This blog is dedicated to informing the general public about plumbing & heating.
It is our endeavour to educate you, inform you, and warn you! If you’d like to contact
us about anything, then please email us on email@example.com Disclaimer at foot of
Always remember that
...and doesn’t know when to use a comma, or two
When you call a plumber,
he’s not going to look like this....
He’s going to be more like this...
Stop limescale dead in the water...
...does what it says...throughout your home
The LimeStop will stop limescale in your combi boiler,
thermal store, hot water cylinder, washing machine, dishwasher, shower, and all your
pipes - and all from one compact little unit.
But be fair, the bloke with the little girl’s-size T-shirt
on isn’t going to be able to fix your plumbing!
Posts appear here in time order with newer ones at the top. Remember, these are just
our views, and you should do your own research on any items or methods mentioned
here. We receive no payment for any recommendations - no one even sends us a multi-pack
of Snickers. So don’t come running to us if our musings don’t work out for you.
This post is a sticky:
LIMESCALE INHIBITORS - Do they work?
Let’s make this clear - this website is sponsored by a particular limescale inhibitor,
the LimeStop, so we’re not ‘independent’ in that respect. However, we can make this
perfectly straight nonetheless: don’t buy a limescale inhibitor if the manufacturer
won’t refund you when it fails to stop limescale. The LimeStop does work, and that’s
why it comes with a money-back guarantee. There are countless devices that promise
to ‘halt limescale’. Bullshine. Will they give you your money back in say, 10 year’s
time, when you discover it hasn’t worked? We are still waiting to hear of any company
that will (apart from the LimeStop). Surely, that says it all, doesn’t it? Yet still
people go out and buy a magnet and stick it to their pipe! There are devices sold
by otherwise-reputable companies who fail to mention that there is no actual performance
guarantee at all!!! And consumers fall for this trick every day. You can read more
We have a sister-site -boilerbuddy.co.uk - where you can view all boilers on sale
and details about them (it does need updating, we’ll get to it soon!). This got us
thinking on boiler-life. We’ve heard some horror stories of boilers completely failing
after just seven years. As replacement can be £2,000 or even more, that’s a replacement
annual cost of a whopping £286 a year - which means you should be squirreling that
amount away each year in preparation for changing your boiler. Crazy, eh? It doesn’t
have to be that way, as many boiler manufacturers will now give you a guarantee of
7 years, while some will give you 10 years. In our rating of boilers and boiler manufacturers,
we came across some real shocks on customer service. We found Glow-Worm to be particularly
poor, scoring just 1 out of 16 in our rating. However, the highest-rated scored only
8! The lowest guarantee period we came across was just a measly one year, by Main
and Vaillant. In reality, they’d be lucky to get away with that against a claim in
a small claims court! So spend your £2,000 or so very wisely, and get one with a
decent guarantee period.
SOLAR PANELS (2)
We covered this earlier in this blog, about just how useless (a waste of your money)
these solar panels are. We recently did this calculation for a customer of ours.
He wanted a solar panel array to heat his hot water. His requirements are for two
showers a day. This is about 7 kWh (electricity to heat requirement). This means
a 3-kilowatt immersion heater on for a little over two hours. His electricity supplier
is charging him 10p per kWh, so his daily requirements are costing him 70p a day
- £255.50 a year. The more astute among you may well see where this is going already.
A ‘3kW’ solar system will provide roughly 2,550 hours of electric-to-heat a year
- that’s about 7 kWh a day, and thus ideal for him. BUT, that ‘3kW’ system (covering
226 square feet of his roof) will cost him around £5,000 to install. If you divide
£5,000 by the annual cost of his electricity to heat his hot water tank (£255.50)
you get a ‘payback’ period of over 19 years. And we haven’t even taken into account
the costs of maintenance, costs of repairs, and loss of interest on the capital invested
(about £100 a year). When you take those factors into the calculation, the solar
array would NEVER pay him his money back. He might just as well carry on paying his
energy supplier the £255.50 a year for the rest of his life. Please people...do the
maths! Solar data supplied by theecoexperts.co.uk
IRESA ENERGY SUPPLIER
If you don’t switch your energy provider at least once a year, then you’re almost
certainly overpaying for your energy. It isn’t at all difficult if you simply use
an online service like uswitch.com. It should be fairly quick too, within a month.
We all know that the vast majority of them are useless at customer service. Some,
like Iresa Ltd, are just plain awful, and best avoided by looking at review sites
online such as Google’s own. In all our years of switching energy suppliers (on an
annual basis), we have never come across a company like Iresa Ltd. They ignored our
meter readings and sent them for ‘validation’. This is a process that uses a mathematical
algorithm by looking at past history of readings. Already, of course, that renders
it next to useless, as there’s nothing like an actual reading! They then massively
over-estimated our reading just at the time they raised their own prices. What a
coincidence, as this placed our account into debit just at the time we wanted to
move to another, cheaper supplier. In fact, our actual usage is 98.4% (accurate)
what we told them it would be for a year’s use. So we offered to clear the debt and
they said they’d take the appropriate amount, thus making our account 1p in credit.
It didn’t happen on the due date, and we enquired why not. While waiting for that
explanation, they asked for a latest reading. This was supplied. They then told us
that the latest reading would hold up the switch-over by at least an additional 14
days while the reading is sent for ‘validation’ again. So this puts back the switch-over
even further into the future...and they can continue charging us more than we need
pay for our energy. Ofgem (ha, ha!) are completely powerless to do anything about
it and wouldn’t even discuss if Iresa is allowed to do this! That’s right, they actually
refused to discuss it! And of course, you can’t go the the Energy Ombudsman, as their
process will only start after EIGHT WEEKS has elapsed since you first complained
to the energy supplier! So, in essence, although you are encouraged to switch suppliers,
the FACT is that when you run into trouble, no one can help you, you’re on your own...stuffed.
This is the state of energy supply in Britain, today.
ELECTRIC HEATING (2)
If you’ve been readings our ramblings for some time then you’ll be aware of our campaign
to get consumers to at least toy with the idea of electric heating instead of conventional
gas-fired boiler and radiators. Now, the one thing you’ll hear time and again is
that electric heating is expensive. Well, it isn’t. So before we go any further,
let us tell you that we live in a 3-bed detached home with normal levels of insulation.
We have electric heating and hot water - and of course - lighting and cooking. Our
electric bill is £150 a month. We have underfloor electric heating, and we’re continually
thankful that we have no pipes, no radiators, no fluepipe, no fumes, no noise, no
servicing and no maintenance. And that’s key, because our expense is JUST the electric
bill itself. With a gas-fired boiler and radiators you will have (in addition to
all the disadvantages) regular servicing and breakdowns, AND eventual replacement
costs of the boiler (£200 to £250 a year!). In any calculation on costs you must
include those costs too. When you do, you’ll see that electric heating can be just
a little more than gas. But we actually went all-electric for the convenience. We
have no grotty steel radiators on our walls for one thing. Also, each room is individually
temperature controlled. We have no silly nests or hives!
We’ve met some very bright plumbers and heating engineers, ones who could hold a
conversation on physics and chemistry. However, it has to be said, we’ve also met
some who cannot even understand some basic stuff - and these plumbers are out there
charging customers for work that they don’t even understand themselves! We met someone
recently who doesn’t understand what pressure is. He thinks, because he installed
a big water tank, that the pressure at the taps will be greater! We got called out
because the promised increased pressure didn’t materialise. Let us explain: head
of pressure is all about...height. The column of water from top to bottom determines
what the pressure (at the bottom) will be. We once watched a TV programme about dock
gates in Denmark. The narrator went on about how strong they had to be to withstand
the pressure from the entire Atlantic Ocean! How about that for stupidity? So you
see, it’s not just plumbers who can be ignorant, so can journalists. The pressure
you get at a tank-fed tap (we’ll ignore flow, and the intricacies of static and working
pressures) depends on how high above the tap the level of the water in a tank is.
The tank itself could be tiny (maybe just enough for a kettle) or as large as the
entire loft. It doesn’t matter, the pressure would still be the same! What matters
is how high the tank is. It’s all about gravity. For very 10 metres of height you
get 1 bar of pressure. The pressure at a typical kitchen tap is 0.5 bar because the
height is 5 metres from the tap to the top of the water level in the tank. ‘Flow’
depends on pressure AND the ease at which the fluid can move.
THE FUTURE OF HEATING - Stopping heat loss
The future of heating is that there isn’t one. Yep, no joke. Though admittedly some
time off into the future, there will be no heating trade. There will only be a ‘hot
water trade’. If you haven’t yet heard of a ‘passive house’ then you will soon. We
confidently predict that every single home will, in the future, be a passive-style
home. Very basically, a passive house is one built to extreme levels of insulation.
All gaps are sealed, and even ‘thermal bridges’ like metal handles (one that goes
from inside to outside, such as a door handle) are eliminated - as they conduct heat
out, obviously. Fresh air is fanned into the building at a rate just enough to remain
healthy - though we think it should be a higher rate. The incoming fanned air is
warmed by the outgoing fanned air. The floor of the building has a concrete layer
on top of an insulated layer, so heat isn’t lost through the floor. All windows are
triple-glazed. The design makes use of solar heating in the winter, but restricts
solar heating in the summer. It’s all very clever stuff, but very obvious when you
consider it. We recently came across a home where the heating bill is just £12 a
month! The great thing about this is that your ‘heating system’ could simply be a
few electric fan heaters which only have to be on for a very short time. The key
is that the building loses hardly any heat at all...
This lovely Cambridgeshire home costs just £220 a year to heat! So look out for the
phrase ‘passive house’ because if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to be very young,
then you will live in one in the future. Pretty soon, passive homes will be a standard
requirement for all new builds. It’s crazy that we are still building homes that
leak heat. Ever-tightening building regulations and controls will force developers
(who certainly aren’t progressive enough) into making these changes in building.
Developers have known about passive homes for some years, but ignored all their benefits
- as they do! For example, despite the fact that car owners are switching over to
electric cars, developers like David Wilson Homes are still building multi-blocks
of homes with no car-charging points!
DO IT DEAD, NOT LIVE
We recently advised a customer of ours to get her usual plumber to change her service
valve (stop-cock) as it was not operable. We advised her that the mains would have
to be frozen as there was no outside service valve to isolate it while the replacement
was carried out. We were shocked to hear that her plumber had ‘done it live’. This
means he didn’t have a freezing kit, and instead did the replacement while the mains
water was still on. The above pic tells you what can happen when you try this (and
no, we don’t know why there are three hands in the picture!). It’s all well and good
saying that there will be a “bit of water” but you certainly can’t be sure that the
job will go smoothly. She wasn’t at home when he did it, and we’re guessing he had
a large aquavac at hand and a large towel. But it’s just not worth the risk. If your
plumber offers to ‘do it live’, politely decline the offer.
THE FUTURE OF GAS
There is much talk within the gas market about hydrogen replacing methane (gas) to
power boilers, cookers, fires etc. This may be introduced into the mains as a mix,
or replace methane altogether. There are two reason for this: Gas won’t last forever,
and secondly, our government have bizarrely signed us up to reducing our CO2 emissions
so drastically that we have to look at significant ways to bring our emission levels
down - and gas boilers emit a lot of the UK’s CO2. By 2040 all cars in the UK will
be fully electric, and this will reduce our CO2 emission level by quite a factor.
However, gas boilers emit more CO2 than cars, so a larger emission reduction can
be achieved by halting CO2 from boilers altogether. This is still a long way off,
if it happens at all. For one thing, the cost will be huge - billions and billions!
For another, hydrogen has to be highly pressurised - far more than methane gas. All
pipes are fittings would have to be replaced. Having said that, it may still be cheaper
than converting everyone to electric...maybe. But the future for power is highly
unpredictable. Hopefully, over the next twenty years or so, we may well have cracked
plasma fusion (or even quark fusion), and generating electricity with no emissions
at all will have arrived. So we would expect to see everything being powered by ‘cheap’
electric, with small power stations dotted all over the country, rather than a national
grid. Obviously, the days of methane gas are numbered either way.
WHAT IS A COMBI BOILER?
The very first combination (combi) boiler we saw was back in the early 1980s. They
were considered ‘European’ by installers - some fancy new foreign idea. Of course,
they were a great idea, but as usual with Britain, a good idea took some time to
take hold! Plumbers and heating engineers are a very conservative and conventional
lot. It took years for plastic pipe and fittings to be considered ‘ok’ to use. And
unfortunately, it is plumbers and heating engineers that govern whether something
will be acceptable, or not. Conventional systems (still around today) use a boiler,
hot water cylinder, and loft tanks. Very basically, a combi boiler combines heating
and hot water inside one appliance, so it does away with a store of hot water (the
cylinder). The loft tanks are also done away with, as the boiler uses mains water
for the hot water, and also uses mains water to ‘charge up’ (pressurise) the system
- usually to around 1 bar (standard mains pressure is around 4 bar). Although most
of the points about a combi boiler are positive, such as freeing-up an airing cupboard
and the loft, there are some disadvantages. If you have your local water company
playing outside, and they cut your water off, then you will have no store of water
to use up. Also, when a combi boiler breaks down (and they do) you’ll have no hot
water or heating. Some combi boilers are inappropriate for houses with large families,
as the boiler just can’t cope with the hot water demand. There’s no ‘immersion’ heater
in a combi boiler, either. However, everything else is an advantage. The system water
in a combi system will be a sealed one - so your system water isn’t open to the air
for contaminants and oxygen-intake (causing rust). A combi boiler is cheaper than
the combined cost of a boiler, cylinder, tanks, pump, and working bits. Obviously,
they are more efficient, too. However, one thing is imperative - size...
SIZE DOES MATTER
When choosing a combi boiler, one thing is very simple: the larger the boiler (in
kilowatts) the better your flow of hot water will be. Always go for at least a 35kW
boiler, maybe a 38kW, or even a 40kW. Your installer may well try to sell you a 28,
26, or even a 24! They may be ok if you live alone, but the more people you have
in the house, the bigger the boiler should be - obviously. Small boilers can’t add
enough heat to cope with the demand for hot water from two taps at once. So no matter
what your installer tells you, override him (or her) and insist on one that will
give you plenty of hot water. Look for the flow rate in litres per minute (lpm) at
a rise of 35 degrees C. You want an absolute minimum of 13 litres per minute, but
15 or even 16 would be great. We like the Ariston E-Combi Evo 38 (15.6 lpm), the
Atag iC Economiser 39 (17 lpm), and the Ferroli Modena HE38 (16 lpm). You can read
more at www.boilerbuddy.co.uk
HOLDING BACK THE FLOW
No, not a post about the amount of immigrants pouring into Britain, but a few words
about taps. There’s a tendency among retailers of taps to stock only those made for
fantastic water pressures. We’ve been called out to look at taps where the water
flow has been reported as poor...but the tap is brand new! We don’t even have to
look under the basin to see why. Far too many taps are being sold that have tiny-bore
flexible tubes to connect them to the supply. We saw a brand new kitchen tap a few
weeks ago where the inlets were just 8mm - that’s half the width of a standard water
supply pipe. See the copper tubes in the photo above? These are far too narrow for
tank-fed supplies. They are only just about ok if the mains water pressure is good.
However, the hot water supply to this particular tap was from a conventional cylinder,
with a tank in the loft (for the hot water). So the head of pressure was just 5 metres.
Needless to say that it is struggling to even fill a bowl. When you see a tap you
like, ask the salesperson if you can look at the connections underneath, and the
tubes that come with the tap. Rule of thumb: if they’re narrower than your thumb,
then don’t buy it - unless you have great water pressure that will overcome the restrictive
size of the tubes.
BOILERS IN LOFTS
Please don’t! Even if your installer says it’s ok, say no. Although it is tempting
to free up space in your home, when it goes wrong, you’ll have to empty half the
loft just to get to it, and your service engineer won’t be pleased about it - as
some public liability insurers won’t cover him if there is no proper staircase up
to the loft. Also, do you really want mains-pressure water pipes perched above all
your rooms and furnishings? This photo shows all the pipes unlagged too. It gets
damned cold in your loft in the winter!
HOT WATER CYLINDERS (‘TANKS’)
Replace this contraption........with a heat bank...................or a thermal
We should say, right from the off here, that we’re not fans of water saving. Let’s
not waste it, of course, but let’s have decent showers when we finally have the technology
and appliances to deliver them! It’s odd, but as soon as the days of poor showers
ended, some eco-greenies immediately want to take us back to them! Well, we don’t.
Having said that, we’re not fans of the huge ‘rain’ shower-heads, either. The point
of this post is to inform you that you should always size your hot water cylinder
according to your needs. Chances are that the cylinder you currently have was installed
with the heating system a few decades ago. The standard then was ‘36x18’ - this being
36” high (900mm) x 18” (460mm) wide. However, people seem to be showering/bathing
more often, and the kids are not leaving the nest until they’re in their late 20s.
This means that the old standard cylinder may not have the volume of water demanded
of it now. So when yours finally goes pop (usually after 20 years you should seriously
be thinking of replacing it!) that would be a good time to upgrade, so look for a
larger one. The alternative is to go for a mains-pressure cylinder. As the name suggests,
you’ll get mains-pressure water from it. There are two types: a heat bank, and a
thermal store. It’s not right that many plumbers don’t even know the difference.
A heat bank ‘banks’ the heated water for use later. This type of cylinder (very often
referred to as a Megaflow) is full of mains water at high pressure. Because of that,
it requires some safety devices AND, crucially, it should actually be serviced annually...and
none of them ever are! We prefer thermal stores. This type doesn’t store mains water,
it stores system water at normal system pressure. It’s that water that is stored
hot. When you turn on a hot water tap, the cold water goes through a coil that is
enveloped in the stored hot water and then goes through a thermostatic mixer valve
(it mixes with cold water to cool it down a bit) and out to the tap. Another version
uses a heat exchanger and a pump. Thermal stores do not require any servicing, nor
any safety devices, and neither do they store any water at high pressures. Both heat
banks and thermal stores make for fantastic showering, and will very quickly fill
a bath. Also, because they both store water at high temperatures, there is more of
a store of hot water, so it’s less likely to run out of water - “Mum, all the hot
water’s gone!” will be a thing of the past...which leads us on to another post...
24-HOUR HOT WATER
We’ve cured many a complaint of poor system performance by doing something very,
very simple...adjusting the programmer. Yes, really. We’ve had complaints that on
a cold morning, the heating isn’t brilliant, and neither is the hot water. Very often,
the cause of this is a simple one of programming the times. Let us explain: many
people put their hot water onto a timed setting - say, once or twice a day. So when
the heating AND the hot water ‘call’ for heat at 6.00 in the morning, the boiler
has to try and heat the radiators AND the hot water cylinder at the same time. Now,
many boilers will cope with this, but some won’t. It’s simply much easier and much
more convenient to leave your hot water on ‘24-hrs’. This means that the boiler will
constantly respond to your cylinder’s call for heat. The increase in fuel-use will
be tiny, if any at all. Why? Because your hot water cylinder almost certainly has
a thermostat on it...so it will only heat up to what it’s required to anyway! Then
it will switch the boiler off. So you’ll always have a store of hot water (never
run out) and the boiler won’t have to cope with heating two systems (hot water and
heating) at once so much. We knew of a small family who were exhausting their hot
water every night because the programmed times for the hot water were off after 9.00
in the evening - so when they all showered (by 10.30) the hot water was gone. In
the morning, the boiler was required to heat the cylinder up from stone-cold AND
supply heat to all the radiators. Simply switching their hot water onto ‘constant’
(or 24-hr) meant that after they had all showered, the boiler re-heated the cylinder
ready for the morning. When the timer got to 6.00 all the boiler was required to
do was the heat the radiators! Simple, eh? They thought we were geniuses. Well, what
can one say?
Update: Just done it again! Report of poor hot water performance in the mornings
on a thermal store cylinder. We found the cylinder cool to the touch, and the boiler
set to 72 degrees C. So, we just switched the programmer to 24hrs and turned the
boiler up to 82 degrees C. Customer reports hot water performance now top notch.
AH, THE GOOD OLD DAYS!
If your service valve (stopcock) looks like the one pictured on the left, then you’re
in good company - most are. You’re also stuck in the days when everything was in
black & white! You do know that we’ve landed a man on the Moon, right? This type
of valve should have passed away with Walt Disney. Alas, we come across them every
week. They are terrible! First of all, they stick. If they don’t stick then they
leak around the gland seal. And they can break off if you apply too much strength!
Jeez! What’s even worse, is that we know of many plumbers still installing them.
Why? Because they’re cheap - about £3.50. But wait, the quarter-turn, lever, type
(the right hand picture) are just £4.00! The quarter-turn type doesn’t stick, doesn’t
leak, and won’t break off...for just 50p more. Most of the people we come across
don’t know where their service valve is, and can’t turn it anyway, even if they manage
to find it. The quarter-turn type is what you SHOULD have. Call your plumber and
ask him to fit one. Don’t wait until you have a real water emergency and can’t turn
the water off! The old fashioned stopcock cannot be turned off by the vast majority
of people due to limescale and/or corrosion. The quarter-turn type is effortless,
and can even be turned off by people with reduced ability. Even a child can turn
BOILER/HEATING INSURANCE COVER - Watch it!
Having insurance is always a gamble, but given the almost inevitability of a boiler
breakdown, it’s a good thing to consider. If you have a reliable, friendly plumber
who is almost a family friend, then don’t bother - as long as he’s friendly enough
to tend to your broken heating on Xmas day! For everyone else, then insurance should
be considered. There are some things to note, though. First of all, if your boiler
is more than 15 years old, then forget it - no one will be interested in taking it
on. Also, don’t insure twice! Check any insurances you already have, such as ‘Home
Emergency Cover’. It’s a little-known fact that 20% of building insurances already
cover you for ‘home emergencies’. Most important of all, make sure you have had the
boiler serviced, and that you have the invoice. Your claim (when it goes wrong) will
be invalidated otherwise. There are a considerable variety of monthly charges for
boiler/heating insurance, so it may be better to use a comparison website, such as
uswitch. Be careful what you cover, such as replacement cylinders (hot water tank)
etc., and ensure that electrics are covered - as any fault is highly likely to be
electrical. Also, ensure that your excess (the part you have to pay in any claim)
isn’t too high, otherwise it isn’t economic to have the insurance in the first place.
Finally, watch the 2nd year renewal costs. It’s prudent to compare cover all over
again rather than just auto-renewing. If your heating fails and you’re not covered,
it’s not the end of the world! A few well-placed electric fan heaters will quite
sufficiently take the place of your heating while you find an engineer. However,
the failure of hot water is more serious, and you may have to occupy friends’ and
neighbours’ bathrooms before it’s fixed. Obviously, always use someone who is appropriately-qualified
to work on the fuel that feeds your boiler. It’s a common mistake by some consumer
websites that say you should “always” use a Gas Safe engineer. Well, duh, not if
you have an oil boiler! We also know of a ‘health & safety’ website telling people
they should have a “Carbon Dioxide” alarm installed! Er, no.
During a fire, most of the damage isn’t caused by the fire, but by the water used
to put it out! Water damage is heart-breaking. Almost all wood surfaces and furniture
will be ruined, as well as kitchen cupboards and laminate flooring. Even within our
trade, there is little understanding of the pressure that can be placed on internal
pipework systems subject to ambient heat - where that excess pressure can’t go back
down the mains water supply due to a non-return valve. As for plastic piping and
water fittings, which have become the norm now, they have their limit - and it’s
very often a lot lower limit than for copper. For this reason we would recommend
that you install a ‘pressure reducing valve’ immediately after your service valve
(stopcock). This limits the pressure - usually to 3-bar - in what would otherwise
be, maybe a 5-bar incoming mains pressure. Many mains-feed hot water cylinder manufacturers
insist that their appliances are protected by such a valve. Toolstation sell one
for just £19.97 - and we think that’s £20 well spent.
Smart meters are being pushed hard, and will be installed in your home (if you want
one) by your energy supplier. These meters are supposed to save anyone reading the
meter, and that you get billed on your usage (when the whole sorry saga is finally
sorted out!). Your supplier will be able to vary your costs according to different
times of the day. So if the government want to encourage you to use night-time electricity
(and they will!), they will induce suppliers to offer cheaper rates. It goes without
saying that daytime rates can be bumped up in price to deter use when there is peak
demand. This may sound Orwellian, but just ask yourself why smart meters are coming
– it isn't for your benefit. Conspiracy theorists have pointed out that it will be
possible for the government to shut down whole districts if it wanted to at the press
of a computer keyboard button. Whatever, but the strange thing about smart meters
is that they are sometimes called dumb meters. This is when the supplier you’re with
doesn’t support the technology to be able to remotely read your meter! Someone we
know went to great lengths to have one installed, only to find that the supplier
(being too small) was still asking for meter reads! So if you’re going to have one,
ask your supplier first if they really do support the thing, and that you won’t have
to send them readings anymore.
WANT A NEW GAS BOILER? Wait, read this first
If your decision is going to be based on efficiency, then you may want to think again.
Chances are that the gas boiler you already have is actually quite reasonably efficient.
It is well know within our trade (and hardly known outside of it) that condensing
boilers don't condensate that often anyway – so aren't in 'efficient mode' much,
if ever! If you spend out £2,000 on a new boiler, you can't even hope to get anywhere
near that in 'saved' gas over the boiler you are replacing – so you NEVER get your
money back. The figures quoted in boiler brochures are very often in lab conditions,
not real-world heating systems. If you run your new boiler at temperatures low enough
to get the boiler to condensate, then it might well struggle to heat your home –
or you will have to increase the size of your radiators. Chances are that you'll
have to replace the boiler again way before you could approach anything like getting
your investment back. Just do the maths yourself. Always remember that anything that
saves you money has to be 'cheap' to purchase. If it isn't, then unless it's extraordinary,
the saved energy won't equal the purchase cost. Why spend £100 to save you £90?
If you still want a new boiler, check out our website comparing them all -www.boilerbuddy.co.uk
HIVES & NESTS
Will your 'Hive' save you in heat, more than the cost of buying it? As a British
Gas customer, it will set you back £108 a year, but will it save you more than that?
They speak of savings of “up to” £150 a year, but that's only £42 more than it costs.
And will your heating system really save you the maximum? Well we don’t think they’re
worth it. There’s a lot of hype over gadgets like these, but it always comes back
to what we keep repeating - why spend £100 to save you £90? The Nest is the other
gadget. That will cost you around £180, and they make claims that you will save a
lot! Yeah, right. Just remember one thing before you part with your money: the assumption
is that before you fit one of these things, you keep your heating on! Yes, really.
The ‘savings’ are based on a scenario where you stupidly just leave your heating
on all the time. So if you fiddle (even a little) with the thermostat already - most
do - then the ‘savings’ figures won’t apply to you. Great, eh? Worse, if you are
one of those who just put your heating on for a few hours, installing one of these
devices will actually cost you MORE than you’re paying now. A fool and his money...
SHOWER HOSES - and heads
We’re often asked about shower hoses, and we strongly advise that you should be very
careful with your choice. Most shower hoses are cheap, Chinese efforts that have
a very small bore inside (the size of the tube inside). These are no good at all!
They restrict the flow too much. Great, if you’re an eco-greenie and want to save
the planet, but no good if you want a decent shower. We’ve seen them as little as
8mm bore - that’s about as wide as a pencil!!! ONLY ever go for 11mm bore - available
in Screwfix, code 6321G (for 1.25 metres long) or 9879G (1.75 metres long - both
made by Mira). It’s not difficult to understand; up to a point, the more water you
can get through your shower hose and head, the better your showering experience.
Many shower mixers have fine-mesh filters inside the water ports. The trouble is,
so do many eco shower-heads! So that’s two sets of water flow restrictions going
on. If you add in a narrow-bore shower hose as well, then the flow is severely restricted.
As well as a rotten showering experience, it can actually cause shower pumps to halt,
then re-start - thus wearing the pump. Let’s all save on water use where we reasonably
can, but we think that a shower should be great. You want plenty of water at a nice
temperature. You don’t want a camp-site experience! We hope to be testing shower
heads in a big way in the near future. We hope to test as many as we can for flow
SOLAR PANELS - Don’t bother!
Ah, the allure of generating your own electricity to use all on your home, and kiss
your crabby old gas heating system goodbye! Yes, well, forget it. Assuming a typical
home requiring 16,500 kWh a year, you’re going to need a substantial solar panel
array in size and cost. In fact, you’d probably need a ‘10kW’ system. The average
roof isn't big enough for such a system, so you would have to look at losing your
entire rear lawn over to a mini solar-farm set-up. Such an array of panels would
be around 67 square metres – over 8 metres by 8 metres of panels! The cost of such
a system is around £19,000. To get this investment, what are you supposed to do,
use your savings? If you do that then you will lose £500 a year that you’re currently
getting in interest, and those savings are there for rainy days. If you borrow the
investment needed, then you will be paying out £1,400 a year in interest for 20 years. So
your energy-cost requirement has gone down from £1,700 a year (to an energy supplier)
to £1,400 (in interest) – a saving of just £300 a year. However, this takes no account
of the failure of the inverter (the smart box that converts DC to AC), failures of
components, and maintenance. So is the saving worth having? Well, it would appear
not – you’d be simply paying out in interest and maintenance what you’d otherwise
be paying to an energy supplier. Overall balance - zero!
WHERE TO BUY WATER FITTINGS, ETC.
There are many plumbing merchants and little stores selling plumbing stuff, like
the often-misspelled Plumb Centre. But as a DIYer or just a punter looking to buy
a washer, they can make you feel intimidated without even trying. And, let’s be fair,
you’re probably going to annoy the skilled craftsman waiting in the queue behind
you while you try and explain that you’re after ‘one of these’ that has just broken
off of your pipe. So we can thoroughly recommend Toolstation for most plumbing stuff.
The prices are good, there’s not usually that much of a wait (if at all) and they
are in most towns, now. We don’t recommend Wickes (too expensive*).
*Odd, because Wickes is owned by the same company that own Toolstation!
Ooh, this is widely misunderstood! Heating engineers tend to keep quiet about it
largely through ignorance. They don’t have anything to do with it because it isn’t
profitable for them, obviously. To install a typical wet central heating system is
days of work, so days of profit. You are going to have to excuse him/(her, now, too)
if he/she doesn’t want to entertain even the thought of electric heating, because
it can be installed in less than a morning. Not much profit there! Many electric
heaters (time & temperature controlled) are simply plug-in and go, even if some of
the user instructions are written by a complete gimp. They are smart, neat, and very
convenient. We like Screwfix’s glass panel heaters for around £60 for a 1kw version.
They are available in white or black. That means that a ‘10-radiator’ heating system
would cost you just £600 and all you have to do is screw them to the wall and plug
them in. This is great for landlords of to-let properties - no more annual Gas-Safety
certificates! If you want to go up-market a bit, then go for WarmUp’s foil underfloor
electric heating. Just imagine, no radiators! We hate radiators. The WarmUp system
will give you 140 watts per square metre - so in effect your whole floor is one big
radiator...but at reduced heat. There is nothing like warm floors for comfort. Control
is via a room thermostat in each room. WarmUp’s own room thermostats (like many!)
are ridiculously-complicated to understand and use, and we thoroughly recommend that
you source your own simple-to-use room thermostats. We installed a system that ignores
the floor temperature altogether, and just stays on until the air temperature is
up to the level required. Now, the benefits of an electric heating system far outweigh
the slight increase in running costs - and indeed it can be slight! Electric heating
can mean no flue, no fumes, no pipes, no boiler, and no radiators. It is simply far
superior to wet heating. Radiators are so 1960s. ‘Forced air’ or underfloor heating
is the way to go. Before we go on, ‘forced air’ is simply an electric element with
a fan behind it. It’s great for fast heating. However, most people prefer underfloor
heating. And electric underfloor heating is easily installed, though it is best done
during refurbishment. Right, now for that bit about costs. Everyone assumes gas heating
is cheaper than electric. On fuel, it is. But fuel isn’t the only thing to consider.
Gas boilers have to be serviced and maintained. On average, they also have to be
replaced every 10 years! If a typical boiler replacement is £2,500 then that’s £250
that you have to add to your running costs for gas EVERY YEAR! The average gas bill
is around £800. Add servicing & maintenance of £150 a year, and boiler replacement
of £250 a year and you’re up to an annual cost of £1,200. That is the ‘true’ cost
of a gas-fired heating system. Well, going electric isn’t that much more - if any
at all! There’s no maintenance or servicing, and many underfloor heating mats are
guaranteed for 25 years now. You can buy electric for about 10p per kWh, so to heat
a home (and hot water, and cooking, and lighting) all by electric might cost you
£1,200 for a typical 3-bed, terraced property. We know a lady living alone in such
a property, who definitely doesn’t skimp on her electric heating, paying just £1,000
a year. There is a big lie said about electric heating, principally that it costs
too much, and much more than gas. IT DOES NOT! Do your own research before you go
for it, and make sure that you’re paying as little for your electric as possible
by using somewhere like uswitch.com. Your heating engineer isn’t going to tell you
about electric heating for two reasons: one is that he/she will probably be ignorant
about it, and the other is that it isn’t in his/her financial interests to tell you
about it. We say, go for it, but remember that electricity will cost more in the
future, thanks to the government’s insane renewable-energy policies of giving money
to people to put up useless wind turbines, etc. The cost of this continued insanity
will mean higher electric bills until someone cracks tokamak plasma fusion.
MAGNETIC FILTERS FOR CENTRAL HEATING - SHOULD YOU GET ONE, AND WHY?
See the article below this one first. Most radiator systems should have a magnetic
filter attached, to mop up any ferrous debris sloshing about. Magnetite-sludge can
cause the failure of a boiler, and of a complete system. You do NOT need one if you
have aluminium radiators or an underfloor heating system. All these devices are are
just a powerful (one would hope) magnet in the water line. As the water flows over
the magnet, any ferrous debris gets picked up by the magnet and thus cannot go on
to cause any problems. Unfortunately (yes, you knew it was coming) we’ve seen pathetic
magnetic filters with magnets way too small or not powerful enough. We also don’t
like plastic magnetic system filters, as plastic and heating don’t have an affinity
with each other. We much prefer the metal ones. They should be installed on the ‘return’
pipe of your heating system just before the boiler. They should be accessible (as
you need to clean them periodically) and easy to clean.
FLUSHING A HEATING SYSTEM. DOES IT WORK?
In short, yes and no. Sorry about that, but it isn’t a simple question. Central heating
systems (those with radiators, not underfloor heating) can get bunged up with black,
oily-water...magnetite-sludge. This sludge is NOT limescale - even if your heating
engineer says it is. There may be a bit of limescale in it (not much), but almost
all of it will be simply rust...from your radiators - hence why we said it doesn’t
happen with underfloor heating. Your radiators are rusting away. Always remember
that radiators are usually steel, bare steel, with water. Add some air (oxygen) and
they will rust unless you have a sufficient corrosion inhibitor added. Towel rails
seem particularly prone to this. A poorly-designed system can also cause the radiators
to rust, as can soldering flux left in the system from new. But a fresh supply of
air in your system is the chief culprit. This can even be the problem in a sealed
system, such as a combi boiler where the system is re-charged with fresh water too
often - due to a water leak somewhere. This will cause the system to lose pressure.
In fact, if you really want to ruin a boiler (and system) quickly, just re-charge
the system every week or so, that should do it. Magnetite-sludge will result. This
is when you call in your plumber with a report that your system isn’t heating up
enough, or is making peculiar noises, or is even tripping out. If his diagnosis is
magnetite-sludge, then you have two choices: clean it out in a process called ‘power-flushing’,
or rip the entire lot out and start again. The first option will cost you several
hundred pounds. The second option will cost you several thousand pounds. Needless
to say, most go for option 1...and this isn’t always best. The trouble is that to
get that rust out of your heating system isn’t easy. It’s heavy, thick, and likes
to get stuck just about everywhere. There are many small businesses now that will
come along to your home, drag a glorified pump out of their van, and start pumping
water and chemicals into your system to pump the sludge out. All very well. But what
they don’t tell you is that the very best (and we do mean the very best) that they
could achieve would be an 80% removal rate. More often than not, it would be more
like 50% - maybe less. We KNOW that there are many individuals carrying out power-flushing
who are doing it completely wrongly. They can even make the problem worse! We’re
not going into the technical details of just how and why they are doing it wrongly,
as it would require a large diagram and a complete explanation - you’re just going
to have to take our word for it. But put very briefly, the flushing water should
never drag system water through the boiler - yet SO MANY do! Both the ‘wash’ and
the ‘flush’ should only ever pump water INTO the boiler. So given all that, we reckon
that you should seriously consider ripping your old system out, and going for a modern
one - with plastic pipes, aluminium radiators (if you really must have radiators)
and a sealed-system boiler. You wouldn’t think much of paying £8,000 for a used car,
so think less hard about paying that for a great system. If you think £8k is a bit
much, we are suggesting a great system, with proper thermostatic control, not the
average type of system that a heating engineer will quote you. Remember, he’s competing
against other quotes.
BLEEDING AIR FROM A RADIATOR
If one or more of your radiators are cool at the top, but warm further down, then
they almost certainly need ‘bleeding’. Rule number one, is to go and shut the system
down completely. DO NOT bleed the system of air with the system running. Always use
a large cloth under the key while bleeding the air. Only slightly turn the key anti-clockwise
just quarter of a turn. This will be enough to let the air out. As soon as water
appears (and it may be black - see article above) shut the valve off. If you’ve removed
a lot of air, like filling a radiator again after removing it for decorating, then
you will probably hear the expansion tank re-filling with water in the loft (hopefully!).
However, if you are bleeding air from a system that is of the ‘sealed’ type (such
as that with a combi boiler) then you may well need to re-charge your system with
fresh water through the ‘filling loop’. See your boiler user instruction manual.
DO NOT leave the flexi tube of the filling loop attached. Ensure both valves are
off, and undo the flexi tube. Cap off both valves. If you continually have to bleed
even one radiator, then you have a problem. It may well indicate a system leak somewhere.
THE INSANITY OF RENEWABLES (this is a favourite of ours, and we’ll return to it)
We get to hear of a people boast of their heating system's efficiency, and how they
are saving shed loads of money, or how their heating system costs them just a couple
of hundred pounds a year. Arrgh! How did they achieve that? They spent a LOT of money
(always in excess of £25,000) on a solar panel array, a heat pump, a wood-burning
stove, and a high-efficiency boiler. That's not a saving, that's just simple shifting
of numbers - pure mathematics. If your concern is the environment, then great, but
don't tell lies with numbers just to fool yourself. And don't even get us started
on the complexity of a 'high-efficiency' package. Most people move home anyway, so
don't get to recoup what they've shelled out. We want to stress that investing in
something is great if it will pay you back handsomely and fairly swiftly. After all,
an 'investment' is an “asset that is purchased to generate income”. So there is an
extremely simple formula to follow:
Cost of Investment £
Cost of maintenance of that investment £
Loss of interest @2% on money invested £
A - Total £
Amount that the investment will pay to you £
Amount that the investment will save you £
Interest gained on money @2% £
B - Total £
B must always be a larger figure than A. This very simple formula enables you to
see (after a period of time) what the investment will cost you, pay you, and save
you. Now, we often hear of schemes that are 20 to 25 years long. To us, this is ridiculous.
Surely, any investment should have started 'paying you back' after 15 years, preferably
10, so you might want to use that number of years as an example. We have heard (from
manufacturers of solar panels) a pay-back period of just eight years. However, when
you use the formula above, that eight years becomes 16...minimum. Loss of interest
is something almost completely overlooked. That £25,000 you had sitting in an account
somewhere was paying you £500 a year – even at 2%. You can't ignore that, yet every
manufacturer of an 'efficiency investment' will keep quiet about it. Some investments,
like a wind turbine, might only save/pay you £500 a year for a £25,000 turbine. So
it's paying you what you're already losing in interest! Pointless. It's not a 50-year
payback, it's never! A self-builder we know has almost finished his lovely new build.
He's spent £50,000 on a solar array, a ground source heat pump, a Tesla battery system,
and underfloor heating. He's pleased that he's been told he will have no need of
a boiler, but quite unaware of the fact that that £50,000 would more than pay his
entire energy bill for at least the next two decades – had he not gone down the 'renewal'
avenue and settled for a simple heating system in a well-insulated home. I’m afraid
to say that he may not even see any 'payback' in excess of his expenditure in his
life. That £50,000 he had was paying him £1,000 a year in interest – even at today's
low rates. So any 'income' he gets has to overcome his losses first! There is a standard
in home insulation called ‘Passivhaus’. Basically, it is very high levels of insulation
to the point that very little heat escapes, so very little energy is needed to heat
the building in the first place. We think it’s a little over the top in minimum levels
of air-changes per hour that may not be healthy, but the point is that if you build
your home to a Passivhaus standard (or close to it while still remaining at a healthy
level) your energy bills will be minimal - so you can heat the building however you
like, but still your annual bill will be small. This is so obviously better than
a solar array, a ground source heat pump, and a Tesla battery system!