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What to do if your boiler breaks in winter

Woman Warms Hands By Radiator

As the outdoor temperatures continue to drop, the last thing we need is to contend with a boiler breakdown. The boiler is generally one of the most important devices in our home, keeping our living space nice and warm while providing hot water for our day-to-day routine.


However, sometimes we don’t realise the importance of things until they break or stop functioning. In today’s blog, we’ve compiled an ultimate checklist to follow if your boiler breaks in winter, helping you restore heat in your home as quickly as possible.


From initial troubleshooting to professional support, we’ve got you covered with all the essential information and tips you should know before the winter season fully takes over.


Jump to:

Signs of a broken boiler

Check the thermostat

Check the power

Inspect the pilot light

Check the boiler pressure

Check the condensate pipe

Contact a professional

Stay warm while waiting for the boiler to be repaired

Signs of a broken boiler

Before diving into the actual troubleshooting process, let’s summarise some of the most common signs that might help you detect your boiler is not functioning properly.
Strange sounds
Boilers generally operate quietly, and any unusual sounds could be a sign of an underlying problem. From humming that sounds different to normal, to intense whistling and banging, sounds can indicate a variety of problems, such as trapped air in the system, limescale build up, or an issue with the pump.
Uneven heating
Another sign of a malfunctioning boiler could be uneven heating throughout your home. If you find certain rooms consistently colder than others, it’s essential to investigate the potential issues with your heating system. While in many cases, the solution of uneven heating can be as simple as bleeding your radiators, it can also indicate a faulty pump or other serious boiler issue.
Odd smell
One of the most alarming signs of a malfunctioning boiler is the presence of unpleasant odours. While a metallic odour can be a sign of an issue with the boiler's heat exchanger, a musty or damp smell could indicate water leaks.

Check the basics

Before seeking professional help, it may be a good idea to check all the basics, as this could help you identify simple issues that may be causing the problem with your boiler.
Here’s a useful checklist you can follow when a problem first occurs:

Check the thermostat

Ensure that your thermostat is set to a temperature that should trigger the boiler to turn on. Sometimes, a simple adjustment to the thermostat settings can resolve the issue of insufficient heating. If the thermostat is battery-powered, check and replace the batteries if needed.

What Is Thermostat

Check the power

As with other appliances in your household, your boiler will switch off if it stops receiving power. Go to the circuit breaker or fuse box and check for any tripped switches or blown fuses. If there are any visual damages, do not touch the circuit breaker and contact a qualified electrician for advice. If there are not any damages and you find a tripped switch, reset it and observe the boiler's response. 

Inspect the pilot light

If you have a gas boiler, locate the pilot light and check if it burns a steady blue light. If it’s out, you can try to relight it by following a few simple steps based on the manufacturer’s instructions. If the pilot light refuses to stay lit, there might be a more serious issue with the gas supply that requires professional attention.

Check the pressure

Pressure-related issues are very common when it comes to boilers and in many cases, can be resolved fairly quickly. The pressure can be read from the boiler pressure gauge located on the front of your device.
When the is heating on, the normal range of pressure sits between 1.5 and 2.0 bar. When the heating is off, the pressure should be between 1.0 and 1.5 bar. If the needle of the gauge shows anything below or above these values, your boiler’s pressure is either too low or too high.
Low boiler pressure can be fixed by repressurising the boiler via the filling loop. However, we highly recommend you seek dedicated assistance to solve the issues. 

  • If you’re a Places for People customer, it’s best you get in touch with our support team by calling 01772 667002 in England and Wales or 0131 657 0600 in Scotland.
  • If you rent your home, but not with Places for People, you should contact your landlord or property manager.
  • If you’re a homeowner, you should call a Gas Safe heating engineer to address the issue.

Condensate pipe check 

In extreme weather conditions, check for signs of frost on the external condensate pipe, as this could cause blockage leading to boiler shutdown. If the pipe is frozen, you can gently thaw it by holding a hot water bottle or microwavable heat pad around the pipe work.
However, never pour boiling water over the blockage, as this could crack the pipe and cause serious damage to your heating system. Take a look at our guide to defrosting a condensate pipe for full instructions.

Call a professional

While basic troubleshooting can address some minor boiler issues, there are situations where the expertise of a professional heating engineer becomes crucial.
Make sure to call for professional support in case of:

  • Persistent or repetitive issues
  • Detecting unusual sounds or smells
  • Gas leaks
  • Water leaks
  • High boiler pressure
  • Failure to provide heat and hot water
  • Safety concerns
Gas Engineer Checks Boiler

Even if your boiler appears to be functioning well, scheduling annual servicing by a qualified technician is a proactive approach to prevent potential breakdowns. Regular maintenance can identify and address minor issues before they escalate into major problems. Find out more about boiler maintenance and read our recent blog on How to improve boiler efficiency at home.

Similarly, attempting to fix your boiler’s issue without sufficient knowledge and experience can lead to further damage or pose safety risks. So, when you’re in doubt and not sure what could be the source of your issues, the best practice is to call a certified engineer and seek professional assistance.

Stay warm while waiting for a problem to be solved

And finally, whether the issue can be resolved promptly or requires more time for replacement, it’s important to stay warm during these times and make sure you tend to your wellbeing.

Hot Drink And Blankets

These are some of the practical tips to stay warm and cosy during a boiler breakdown:

  • Opt for warm clothes and layer up
  • Consider using portable heaters in the rooms you frequent the most
  • Wrap yourself in throws and electric blankets to retain heat
  • Place a hot water bottle under the blanket or in your bed as a comforting heating source

To learn more tips on how to stay warm in winter without relying on the heating system, read one of our recent blogs on Energy saving tips for winter