5 difficult-to-spot symptoms of a zombie boiler that needs replacing

Richard Harvey – Category Director for Wolseley Plumb Center – reveals five difficult-to-spot symptoms of a boiler in need of replacement, which installers can use to advise customers they have a cash-guzzling zombie in their midst.
Inefficient boilers aren’t always obvious – they aren’t all giving off yellow flames, leaking, or setting off carbon monoxide alarms. Some tell-tale signs can be altogether more subtle.
Following a campaign in October to root out the nation’s estimated nine million ageing zombie boilers, Wolseley is urging heating engineers to continue championing the cause to rid houses of these ageing, inefficient heating systems.
Costing a small fortune to run in comparison to an efficient, fully-functioning and altogether friendlier, modern boiler, these systems have to work double time in the colder months just to provide heat. They send homeowners’ bills sky rocketing in a bid to keep their ‘living dead’ heating systems functioning.
There are several tell-tale signs showing the apocalypse has reached a home, but being armed with some hard-hitting facts should help them make the decision to exterminate their zombie for good.
5 – The boiler is already over 10 years old
This might seem obvious, but, over time, a boiler will struggle to maintain efficiency even if it doesn’t appear to have major faults. The industry has made huge strides in product research and development in the boiler industry to bring more efficient parts and products to market since 2007. What’s more, newer boilers are compatible with better safety features and smart controls, which save money over the course of a year because of their ability to guide homeowners on where and when to use energy.
Advise customers to switch from their aged, G-rated boiler to a new, A-rated model in order to save up to £350 a year in bills. In 2016, the average dual fuel bill reached £1,123 (according to research by OfGem), and with smart controls able to add a 20% to 30% saving each year, all this can quickly recoup the money spent on a new boiler.
4 – Regular boiler breakdowns
Around one in four homeowners experience a boiler breakdown each year. The older the boiler, the more likely this is to happen, but this isn’t just confined to boilers. If residents experience hot water or heating problems, or if the pressure constantly needs topping up, it’s likely the problems – and call-out costs – will only increase.
In spite of the initial outlay of replacing their boiler, it’s important to let customers know that, in the long run, fixes are expensive. With each call-out at an average of around £100 per hour (with fees added on top), boiler replacement and yearly service can be recovered. An old boiler is likely to break, resulting in gruesome breakdown costs in the darker months when its heating powers are needed most.
3 – Rocketing bills
Many people attribute increasing bills to energy providers, and while it’s worth shopping around to look for a better deal, the cause might actually be a zombie boiler.
During the colder months, heating a home makes up about 60% of energy bills, and the biggest winter fuel saving arrives with replacing an old, inefficient boiler with a new one.
According to Which? statistics, the average annual fuel cost for a semi-detached home with an old, heavyweight gas boiler is £1,204, while with a new condensing boiler would it cost around £744 – a saving of £460.
On the flip side, the magazine also suggests that replacing a non-condensing gas boiler with a condensing one, in the same position, would cost £640–£770 (installation only), plus a full, mechanical system flush at an additional £510. On this basis, it’s worth giving homeowners the facts that keeping a faulty, old zombie boiler running, very quickly becomes more costly.
2 – Noise of the living dead
Worn-out, zombie boilers are noisy house guests. Unpleasant moans and groans aren’t normal for a boiler – they should elicit an altogether more pleasant whirring as they kick into life, not a cacophony of sound.
Noise is one of the dead giveaways of low pressure, a wornout fan or pump, or a blocked pump, so engineers should advise customers to get in touch if they hear anything suspicious from their decrepit relic.
1 – Is it still cold in here?
Zombie boilers simply don’t get the job done and won’t heat a home well. If it takes a long time to kick in, or if homeowners are having to top up their heating with fires, fan heaters or extra layers of clothing, it might be that they have a monster lurking in the house.
A heating engineer will be able to assess the system, checking whether it’s a radiator problem, whether a service and full-system flush is required, or whether replacement parts are needed.
But it may be the problem is more terminal and a new boiler is needed. In the long run, it’ll pay for itself and prevent additional energy bills from having to use other, supportive heat sources to stay warm at home.
All this considered, installers can help communicate the zombie boiler message to their customers by being armed with a handful of facts.
And with smart controls becoming more commonplace across British homes, it’s worth advising on the additional benefits of installing contemporary controls on their new boiler, resulting in a further saving of £75 to £155 a year, according to statistics from the Energy Saving Trust.

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