Plain speaking

The old adage of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ seems perfect for the humble domestic boiler. Mark Derbyshire, Commercial Director at Vaillant, explains how the new Vaillant Plain English Guide could help bring it to the forefront of homeowners’ minds.
Despite recognising that the boiler is the one item homeowners couldn’t cope without in the event of a breakdown, research has revealed that boilers are the one household appliance that homeowners take for granted. According to a study recently carried out by Vaillant, homeowners would rather do without the TV, car, broadband or even their oven than have their boiler break down.
Yet while 86% rate it as an essential or very important part of their home life, three in five of homeowners haven’t had their boilers serviced in the last 12 months. 12% have not had a service for two years, and 10% have never had a maintenance check carried out. Furthermore, 49% of respondents said that they had no idea what make of boiler was installed in their home.
This disturbing report on attitudes to the boiler reveals just how much homeowners take this essential appliance for granted but also how much they fear the consequences and expense of a breakdown.
Four out of ten of those questioned said they had been left without hot water and heating following a boiler failure, which they admitted caused them serious problems. On average, they had waited two and a half days for a repair to be carried out, while 15% (almost one in six) had been left suffering for as long as five days without heating and hot water.
Drastic decision
Nearly half (48%) of the respondents said they had to ‘just grin and bear it’ when their boiler broke down by piling on jumpers and blankets, while a third rushed out to buy not-so-eco-friendly electric heaters. One in ten decided they couldn’t cope and made the drastic decision of moving out of their home and staying with friends or relatives.
Around 20 million of UK households are fitted with a boiler, and, of the 1.5 million sold every year, it is estimated that around 75% of these (1.1 million) are bought to replace an existing device. With two thirds of sales coming in winter months, evidence suggests many purchases are forced on homeowners as a result of a break down.
Despite only one in four people saying they could afford the average replacement cost of £2,459 (as calculated by Which? magazine) without suffering ‘financial stress’, two thirds of people don’t bother at all with service contracts.
Boiler talk
The evidence suggests that boilers are one of those things most homeowners don’t tend to think about until they are forced to, whether that’s because something goes wrong or whether they’re buying a new one.
The world of boilers can be a minefield of technical terms, abbreviations and jargon – and it can be hard to understand exactly what you’re being told.
It’s quite understandable therefore why most people aren’t sure if ‘sludge in the system’ is a good thing or not, or what the difference is between a diverter valve and TRV. And when picking a new boiler, how many homeowners really know whether they’d be best off with a combi, a system or an open-vent model?
The need for plain English
Following the findings from the survey, Vaillant has produced a plain English guide to boiler jargon to help homeowners better understand the problems that can arise and give advice on buying a new boiler.
Of the people surveyed, three in five said a guide that gave additional information in a simple way would be useful when dealing with installers.
Just over a third said they were not very confident about handling tradespeople and a quarter of those who experienced a breakdown said they didn’t really understand what they were told. Another third said they didn’t feel in control or were able to influence the decision to repair or replace.
Almost all of the respondents (95%) expressed an interest in understanding what work was being done, and three quarters of us turn to the internet to search for a cure, while 45% turn to a knowledgeable family member or friend, and one in ten look at ‘How To’ videos on YouTube.
Helping hand
It seems surprising that perhaps the most essential appliance in the home is often the most neglected, and it’s worrying that many families risk hardship and possibly having to move out of their homes because of a boiler breakdown.
From our research, we know that for most homeowners, an encounter with a heating engineer or installer can be quite stressful. Homeowners understandably like to know what they’re getting into, and it’s a fact of life that even the very best installers will say things that are hard to comprehend.
We also appreciate that boilers are complicated and it can be hard to understand what’s happened when things go wrong.
A duty of care
At Vaillant, we believe it is our duty to help installers and homeowners communicate better. In this guide, we simplify the language and cut through the jargon, laying out the terminology of the heating industry in plain English.
So next time you are talking to a homeowner or visiting a household that has suffered a boiler breakdown, why help bring boilers to the forefront of their minds?
The Vaillant Plain English Guide is free to download at