good at his job. Try to obtain recommendations from previous customers.

No matter how time consuming, always read the small print on warranties, finance deals and insurance documents carefully. Ensure that you fully understand any technicalities prior to signing and entering into an agreement. Such agreements are generally legally binding and rarely in the customers best interest.

Where possible, and if the card provides cover, try to use a credit card to pay for goods and services.

Know your rights, and limitations. Be confident and assertive when dealing with new boiler installation problems and issues. You have the right to seek an effective resolution to problems within a reasonable time-scale, and the right to compensation for legitimate inconvenience.

If you suspect that a Gas Safe registered engineer’s work is suspect, you can ask for a free inspection of the work by Gas Safe inspectors.

Where problems occur following a new boiler installation, reputable companies will usually put things right quickly with very little inconvenience. Most issues can be resolved amicably. A good company’s reputation can rest on customer satisfaction.

As in all purchases, cheap is not necessarily best and too good to miss offers rarely are.

Problems with Shared Water Supply Pipes

Turn on the cold-water tap and water flows instantaneously. It usually has a good and consistent pressure. You know where the water enters your home and where the mains stopcock is located in case your domestic water supply needs to be turned off. You probably realise that you are responsible for the maintenance of the supply pipe-work from your property’s boundary. But are you supplied directly from the Water Company’s mains water supply via a communication pipe or do you have a shared supply pipe?

Does it matter?

Yes it does. With a shared supply pipe you, and the neighbours who utilise the pipe, are jointly responsible for its maintenance.

Shared supply pipes are quite common. They often occur where an existing property’s supply pipe has been extended to supply later property developments. Perhaps a large house has been divided into two. This used to occur more frequently in the past when joining a new property onto the mains was not practical or the cost of doing so was prohibitive. Shared supply pipes can often be found supplying old type terrace houses or blocks of flats where an occupant’s independent connection to the water mains is not possible.

They can also be found in rural situations where the mains water supply lies some distance from a group of dwellings and lately, where farm buildings have been converted into separate domestic accommodation.

When a property is purchased, the surveyors report and the property deeds should indicate whether a water supply pipe is shared. It is also worth noting that shared sewage and drainage pipe installations carry the same obligations.

Where a shared pipe runs either under or through a property, the deeds will usually state that neighbours are entitled to the free passage and the running of water through pipes in or under the property. This is usually termed as an easement.

Care should be taken before purchasing a property on a shared supply to ensure that any agreement that has been in place between previous parties is legally binding. Where an agreement was made informally, a new occupant may find that the same agreement will only continue at the goodwill of the remaining party.

Shared water pipes can be the cause of fluctuating water pressure and other flow related problems. Where one neighbour on the network makes modifications to their property that increase water demand, such as installing multiple shower units or numerous water consuming appliances, the subsequent water requirements can cause problems for neighbours who find that their own appliances frequently cut out due to a drop in water pressure.

Where a shared water pipe is located under the property of a number of homes, problems can occur when one resident decides to builds an extension to their property that could impede access to the shared water supply by other homeowners, plumbers or the water company. This can result in lengthy and costly disputes between neighbours.

Other problems can occur on a shared system where one user falls into arrears with water charges and the threat of water disconnection may affect other customers. This can occur where a large property has been sub divided into separate accommodation with a single supply that cannot be isolated to the occupant in arrears by the water company.

Under the Water Industry Act 1991, it is illegal to connect the mains water of one property to another without the permission of the water supply company.

Unfortunately, in the past, such connections occurred frequently, and in some cases only come to light when a problem occurs. Perhaps one neighbour decides to install a water meter and queries an excessive water usage bill. An investigation by the water company subsequently discovers that the water meter is registering the usage from more than one property due to a connection to that property’s main supply.

Where an illegal or unknown connection is discovered, possibly in a situation where the water company has never charged an occupant for water usage, or the occupant has entered into an agreement to pay the mains water connector a regular sum to cover their water usage, the water company may take retrospective action against both parties. In some cases, this may cause the water company to seek reimbursement for previous water usage or make a demand that a separate water connection is provided. This can prove very costly to occupants living some distance from the water company mains pipe.

In any situation where a shared main is not a satisfactory situation for a resident, they may opt for installing their own direct connection to the water company mains pipe. The cost of this work must be borne by the resident. The work laying a pipe into the property from the boundary point does not have to be carried out by the water company. The resident can employ a plumber or even undertake the work alone. They do have to ensure that external pipe-work is buried at a sufficiently deep level to avoid frost or impact damage and insulate any pipe-work above ground against frost.

The cost of such an installation is dependent on the distance from the water company mains supply, or a suitable mains communication pipe. The water company may offer an incentive to a customer to have the work undertaken by the water company. However, the cost is likely to be substantial unless the occupant can undertake some of the work themselves.  Even digging the trench to accommodate pipes can save a considerable sum.

A prospective purchaser of a property should always ensure that any issues relating to shared water and drainage pipes have been properly documented. Any legal implications should be highlighted and discussed with a legal advisor prior to entering any contractual agreements.