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Witten by Bernard Morgan (Engineer) & Adam Apperley (Marketing). Published: March 20, 2018. Updated: March 22, 2024

Boiler Breakdown

Boiler breakdowns often come without warning and will require an emergency boiler replacement. A working boiler is often taken for granted, especially in winter. You expect that it will turn on when you want a warm home.

Most boiler breakdowns happen at the worst time, often because of the increased usage. Internal boiler components go through a lot of stress from extremely high temperatures. The best boilers tend to use high-quality materials ensuring dependable and efficient operation.

After a long period of inactivity, the internal components feel sudden strain when they try to heat your house. This is why regular annual services are required for peace of mind and to preserve the manufacturer’s warranty.

As we saw during the “Beast from the East” in 2018, a lot of boilers ran into the problem of frozen condensate pipes. The solution is easy enough, you need to pour hot water (not boiling) on the condensate pipe to thaw it. You should consider having them insulated as soon as you can.

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There are various reasons that can cause a boiler breakdown. To help you know what to look for, we are going to highlight some of the most common faults.

Boiler breakdown caused by the age of your boiler

Boiler breakdowns are often caused by old age. Rust and corrosion build up and cause issues over the course of many years. This is caused by deterioration to boiler components, pipes and sometimes connections. As mentioned above, because the components in a boiler go through severe thermal and mechanical stress. This can result in mechanical failure. In time, this accumulation of debris and dirt can prevent the mechanics of your boiler from working. You will most likely need a new boiler.

No Hot Water Or Heating

boiler breakdown

No hot water or central heating can be the result of many issues. It could be that motorised valves are failing. This could be due to system debris or that the motor that drives the valve open or shut needs replacing.

Airlocks are also a common problem caused by the following reasons:

  • The system is sucking air into your radiators & pipework, or
  • Magnetic sludge creates methane and appears as airlocks.

The difference is a distinct odour when you bleed your radiators. And yes, this gas is flammable.

Low water levels will also cause problems. Check your pressure gauge if you have one. Or if not, check if the ball valve on the small feed & expansion tank is not stuck in the closed position. This is the small tank usually in the loft. A faulty thermostat or circulation problems can cause a boiler to shut down.

At this stage, this is not a complete boiler breakdown. Poor and intermittent water temperatures are common faults on combination boilers.

A specialist engineer may be able to rescue your boiler and repair broken components. But if your boiler is too far gone, it may be best to replace it as soon as you can. Boiler manufacturers only guarantee the supply of spare parts for 10 years. So, if your boiler is over 10 years old there may be no parts available.

Dripping or leaking due to boiler breakdown

If you are experiencing dripping or leaking from the boiler itself, it is definitely a sign that all is not right with your boiler. Determining the cause of these drips or leaks, all comes down to figuring out the source. A trained installer will be able to help you figure this out.

Generally, the cause of this kind of issue is a damaged seal, pressure valve or some other internal component.

If the boiler pressure is too high it can cause a leak too. The pressure valuve could have opened and not closed correctly. If the leak is coming from the seal around the pump of your heating system, it may be that it is broken or natural wear and tear has occurred. Boilers have been known to leak around the heat exchanger. This is the worst-case scenario, almost always leading to a replacement usually caused by corrosion.

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Pilot Light is Going Out

This applies to older boilers only. Newer boilers have error codes.

If your boiler’s starter light or pilot light is going out, this is going to cause problems. This may be the result of your gas supply not being able to flow correctly due to a broken or worn thermocouple.

A Thermocouple or thermoelectric device is a component for boilers with pilot lights. The thermocouple sits in the pilot light, and the heat is transferred into a small electric current. This current sends a message to the gas valve. When the gas valve senses the current, it opens and sends gas to the burner. This is the gas valve’s safety device.

So, if there’s no pilot light, there is no gas to the burn. However, this can also be caused by blockages.

Is there gas flowing to your property? Check cooker or hob or gas fire. If there is no gas at all in your appliances, then check if the EMCV (Emergency Meter Control Valve) is on. This is situated at the meter and is labelled EMCV.

If this is on, you can check in with the utility supplier that provides your gas. They may be working in the street and have isolated your supply.

When Your Condensate Pipes Freeze Up

boiler breakdown, thaw condensate pipe

During sub-zero temperatures outside, external condensate pipes can freeze up. A condensate pipe removes condensation and any waste liquid away from your boiler. If frozen, this stops your boiler from working.

The pipe exits your boiler and can either head to an internal drain or go through the wall to an external downpipe or soakaway. An exterior pipe is in danger of completely freezing up when the temperature drops lower and lower. If you are trying to find the condensate piping on your boiler, it’s easy.

Under your boiler, you will find a plastic pipe. If this pipe goes outside it can freeze. You may try to thaw out a condensate pipe that has frozen by tipping hot water (not boiling) onto it. In most cases, this doesn’t mean your boiler has broken down.

Would it be cheaper to replace rather than repair?

Sometimes. It will depend on the repair cost and if the boiler is likely to break down again and again. It can be a better investment to pay for a new boiler with a 10 or 12-year warranty which will give you peace of mind for a long time.

Boilers are very complex appliances, it is recommended that you have an annual service. This will keep it in top condition. It not only ensures your boiler runs efficiently, it also adheres and preserves your manufacturer’s warranty.

This will be chargeable with a service fee (£80 to £150) or be part of a boiler care plan with monthly payments.

Do you keep experiencing boiler breakdowns? Maybe it is time to upgrade to a new boiler.

Get an instant, no-obligation quote today and we may be able to replace your boiler in 24 hours.

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