In contrast to many of our continental counterparts, in the UK there is no legal requirement for a boiler to be serviced after it is installed. Martyn Bridges discusses the implications of this, and why the industry and Government legislation should place importance on regular servicing.
Boiler servicing is an essential part of the whole-house approach to warmth and efficiency yet many homeowners are failing to have their boilers regularly checked. At this moment in the UK, boilers can go many years without being checked whereas it is mandatory in other countries. For example, in Germany it is a requirement that a boiler is looked at every year; in the Netherlands it is every two years.
In recent years, there has been a trend amongst boiler manufacturers to include longer warranties to give customers additional peace of mind. So when a boiler is initially installed, a commissioning checklist is completed by the installer and remains with the homeowner. That’s all well and good. However, in order for the warranty of a boiler to remain valid, manufacturers stipulate that the boiler must be serviced annually and a record of each service logged.
There are a number of tasks to undertake during the service of a boiler – all detailed within the manufacturer’s instructions. However, almost all of them have a similarity in that they will ask for actions or confirmation on the combustion performance of the appliance, the flue integrity and termination, and the cleanliness of the heat exchanger(s). These are in addition to the general operational checks and hot water temperature checks that are important for a range of boilers in ensuring that the equipment is not only safe but also fit for purpose. The key message is follow the manufacturer’s instructions as there may be individual differences on what is required.
The fact is it’s not just that homeowners who could avoid costly call out repairs and have their boiler performing more efficiently, they could also be at risk if something within a safety element – such as the flue system – has changed or degraded.
Those who rent properties in the UK also need to be aware of the requirements applicable to their boilers. UK landlords are legally required to have a Gas Safety check for appliances and installations, and ensure that this is repeated every 12 months. However, there is sometimes a lack of awareness of this, particularly with the increase in what the housing market calls ‘accidental landlords’ – people who haven’t been able to sell their home and revert to renting it out.
Continuity of heating and hot water
Annual boiler checks ensure continuity of heating and hot water. At the moment, most homeowners seem to wait for something to go wrong before calling someone to repair it, which leaves them with the inconvenience of having no heating or hot water. With this approach to servicing, whenever their boiler is repaired they are often left with a costly bill.
Due to this, homeowners in the UK can have a negative attitude towards installers, associating them with inconvenience and heavy costs. However, regular servicing would negate this and hopefully prevent heating and hot water downtime.
Regular servicing plays an essential role in preventing future breakdowns and ensuring that a boiler is running as efficiently as possible. A heating engineer regularly looking at the boiler could proactively change any part that looks like it is wearing to ensure continuity of supply. This is exactly what we do in other areas of the household – for example, with cars.
MOTs happen after so many miles, and parts that may be functioning OK at that present moment but are showing slight signs of wear and tear are proactively replaced. Not only does this approach have the potential to extend the lifespan of a boiler, but crucially it can help mitigate costs in a time of ever-rising energy bills by ensuring optimum efficiency. It is also pivotal when it comes to UK homeowners protecting their boiler warranty.
Many UK homeowners associate the winter-proofing of their homes with energy efficiency measures such as the installation of insulation and double glazing. Yet very few consider their boilers as part of a whole-house approach to warmth – despite the fact that a regularly serviced boiler is fundamental to ensuring an efficient heating system and cost savings longer-term.
I’m unsure what the barriers are to making boiler servicing mandatory in the UK as we have a huge boiler population – the biggest boiler market in Europe by far. There’s no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t introduce mandatory servicing. In fact, there’s every reason we should. A cultural change in attitudes may be needed – as well as legislative support.
Given all of these benefits and the fact that we all automatically arrange annual servicing for other household investments such as cars, it shouldn’t be seen as a big leap to apply the same principle to boilers. In fact, it is arguably counter-intuitive that we don’t treat our boilers in the same way as other domestic investments.
Naturally, there are clear reasons why the car is a prized possession – such as aesthetics and status of driving certain brands – but on top of this, a car’s resale the value is higher if it possesses a full service history.
I’d argue that this could be the case with a house, and if the boiler is in good condition and has been regularly serviced, potential buyers can see this full service history and should be reassured that the heating system won’t let them down.
It could be suggested that as a nation, we undervalue central heating and expect our boilers to last forever. Until that day when something goes wrong, and it can’t be left and ignored in a cupboard any more. In addition to manufacturers campaigning for change, the industry as a whole needs to be doing more to communicate the importance of servicing to maintain boiler warranties.
Installers have a part to play here and clearly a move to regular servicing will benefit them in business terms as an opportunity to upsell to customers. Our continental counterparts would certainly argue that this is a process that has stood them in good stead for a number of years.