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Boiler breakdowns – what to do

The central heating boiler is the beating heart of any home. And as winter approaches – and if you haven’t already – now is a good time to make sure yours is maintained and ready for the cold weather.

Certainly, breakdowns are incidents you want to avoid. Any breakdown is likely to happen when you need the heating the most and turns into something of an emergency. And emergency callouts to get it fixed are then going to be all the more expensive.


The best way of avoiding those unexpected breakdowns, of course, is to ensure that your boiler is regularly serviced.

Whether it is the home you live in as the owner-occupier or one that you let to tenants, timely maintenance helps to prevent those troublesome and costly callouts when boiler engineers are likely to be at their busiest. It may typically even be a condition of your buildings insurance policy to ensure that your boiler is regularly serviced.

If you are a landlord, it is more than just prudence, but a matter of law. You have a general obligation to ensure that the accommodation you let is fit for habitation – and that means a warm environment in winter and, hot water on tap. More specifically, you are required to have any gas-fired boiler installation – together with any other gas appliance – inspected and checked by a Gas Safe-registered engineer at least once a year.

What to do if your boiler breaks down

Despite the compelling reasons for having your boiler regularly maintained, a recent survey published by Heating and Plumbing Monthly on the 13th of September revealed that one in ten households have never arranged such maintenance and one in five had not had their boiler serviced within the past year.

The inevitable result is that boilers break down. What should you do if and when that happens?

  • whether you are a homeowner or landlord safety first is paramount;
  • if there is a smell of gas, the normal colour of the flame changes, or there are sooty marks around the boiler, turn it off straight away and call the emergency gas line on 0800 111 999 (open 24-hours a day, whatever supplier you use);
  • if the pilot flame keeps going out, once again don’t try to re-light the boiler, but call out a Gas Safe engineer;
  • these include resetting the pressure gauge on your boiler, checking that the condensate pipe (on the outside of your home) hasn’t frozen up, resetting the thermostat or boiler temperature gauges, relighting the pilot light (provided it is not constantly going out – in which case, call the gas engineer), or resetting your boiler if it has “locked out”.

It is important to stress, however, that you should only try these suggested remedies if you are confident in what you are doing and are absolutely certain that the boiler and its gas supply remain safe. Otherwise, shut everything down, make that call to the emergency gas line, and await the arrival of a certified engineer.

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