What To Do If You Think You Have A Gas Leak

If you are certain, or you have good reason to suspect that, you have a gas leak you should immediately turn off the gas at the domestic mains supply. Householders might wish to make themselves aware of where the property’s mains supply meter and shut-off valve are located to allow them to do so should the need arise.

After turning off the mains gas supply, the windows and doors of the property should be opened to vent the accumulated gas. During this period, it is crucial to avoid using equipment that might produce an ignition spark. You should then contact your energy provider for further advice. They are obliged to attend free of charge.

If you do not know how to turn off the supply, and gas is leaking from a fractured pipe or a damaged appliance which cannot be isolated, you should remove yourself and others from the property and phone 0800 111 999. This is a 24 hr emergency number. Do not operate a mobile or conventional phone from inside your property. Any electrical spark or other forms of ignition may cause an explosion.

Gas, used under the correct procedures and with modern well-maintained appliances is a very safe fuel.

However, natural gas itself and other gases formed because of combustion, incomplete combustion and inadequate ventilation are dangerous and can kill or seriously injure people who are exposed to them.

Natural gas can cause injury and death on its own simply by displacing the air in the property, or by ignition and explosion of concentrations of the gas in the air. A concentration of only five percent is sufficient.

Although natural gas itself is odourless, a distinctive and instantly recognisable sulphurous odour, called mercaptan, is added to the gas to aid its detection and indicate its presence.

Should you ever need to check gas pipe joints or connections for evidence of leaking gas, a mixture of water and detergent sprayed onto the area would indicate leakage by forming bubbles and foam.

A slow and almost unnoticeable natural gas leak can cause illness over time and any unexplained symptoms that only occur whilst residing in the property should be investigated.

Natural gas leakage is not the only gas leakage to be aware of. Carbon monoxide, as a by-product of the combustion process is normally safely vented through a flue into the outside atmosphere. If the flue becomes blocked, this gas can escape back into the property.

The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is odourless. Because of this, the occupants are often not aware of its presence. Although symptoms of nausea, headaches and dizziness are classic, these symptoms can easily be ignored or passed-off as general illness. Carbon monoxide in high concentrations can be lethal in seconds when inhaled and occupants can succumb before they are able to escape from the property. Slow, prolonged exposure can cause irreversible brain damage.

If there is any suggestion of carbon monoxide poisoning, affected occupants should seek urgent medical attention. A blood test will confirm exposure.

Potential problems with gas can be eliminated by professional installation combined with regular service and maintenance procedures. These should be carried out by Gas Safe Registered Engineers. Always ask to see their I.D. card.

If you are a tenant of the property, it is the landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure that gas appliances are maintained appropriately.

Vigilance by the occupier is also a good method of avoiding potential problems. The observation of gas flames on cookers and boilers burning with yellow or orange flames, pilot lights frequently blowing out, brown scorch marks on appliances and unusual amounts of condensation on windows are a good sign that something may not be right and that further investigation is required. Appliances should also be checked for any signs of wear and tear that could impede their efficient operation.

These indicators should not be ignored or passed-off as being due to the age of the appliances. All flames on appliances should be crisp and blue. This is a sign that the required amount of oxygen is available and that combustion is complete.

The fitting of a carbon monoxide alarm is essential. This should carry a recognised Kite Mark or similar EU standard and be marked EN50291.

If the detector is battery operated, its operation should be checked regularly. Some detectors warn by a visual colour change, but it should be noted that most carbon monoxide fatalities occur during sleep. An audio warning is far superior.

It is worth remembering that carbon monoxide is not only a by-product of natural gas combustion. Any combustion of fossil and solid fuel produces poisonous gas by products, including carbon monoxide.

The proper and adequate ventilation of the by-products of combustion through dedicated and regularly serviced flues and vents can prevent most problems occurring.

The use of any energy source incorporates a risk of injury to the user. Being aware of the risks and the measures that can be taken to minimise that risk are important factors in maintaining the safe operation of appliances.


Automatic Air Vents

There is nothing more disturbing than the banging and gurgling noises that can issue from boilers and the hot water systems they supply. Often the noise is caused by air in the system. This can be air that has entered the system during repair or maintenance procedures, or air that is entering the system regularly and causing unacceptable operating noises. Regular addition of air into the system can be indicative of a general fault in the design, layout or operation of the system.

Automatic air vents (AAV’s) are handy devices that can be fitted to automatically expel air from hot water systems.

Most boilers incorporate some form of AAV, often concealed below the external casing, and therefore out of reach of any DIY or unregistered installer. However, these devices may not remove air trapped within the wider hot water system.

In these situations, the fitting of an AAV in the circulatory network may alleviate the effects of the problem. Bungalows and single storey dwellings, where insufficient head of pressure can sometimes allow air to enter into the hot water system, will benefit considerably from the fitting of an AAV.

Although a number of companies manufacture domestic AAV’s, the general principle of valve operation for inline valves is much the same. The valve is installed into the hot water system at the highest point.

This highest point must be on the positive sides of any water pump. This can be identified by locating the pump and establishing the direction of flow. This will be indicated by an arrow, usually cast into the pump housing.

Fitting an AAV on the opposite side of the pumped flow can result in air being drawn into the system by creating reverse pressure in the valve. This will naturally compound the problem rather than alleviate it.

There is often a part of the system that crosses from one point to another by virtue of an incline followed by a decline in the pipes horizontal plane. It is at the apex of points like this that air is likely to congregate and in some cases severely restrict or prevent water flow.

This is an ideal location for the installation of an AAV. To maximise operation, the AAV should be plumbed into the system by inserting a ‘T’ piece joint into the main pipe-work and providing a few inches of vertical pipe between the valve and the main pipeline. This vertical pipe will ensure that a suitable pressure of air builds up to push water back down this pipe and cause the valve to function efficiently.

The valves contain a float mechanism that allows air to be expelled. The float contains air that provides buoyancy allowing the float to sit on top of the water surface contained with it in a chamber. Because air will collect in the highest point of a system, air enters the chamber and displaces the water. This causes the water level in the chamber, and the float, to fall. As the float drops, its attached mechanism opens a valve to release the air. As the air disperses, the water level rises in the chamber again, raising the float and closing the valve.

The valve also incorporates a closure nut at the external outlet of the air release valve. This can be manually operated to close the valve in the event of it becoming faulty and starting to expel hot water. This can be caused by sticking float or valve seal. Routinely giving the valve a sharp tap with a hammer will help to prevent an infrequently operating valve from sticking.

Although many AAV’s claim to have an inbuilt sealing device to close off the circuit and allow the valve to be removed for servicing, it would most unwise to rely on it. It is better to turn-off the boiler and pumps and release any pressure prior to removing an inline AAV.

In a central heating system, trapped air in radiators is usually released through the bleed valve located on each radiator. A build up of air, and other gases, can become a frequent occurrence on some central heating systems leading to inefficient operation. Radiators are often cold at the top and air in the system can accelerate corrosion in the radiators dramatically reducing their lifespan. This is particularly so where inhibitor has not been added regularly and central heating maintenance schedules have been disregarded.

Where the frequent necessity of radiator bleeding has become onerous, small AAV’s, particularly designed for individual radiators can be fitted.

These devices can be readily purchased from most DIY and plumbing merchants, usually for around ten pounds.

Fitting these devices is generally straightforward. With the heating and pumps turned off, and the system cool enough to work on, each radiator should be turned off at the inlet valve and the lock-shield valve. The lock-shield valve is located at the opposite end of the radiator to the inlet valve and is usually operated by removing the white cap and turning the exposed spindle with a spanner or set of grips.

Before attempting to fit the device, any pressure in the radiator must be released by operating the radiator bleed valve.

The AAV can be installed by removing the bleed valve and directly replacing it. Many people prefer to leave the bleed valve installed and simply attach the AAV by removing the locking nut at the opposite end of the radiator to the bleed valve and fitting the AAV there. Because many radiator AAV’s contain check valves to prevent air being drawn into the system, leaving the bleed valve in place allows for easy operation if the system requires draining.

Once installed, the system and pumps can be turned back on and a hissing sound should issue from the AAV indicating that trapped air is being expelled. Once the air is removed, the AAV should automatically close to prevent central heating fluid escaping.

Before working on radiators, sufficient precautions must be taken to catch any spills of central heating fluids, which can irreversibly stain any materials they come into contact with.

If, after fitting an AAV on a radiator, air remains in the radiator, it may be due to too much air preventing the AAV operating at all. This can be remedied by turning off the boiler and pumps and removing the AAV. Then, by turning on the pumps, water will fill the radiator expelling any air. As soon as water dribbles from the fitting point, the AAV must be quickly replaced.

Fitting an AAV will remove air from a hot water system. Re-occurring problems with air in the system should be investigated to determine the cause.

Sometimes the water supply simply contains too much air when it is supplied to the property. This can often be caused by extensive maintenance work carried out by the utility company and may be a temporary but irritating situation.

Excessive quantities of air in the system may indicate a potentially serious problem with the boiler or the water supply and professional help should be obtained to prevent damage to the system.


Avoiding Frozen Condensate Pipes

Few people who had a condensing boiler at the time will ever forget the severe winter of 2009/2010. Temperatures dropped to minus twenty degrees centigrade in some areas. That winter revealed a flaw in the generally accepted principle of fitting condensing boiler condensate disposal pipes externally.

An external condensate pipe might have withstood the rigours of that un-typical winter had it been sufficiently insulated. As it was, few condensate pipes were insulated and they subsequently froze.

As a result, condensate could not escape from condensing boilers and backed up into the boiler causing temporary boiler shut down. This resulted in hundreds of calls to boiler manufacturers and heating engineers requesting call-outs to malfunctioning boilers. Good news for heating engineers, but bad news for boiler owners who had to stump up for the cost of the call-out to defrost their condensate pipes.

As a result, and in anticipation of the possibility of further severe winters caused by global warming in the future, installation recommendations for boiler condensate drainage systems were modified.

It is now recommended that, wherever possible, the location and routing of condensate pipes should be internal rather than external.

For home-owners considering the installation of a new condensing boiler, the connection to a suitable internal drainage point is something that can be arranged at the planning stage. The location of a new boiler has to take into account a number of factors including condensate drainage. The convenient connection to services, existing central heating networks, the exit for the flue and the direction of the plume are all major considerations that must be addressed prior to installation.

Where a heating engineer is contracted to install a new condensing boiler, the necessary and suitable connection of the condensate drainage requirements, in line with the boiler manufacture’s recommendations, should be a part of the installation package. The condensate pipe-work must also comply with The Building Regulations, (Drainage and Waste Disposal) requirements. It is important to check with the boiler installer that installation contract covers all the necessary requirements prior to commencing work.

A boiler can produce up to four litres of condensate daily, and this can be directed into a number of internal drainage points. Internal soil and vent stacks, sinks, showers and washing machine drainage pipes are all feasible outlets. However, due to the acidic nature of the condensate, pipes must be of a suitable plastic composition. Condensate typically has a pH of between three and four, making it about as acidic as orange juice. Nevertheless, over time this can corrode metal and any other susceptible material it comes into contact with. Copper pipe-work is particularly vulnerable to the corrosive properties of boiler condensate and should never be used.

All condensate connections to internal drainage points must be in-line with Building Regulations. Gravity fed condensate pipes must comply with minimum fall angles and drain into the nearest possible outlet. Pipe diameters are also a regulated aspect.  The fitting of condensate drains into pipes containing visible air breaks, or traps, or the installation of such devices that create them is an important regulatory condition that must be met. Many boilers incorporate internal traps to prevent flue gases being expelled inappropriately. These will not prevent odours from drainage systems entering the property. The incorporation of condensing pipes into drainage systems at a suitable point does require some sort of trap to be fitted.

When condensate cannot be removed via a gravity fed installation, for example, where a boiler is to be located in a basement and a drainage point is higher than the boiler, dedicated pumps must be installed to facilitate drainage. Installing a condensing boiler without a suitable drainage facility for the condensate will render the boiler unsafe and it should not be operated.

Where condensate is directed into an external drainage point, such as an external stack or a gutter down-pipe connected to the sewage disposal system, the condensate pipe must be insulated at any external points. An air gap must also be maintained.

If it is absolutely impractical to install an internal boiler condensate drainage system, the home-owner must be advised about the problems associated with external condensate drainage pipes. It is not acceptable to fit an external condensate drainage pipe simply out of convenience.

Boilers that work on a siphoning process of condensate drainage are better suited for external condensate drainage. These boilers allow condensate to be expelled in short gushes, rather than continuous drips. This reduces the potential for a gradual build up of ice in freezing conditions and the eventual blocking of the pipe.

The technical requirements for condensate pipe installations are given in BS 6798:2009 and also in the individual boiler manufacturer’s handbook.

For existing boilers with external condensate pipes already in place the situation is a little different. If the boiler is a recent installation and still under warranty, it may be possible to have an external condensate pipe re-routed internally free of charge.

For existing external condensate drainage pipes and ones that have been installed due to practicalities, adequate pipe insulation is essential. No external condensate pipe over three metres should be left unprotected. Insulation must incorporate a waterproof layer to prevent rainwater entering the insulation material and freezing in contact with the pipe. Care should also be taken to ensure that where the drainage connects to an outside drain, an air gap is maintained above the surface level of the drain to prevent the pipe blocking if the drain freezes. Similar consideration should be given to dedicated soak away systems.

It is also possible to purchase electric thermally controlled pipe heating material. This wraps around external pipes and is activated by cold weather. When a minimum external temperature is detected, the material heats up preventing the condensate pipe freezing.

Maintaining boiler operation in freezing external conditions is essential. Boilers that are located in garages or lofts may be particularly susceptible to failure in bad weather if they are not sufficiently protected from frost.

A frozen condensate pipe will prevent a boiler from operating. Although defrosting the condensate pipe will re-activate the boiler, the inconvenience of having to do so can be avoided by careful planning and taking suitable precautions.





Remote Heating Controls

Imagine the situation. It’s mid January and you are enjoying a spot of snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef. Then, as you haul yourself into the inflatable, out of the blue you get a text from your daughter saying that she has had a row with her partner and is moving back into the family home, “like, now.

Although the house back in Blighty has been empty for a couple of weeks, the heating has been ticking over to keep the property frost-free.

Still, it is not going to be a very warm and inviting environment for the imminent return of a daddy’s little angel.

No problem, you simply head back to the yacht, log onto the internet and adjust the heating settings via the Wi Fi hub back at home. Then you text your daughter telling her to make herself comfortable and that you will be back as soon as you can get a flight.


Although the scenario might be a little OTT, the practicalities of controlling your domestic heating controls remotely are not. Having discovered that householders might wish to monitor and adjust their home environment from another location, or at least suggest to them that it might be a good idea to, a number of companies are now actively promoting the technology.

British Gas is at the forefront with Hive Active Heating. It is believed that this company has over 50,000 homes across the UK using their system.

Following its purchase of Nest, Google are trying to become a major competitor to British Gas in the UK remote heating control market. Although very successful in the US, some feel that Google’s business model, dependent on collecting personal data, may deter many households in the UK from considering their product. To try to overcome this negative perception, the company has formed a marketing partnership with N.power.

Honeywell, who have long been associated with heating control systems, have their own multi room system on the market.

Also venturing into the UK market is Tado, a successful German company who like to stress their independence from the monitoring suspicions and capabilities of other players in the market.

There are of course other systems available, usually aimed at the dedicated technophiles who like to indulge in creating distinctly personalised systems. These often Heath Robinson configurations of hardware and software probably incorporate considerably more functions than the mass-market products. They are, however, often very sophisticated and subsequently prone to some unexpected behaviour, much to the delight of their assemblers.

Although the major players in the remote heating control market offer pretty much the same technology and features, Hive Active Heating from British Gas is currently the most popular system. Priced at £199 including fitting, it compares favourably against Google’s Nest at £249.

What is more, you do not need to be a British Gas fuel customer to obtain the system; however, there are instances where British Gas might install Hive for its boiler-servicing customers at a more favourable rate. This can sometimes occur in situations where existing boiler controls are faulty.

It is a good idea when choosing a remote control heating system to establish whether the intended system is suitable for your requirements and has functions to control heating and hot water, as some systems are only able to control heating.

So. The first requirement of any current remote access heating system is a broadband internet connection. The broadband router will need to have a spare Ethernet port.

Taking the Hive system as an example, a British Gas engineer will take approximately ninety minutes to install the components.

The engineer will disconnect any existing wired connections from the boiler to the thermostat and connect a wireless receiver to the boiler.

A wall-mounted programmer will be installed in a suitable location.

A dedicated system hub will be plugged into a spare Ethernet port on the broadband router and connected to an electrical supply.

And that is it, although the engineer will demonstrate how to use the system and get it up and running.

The boiler must be set to constantly on at its independent settings to allow the wall programmer to take control over it.

The system can now be operated by either accessing the British Gas website on a PC or Mac, by installing an application on a smart phone or tablet, or by sending a text to the SIM card that is installed into the wall-mounted programmer. This latter option is a useful standby in situations where internet access is temporarily unavailable. The system obligingly sends a return text in acknowledgment. The boiler can still be operated normally by manually adjusting the wall-mounted programmer.

So. What are the advantages?

Well, manufacturer’s claim that users are able to reduce their energy consumption and consequently save money. They suggest that being able to control the heating remotely allows more focused and targeted heating manipulations to fine-tune requirements. This has the advantage over conventional seven-day programme modules of being able to respond to unexpected situations.

The interface also displays usage and trending information.

If you are already in the market to upgrade your heating controls, getting a remote control system installed by British Gas or Nest can be a cheaper option.

With the British Gas system being operated from the company website, users are able to access their energy accounts if they are fuel customers.

It is also suggested that these devices are the harbinger of far more sophisticated systems that will one day control many aspects of home management and daily life.

However, possibly the greatest benefit from these remote control systems is that in the home, the user will no longer need to get up from the armchair to adjust the heating.


Heat Recovery and Ventilation

The majority of home-owners today can remember a time when the changing seasons were reflected in altered domestic behaviour patterns. Winter brought extra blankets on beds, hot-water bottles, thick woollen clothing and smoky fires billowing up soot-caked chimneys. Boilers groaned and draughts swirled, rattling doors and wafting heavy, lined curtains. In contrast, summer was marked by redundant grates, open doors and windows, and motionless, stifling air.

Heat, or the lack of it was just something that you lived with.

Even then, fuel was expensive. The proportion of family income spent on fuel costs was probably proportionally greater than it is today. However, the most significant part of that cost was caused by energy wastage. Methods of controlling and conserving heat energy within the home were relatively primitive.

Today, of course, the situation is completely different for the majority of households. Innovation and technological developments have led to homes becoming much more energy efficient. Insulation, double-glazing and responsive heat control systems have meant that seasonal temperature variations have less noticeable impact on the internal domestic environment.

However, most of these developments have come about due to a greater understanding of the wider environmental concerns. An awareness of the depletion of fossil fuel reserves and the impact of their continual usage and subsequent accumulating release of carbon into the atmosphere, have motivated homeowners to adopt energy saving technologies. Coupled with the spiralling costs of energy and concerns about energy security, governments are increasingly resorting to legislation to drive forward further improvements in energy efficient building construction. Changes to the Building regulations 2010 called for a 25% improvement in energy efficiency in new builds with Part F of those changes given over to addressing air tightness standards.

As a result, new buildings are required to conform to minimum standards of air tightness. Combined with other insulating measures, draughts and excessive leakages of warm air are all but eliminated from new dwellings.

Due to their energy conservation properties, new builds are ideally suited to utilising many of the technologies available for extracting heat from the external environment. Under-floor heating from ground or air source heat pumps can be incorporated into the building programme.

However, in reducing drafts and heat escape from a property can result in problems due to inadequate ventilation. Condensation and mould growth on surfaces can cause serious problems.

Purge and trickle ventilation measures can help to reduce problems, but frequent air changes within a property naturally allow warm air to escape.

One system that can be installed to address ventilation issues is a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery System (MVHR).

MVHR works by extracting stale air from within a property and drawing clean air into the property from outside. However, in doing so, the warm air leaving the property passes over a heat exchanger. This extracts the heat and transfers it to the incoming air, warming it and helping to maintain a comfortable temperature within the home.

However, behind the simplicity lies a complexity that is best addressed in new builds rather than trying to adopt the installation as a retrospective addition to an existing property.

Not only does the system rely on the high levels of air tightness that a new build property incorporates, an installation comprises of a dual system of ducts that need to be incorporated into the building structure. This is best planned prior to the commencement of building work to ensure that the system can be properly accommodated and aesthetically concealed within the fabric.

The two networks of ducts act independently. One carries the air to be extracted and the other supplies warm fresh and filtered air into the property. The two separate airflows never mix within the ducts, but are channelled over a heat exchanger housed in the air filtration and heat exchanger unit. This unit also houses the two fans that operate the system. The ductwork incorporates special measures to prevent cross talk and other nuisance noise issues from travelling around the network. The unit size is proportional to the size of the property it is installed to service and is generally located in the loft, however it can be sited in a garage or wherever adequate space will allow. The unit requires an electricity supply to operate the fans and appropriate access for pipe-work to vent and import air from the outside.

Ideally, the ductwork should be installed to draw stale, moisture laden warm air from the bathrooms and kitchen of a property. The stale air should be directed through ceiling vents in these areas of a property and drawn into the heat exchanger in the main unit. Incoming air, drawn over the heat exchanger and warmed is then filtered prior to being delivered by the separate ducting system to the living and sleeping areas of the house.

Filtration and the removal of moisture from the internal environment create a very healthy atmosphere for the household. Respiratory irritants and allergens are filtered out and humidity is reduced considerably.

This process recovers up to 90% of the heat from the vented stale air. Under conventional ventilation measures, this heat would be lost to the atmosphere.

Maintenance is basic but essential to ensure balanced operation of the air intake and extraction components. It is also imperative to change the air filters regularly to maintain the efficient operation of the system.

The heat recovery process can be inactivated during hot weather so that the system only supplies a supply of cool filtered fresh air into the property.

Although the principle is quite simple, the heat exchange process and the efficiency of its operation are quite sophisticated. Because it relies on a relatively hermetically sealed building to operate at maximum efficiency, the unit must be commissioned by a suitably qualified person who is competent in using the calibration instruments necessary for setting up the system correctly and safely.

MVHR systems work best in new build property, but they may also have a place as a limited system in buildings where damp and condensation are a persistent problem and where alternative measure aimed at combating these problems have failed. MVHR systems are extremely good at removing moisture from the air and maintaining a dry environment in homes, however the benefits associated with heat conservation tend to be diminished.

To establish the potential effectiveness of installing an MVHR system in a property, it is possible to undertake a building pressure test.

Once installed correctly, an MVHR system will operate successfully alongside other energy conserving installations to reduce energy requirements and subsequent carbon emissions.

Noisy Central Heating Causes and Solutions

Noisy central heating systems can be a considerable irritation for households. They often seem to manifest following the installation of a new boiler or at the onset of winter when the central heating system is turned back on. Sometimes, identifying these noises and locating the source can be difficult. The noises may travel around the building and be heard some distance from the source.

Where a new boiler or a new central heating system has been installed, noises are often the sign of poor installations. Sometimes, if a new boiler makes unexpected noises, it can be due to an insufficient water supply. In all probability, the water inlet pipe may be of a too narrow diameter to accommodate the boiler requirements. Replacing this pipe will, in most cases, rectify the problem.

Running a combi boiler at too high pressure will cause boiler noise. The system cold pressure should be around 1 bar. Working pressure should register between 1.5 and 2 bars. The manufacturer’s operating instructions will indicate the correct operating pressure and how to adjust it.

Although prior to installing a combi boiler, water pressure and flow rates should be checked, it is not always the case that they are. Sometimes, the mains water pressure is inadequate, particularly where a combi boiler is installed to replace an existing F and E system. This will result in unacceptable noises being emitted when the boiler operates. This problem can be satisfactorily addressed, but specialist-plumbing advice will need to be obtained.

In some cases, inadequate water supply is caused by restriction of the mains supply pipe due to encrustations of mineral deposits. It may be necessary to replace the mains supply pipes to address this problem. The water provider may be responsible for some of this work if it lies beyond the property boundary.

Conversely, high mains water pressure can cause noisy operation of a combi boiler and cause water hammer in other parts of the plumbing system. Sometimes it is possible to reduce mains water pressure by adjusting the mains water stopcock.  This should be carried whilst monitoring a running cold-water tap. By observing the water flow at the tap, a reasonable assessment can be made of how much to turn off the supply at the stopcock. Alternatively, fitting a pressure-regulating valve to the mains supply at a position after the stopcock will effectively control high water pressure. This valve can be adjusted to provide the recommended pressure of water flow into a combi boiler.

Shortage of water supply to a boiler will certainly produce noise. Most boilers will not operate when water is not available. On an F and E system, an empty header tank may be caused by a blocked or damaged ball valve or an interruption to the mains water supply. Frozen pipes and air locks can also cause interruption to water supplies. However, a return of hot water into the F and E tank from the expansion pipe may indicate a serious boiler malfunction and expert assistance should be sought.

Kettling in a boiler can be caused by a build up of lime scale on the heat exchanger plates. Although lime scale deposits can be reduced by inhibitor on the central heating side of the heat exchanger plates, the boiler side plates will need servicing by a qualified heating engineer.

Where a new central heating system has been installed, knocking noises can be caused by pipe-work that has not been securely supported. However, if the pipe-work has been installed without regard for hot water pipe expansion, the same noises can occur. The problem can be compounded where pipes have been installed in a restricted area where they may rub against each other when expanding. Clip fastening unsupported pipes and inserting foam spacing between pipes in close proximity will remedy these noise-creating problems.

Expansion of pipes located in grooves in floor joists can cause noises, which become amplified through the building. These noises can be eliminated by insulating the pipes passing through grooved joists. It is not a good idea to increase the groove size to accommodate insulation. This may weaken the joist. Applying foam insulation where conventional insulation materials cannot be used may help to reduce the noise.

Noises that are located around the central heating water pump may be caused by sediment eroding the pump mechanism or by pump speeds being set too high. Pump speeds can be adjusted by operating a control device usually located on the front of the pump. Pumps damaged by erosion will need maintenance or replacement.

Air trapped in the system, particularly in radiators, will cause gurgling and popping noises due to expansion and contraction. These noises can be particularly loud. Bleeding the radiators to release trapped air usually solves the problem. Turn the boiler off before bleeding radiator valves. Because water carries around 2% air by volume, air will continually build up in central heating systems, and regular radiator bleeding may be required to prevent noisy operation and maintain system efficiency.

Sludge build up and lime scale deposits can all make a central heating system operate noisily. A 1.6 mm layer of scale will reduce heating efficiency by up to 12%. Power flushing the system regularly will help to remove sludge and debris and the addition of inhibitor will reduce deposit formation.

Draining the central heating system and refilling with the inclusion of a proprietary scale and deposit remover will help to clean an already scaled system. The de-scaler should be allowed to circulate throughout the system for a couple of weeks. Hopefully, the noise from the system will reduce during this time. The system can then drained again and refilled with water and inhibitor. Prior to using de-scalers, boiler warranty conditions should be examined for exclusions.

In general, competent installation procedures and good maintenance practices will reduce the chances of noisy boiler and central heating operation. Poor maintenance will result in sub optimal efficiency and increased running costs. Build up of deposits will shorten pump and boiler operating lives and result in expensive heating engineer call out costs.


How to Hang a Radiator

Perhaps you have decided to upgrade your central heating system with new, more efficient radiators. Maybe you have decided that you need to add another radiator to the system. It could be that you have had a power flush and been informed that one or more radiators are irreversibly clogged up with sludge and need to be replaced. Alternatively, it could be that you have just had a thorough re-decorate of your property and the next job is to re-install the radiators.

Whichever one, you are going to have to fix a radiator to a wall.

You could get a quote from a trades-person. If you do, you can expect to pay a considerable sum. Not because it is a particularly specialised task. The cost lies mainly in the trades-persons’ time.

However, even with the minimal amount of D.I.Y. knowledge and experience, the task of hanging a radiator is a quite straightforward procedure.

Let us assume that the central heating system, or radiator section, has been isolated and drained.

If you are re-hanging a radiator after decoration, simply attach the radiator onto the existing brackets and re-plumb it back onto the system.

If you are replacing a radiator with one having similar dimensions, you may be fortunate to find that the new radiator fits onto the existing brackets, if not, read on.

So. You have made the decision to either add a new radiator to the system or install a replacement. You’ve checked the boiler capacity to ensure that any addition will not adversely affect the system output, and considered the destination room’s British Thermal Units (BTU) requirements by calculating the room’s cubic capacity in feet (L x W x H) and multiplying that figure by four. The new radiator should have a corresponding BTU output rating.

On a new radiator, this will be indicated on the back.

Now you will need to decide where to locate the radiator within the room. Conventionally, a radiator is usually positioned in a feature, such as an alcove or below a window. If you are intending to plumb into existing heating pipe-work you will need to consider the layout of the pipe network, which may be concealed beneath floorboards.

It is important to establish the construction material of the wall upon which the radiator brackets will be fixed. For brick and plaster, concrete or stone, conventional screws and wall plugs will suffice. Plasterboard will require special expanding rosette screws, or for large radiators, batons secured to the plasterboard to distribute the weight. If your room has dry-lined walls you will need to cut through the interior lining and secure bracket-supporting batons to the internal supporting wall.

Bearing these points in mind you will be able to proceed and position the radiator support brackets.

Lay the radiator on the floor with the back facing upwards. It is wise to protect carpets or wooden floors by laying the radiator on cloths or cardboard.

To fit the radiator centrally, measure the length of the wall at a height of around two feet. Establish and mark the wall centre and then, using a spirit level, draw a vertical line from the skirting board upwards bisecting the horizontal centre.

Most radiators are fitted to sit four to six inches above floor level; however, if other radiators are already installed on the system, it is advisable to maintain the same height across the system. If you are replacing a radiator, bear in mind the height of the existing plumbing facility.

Mark this height on the wall.

Turn your attention to the radiator. Take one of the radiator brackets and slot it into the radiator fixing slots. Now measure from the base of the radiator to the base of the bracket.

Take that measurement and transfer it to the previously made radiator base height mark, and working upwards, make a mark establishing the level for the base of the radiator bracket.

Using a spirit level, mark a long horizontal line across the bracket level mark.

This line will be used to position the height for the bracket.

Now return to the radiator, and removing the bracket, measure the distance on the radiator between the centres of the two bottom hanging slots.

Divide this measurement by two and return to the wall markings.

On the horizontal bracket line, transfer a one-half measurement along that line commencing from the vertical line to both the left and then the right, marking both.

At both these marks use a spirit level and draw a one-foot vertical line bisecting the marks.

Now take each bracket in turn and using the point of the bisecting lines, align the bracket. Mark through each bracket screw fixing holes onto the wall.

Drill and plug the holes and finally attach the brackets.

Lift the radiator onto the brackets; it is sometimes easier to tilt the radiator forward slightly. When the radiator is secure, place a spirit level across the top of the radiator. You should be able to congratulate yourself.

You will be able to lift the radiator off the brackets and decide which side to fit the appropriate input and lock shield valves. This will depend of the direction of flow of the central heating system.

The radiator will then be ready to plumb.

Do bear in mind that if you are installing a radiator or a central heating towel radiator in a bathroom, the radiator should be earth bonded for safety