Have you given in and put the heating on yet? I finally cracked and gave in this week, though I’m keeping a close eye on my energy consumption.

It goes without saying that concerns about the size of energy bills are at the forefront of all our minds at the moment. But this can sometimes mean we are unprepared for problems with the heating and pipes in our homes.

Lots can go wrong while our heating systems lie dormant over Spring and Summer. So if you’re ready to give in and put the heating on, here are my tips on what to watch for and how to avoid problems.

What to do if the heating isn’t working

How well do you know your thermostat? According to the plumbers and electricians I’ve spoken to, one of the most common problems with boilers arise as a result of the battery in the thermostat running out. For many people, the extent of our relationship with the thermostat is fiddling with the dial, so a flashing display or unusual symbol might make us think there’s a bigger problem with the boiler. Before you call for help, change the battery – or check to see if the battery is actually connecting to the thermostat properly.

Digital or smart thermostats can trick you too. There are loads of different types of smart thermostat, but as a very general rule a flashing screen can mean the system is doing something in the background, like downloading software. However, it can also mean the thermostat is frozen or not functioning properly. Your instruction manual will tell you how to reboot the thermostat and troubleshoot the problem. If you aren’t getting anywhere, photo the display and call the manufacturer before forking out for a plumber.

If that’s not working, then try turning the dials on the boiler and thermostat down and pressing the ‘boost’ button to see if the boiler kicks into life. Failing that, repressurising the boiler is a relatively simple process for most boilers. Don’t launch straight into it though. Read the steps in the guide thoroughly first and make sure you are confident with the process.

You can find most boiler guides online and there are loads of online video guides to help you sort out problems too. Though do not – and I know I’m stating the obvious here, but still – attempt to disassemble the boiler yourself. That way chaos and danger lies.

When air becomes trapped in your radiators it can have an impact on how much heat they generate, so you’ll need to ‘bleed’ the radiators to get the most out of them. Most energy companies have guides on how to do this online and recommend that you bleed your radiators once a year even if they seem to be working fine. Radiator keys are dead easy to replace and very cheap if you can’t find yours. However, you’ll need to prepare in advance. Turn off the heating, wait for things to cool down and make sure you’ve got a bowl and towel handy for any leakage. I find that baking tray for the Christmas turkey comes in useful!

If you’ve got blocked or leaking pipes, check first to see if the pipes are on your property (claim through your insurer) or outside it (the water company needs to sort this out). Finding your pipe access points can save a lot of hassle should you ever need to make an insurance claim. It makes sense to have a look around your home for wet or discoloured patches – or have a hunt for the source of strange smells! If you live in a communal property then speak to your landlord or building management committee about claims on their building insurance.

Insurance claims can sometimes go awry when repairs go wrong. I’ve heard of toilets crashing in to the room below and holes left in countless walls while hunting for the leak. So make sure you get a full breakdown of the proposed works – and subsequent repairs – before they begin.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.


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