The boiler in our homes is one of those things that works away in the background and we often don’t give it much thought. That is until something goes wrong and the boiler stops working. Then we suddenly realise we need it for both heating and hot water. So, what can you do if you spot a leaking boiler before the situation gets worse?
There are lots of reasons that a boiler might start leaking but some are more common than others. Top of the list is corrosion. This is the effect of water on metal – in other words on most of the parts of the boiler. Corrosion can cause weaknesses that lead to leaks.
Rust is the side effect of corrosion and this can lead to blockages. This puts pressure on pipes and valves and can lead to leaks. Leaks can seem minor but quickly get much worse and lead to a serious flood of water or other problems. That’s why you should always contact a British Gas engineer or whoever offers your boiler coverage as soon as you spot a leak.
What happens next?
Once you have got in touch with your boiler cover provider, they will arrange to send someone out. If you don’t have any cover in place, then you want to get in touch with a Gas Safe registered engineer. These are the only people who can look at a gas boiler safely because they are trained in working on gas. Never try to do anything with the boiler yourself as there is a lot of things that can go wrong and it can be very dangerous.
When you spot a leak, it is a good idea to shut off both the gas and water supply to your boiler to prevent it from getting worse. If you should smell gas in the house, there is a national gas emergency number to call. Ring it and then get everyone out of the house as quickly as possible.
Finding the leak
When the engineer arrives at your home, their job will be to track down the leak and also what caused it. Fixing the leak is just one part of the process – their aim is to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
For example, if you have corrosion in the boiler or the pipes, then some of these parts might need replacing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Or if there is a build-up of rust in the system, you might need some kind of power flush or cleaning process that removes all the rust and allows the system to work fluently again.
Corrosion is the most common cause of problems in a heating system and while you need an engineer to fix it, you can also learn a little about what causes it to better understand what is going on.
Corrosion is where metal returns to its ore form. So, iron becomes iron oxide due to corrosion. It is a complicated process and can come in lots of different forms. It can be across a large area of the entire inside of a boiler or may be a tiny pinpoint penetration of metal that is leading to the problem.
The water in the boiler is the trigger for the process but there are other factors that can cause problems – chemicals added to the water are one example. Acid conditions due to treatments can also lead to problems. Part of the process of sorting out the leak for the engineer will be looking at the whole boiler system and see if there is anything causing the corrosion and what needs to be done to deal with it.
Sometimes the leak doesn’t have anything to do with corrosion or rust but is instead about the pressure in the system. if the pressure is too high, then water can be forced through any weakness in pipes or seals and leas to a leak.
Normally, a safe pressure for a boiler is around 1 bar or 18-21 PSI. Above this and water starts to find weak spots to release the pressure or the pressure release valve will automatically let our water to avoid the boiler bursting.
Limescale and other obstructions such as rust can increase the pressure in the boiler. If this is the case, then these substances will need to be removed before the boiler can be repaired and returned to a safe pressure level.
Other common issues
As well as high pressure, high temperature can cause problems with boilers. This most often happens if the sensor that regulates the temperature malfunctions. This allows the water in the boiler to get too hot and can cause leaks or a shut down for safety reasons. These leaks might also contain really hot water, making them additionally dangerous.
Pipe fittings and pump seals are potential weak spots in the boiler system that can break down over time. Sometimes they may have been fitted incorrectly or simply worn away over time. Your British Gas engineer will be able to look at the problem and assess if parts need replacing or if there is a fault.
Key to keeping your boiler working in top condition and reducing the chance of leaks is to have it regularly serviced. Most companies like British Gas now offer policies that cover breakdowns but also include regular servicing. That way you can have a trained Gas Safe engineer visit the property once a year to carry out a thorough check of the system.
Servicing the boiler will often include looking at all the common problems such as checking the water for signs of rust and corrosion, checking the pipes and seals and making sure temperature and pressure are in the right places. While servicing doesn’t guarantee there won’t be a breakdown, it does reduce the chance of one by catching problems when they first start.
Always use an approved engineer for servicing and ensure they are Gas Safe registered before allowing them to work on your boiler. If you are unsure if they are registered, use a utility company for a recommendation.