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Getting your boiler ready for winter

August 16, 2021

Best practice for homeowners

1. Check the room thermostat

You can easily test the temperature accuracy of the room thermostat yourself by having

an aquarium or kitchen thermometer next to it for an hour then click the dial

up (or down if it's on) to look for the position the click happens.  This gives you a chance to make sure the heating comes on and runs around the radiators.

2. Check the program times

As the nights  get colder you will need the radiators on longer to heat the rooms so setting the morning heat a little earlier will really help.

Hot water times could also need changing, the hot water is often prioritised over heating so when the cylinder is regenerating the heating will be either off or reduced.  Setting the hot water earlier will allow the stored tank to warm up before the heating is needed.

3. Test the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Although this is something that should be done regularly throughout the year it is a good reminder as the boiler comes on more often to make sure your alarms are in date, placed correctly and have been tested.

Battery smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be placed at least on every floor and in areas near heat sources like boilers and the kitchen, they should not be in high moisture areas like bathrooms or shower rooms.  Smoke alarms should be tested once a month which usually entails holding the button down for a few seconds, this will emit a loud beeping noise.

Make sure they all have batteries still in, sometimes people take them out after they’ve been set off by mistake!

4. Radiator bleeding

The radiators are crucial to heating your home, unless you have air heating or underfloor heating you will need the radiators working properly to heat the rooms evenly. 

First check them for air with a radiator key, you can tell if this is necessary by feeling around the front of each rad for cold spots.  If the radiator has cold spots and doesn't have air when you bleed it then you likely have some sludge build up and will need to call an expert to flush the system.

5. Radiator balancing

Balancing the system can be done by a professional but you may want to try it yourself.  First work out if each radiator is heating equally, you may find that some units heat up quite a lot and some are a bit cooler.  If you have eliminated the air or sludge problems then some simple balancing might be needed. This simply means turning down the valves to reduce flow through the radiators that are hotter, this

cannot be done with the thermostatic heads but only (usually) with the return side or lockshield valve.

Turn the vale spindle clockwise to reduce flow and anti-clockwise to increase, you want to check that the return pipe is heating up sufficiently. Typlically, only the last full revolution before turning the unit off has any effect.  Remember - Lefty loosey, righty tighty!

6. Thermostatic radiator valves

During the summer it is very common for the thermostatic valve heads to all shut, as the ambient air temperature is above the set point the sensor will have driven the pin to the closed position.  This pin can get stuck as the rubber internally can seize onto the seat, although the plastic control head may look

like it's working the internal pin is not rising to allow flow through the radiator.

To free up the pin the head needs to be removed, each head is different but most commonly there is a ring or switch at the base which frees the head to pull off (online manufacturers instructions are usually available to help with this).  Once the head is off and you can see the pin you can see if it is stuck down, if it is then there's a very technical solution - hit it with a hammer! No seriously, just a tap though.... A little tap downwards with a hammer or spanner will allow the spring to lift the pin off the seat. 

If you hit it too hard it can make it worse and never try to pull it up with pliers, if you pull it up the pin can come out and you'll get a wet face.

7. Frozen condensate pipes

One of the most (if not the most) common callout reasons in the UK every winter is poorly insulated condensate pipes.  When boilers are installed they all (as of 2005) are required to be condensing, this means that flue gasses run at low temperature to reclaim latent heat.  The condensed liquid then drips

through the boiler and exits through an outlet pipe to a drain.  This outlet pipe is sometimes terminated

inside in which case it won't be an issue but usually it leaves the house in a plastic pipe and is routed to the drain, this pipe should be sized correctly and insulated to prevent freezing but it is very common for the pipe to be too small and un-insulated.

If you have a frost and the pipe outside has frozen it is easy to thaw the ice plug with a kettle of boiled water poured all over it.  There is no way of knowing if the condense is frozen 

8. Home insulation

During the summer we tend to leave windows locked open and any air vents slid to keep cool air flowing around the house, as we get closer to the winter months it is good to check these areas of potential heat loss and seal them up.  Air flow is important to all homes to prevent moisture build up so there is a fine

balance between preventing heat loss and trapping in humidity.

If your loft is uninsulated or poorly insulated then there are plenty of grants available for older and low income homes, loft insulation is the cheapest way to reduce your heating bills and for a relatively small initial cost you have years of savings.

9. Boiler thermostat

You may have a modern boiler with a modulating controller in which case this will be unnecessary, as modern boilers and controls like Nest and some Honeywell controllers will automatically adapt the output of the boiler depending on your requirement.  If you have an older boiler and control, or a non-modulating Controller, like Hive then this is a useful way to increase the heat output of the boiler or conversely saving energy.

if you have a post 2005 boiler/condensing boiler, on the front of most boilers is a simple temperature selection dial, this will control the output from around 50-80°c, in the milder months this can be set to as low as 50°c which will increase efficiency by increasing the condensing effect, but in the winter you will likely need hotter radiators to overcome the freezing temperatures outside, if you can get away with it ideally you want it as low as possible though. For boilers older than 2005 or non condensing  simply adjust to suit comfort.

10. Professional service and safety check

Although there are many things you can do yourself to check the system, unless you are a Gas Safe registered installer you cannot open and check the boiler or other gas appliances.  An RGI (registered gas installer) will be able to service the boiler and test the safety and operation as well as any and all of the above points.

A proper boiler service cannot be done without opening the combustion area, many companies offer a service but simply run basic safety tests.  While this can pick up extreme faults it will not prolong the life of the boiler and will miss many problems, a decent installer will clean the heat exchanger which requires removing the fan.  If your technician does not remove the fan then ask how he is cleaning the heat exchanger, don't settle for less.


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