Spring has Sprung! It’s Time for Annual Maintenance

As London is enjoying some lovely warm weather, the last thing that is on your mind is your boiler. Unfortunately, the majority of people think about their boiler when they try to get it running again in the autumn. That tends to make us very busy as every job is urgent as the weather cools down. Get in early and get your boiler serviced now so that it’s in top shape for the next winter season.

Spring has Sprung! It’s Time for Annual Maintenance

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/digitalart

The warm weather gives us a chance to get the windows open and have a spring clean. The sunshine does show up the grime on the windows and the cobwebs in the corners so it’s not surprising that this is a time when everyone spruces up their home. Many people take the extra time off work around the bank holidays to decorate a room or get out in the garden and tidy things up. But not many people think about their hard working boiler that would also enjoy some well earned maintenance.

Best Practice

We advise people to have their boiler serviced annually. This means we can check it over, clean the filters and make sure the boiler is safe. All our service staff are Gas Safe engineers who understand the importance of a safe boiler and meet the standards required. Having your boiler serviced means that you can be satisfied that there aren’t any leaks. Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer that has no odour and is very hard to detect. Having your boiler regularly maintained by a professional means you significantly reduce the risk of being poisoned in your own home.

Time for a Change

If your boiler is old, the summer is the best time to replace it. The latest condensing boilers save you money on your energy bills and are clean and quiet to run. It is sometimes difficult to get the spares we need to repair old boilers, so getting them checked out in the summer could save you a real headache when you actually need your boiler up and running.

Taking time off work in November while you wait for a heating engineer in your cold house is not an ideal situation. Take a summer day off and enjoy your garden while your plumber is servicing your boiler.

Hot Water!

Don’t forget that your boiler is doing more than heating your home, it heats the hot water too. You really don’t want to be without hot water in the summer when nothing refreshes you better than a hot shower after a day at work in the city. It is far better to utilise your boiler to heat your hot water than use an electric immersion tank. If your boiler runs on gas you will find it cheaper than electricity to heat your water. Also, by using the boiler for hot water in the summer it keeps the boiler ticking over nicely so it will be ready to fire up to full power in the colder weather. After all, you don’t want to find yourself in the wrong kind of hot water – with a boiler that has broken down.

Whatever spring cleaning you do this spring don’t forget your boiler!

Helping the Plumber Over The Phone Can Save You Time And Money!

Whenever Bernard my master is asked what my favourite food is the answer is anything that’s on his plate! When it comes to anything a dog wants to play with it’s theirs but when it’s broken, it’s yours!

A bit unfair on humans, I know, but we are loyal and make the best guards and guides, which can sort out all sorts of safety prevention problems for our masters.

In fact sorting out problems is exactly what a busy plumber like Bernard is definitely about, of course. Customers are always looking for a great service at the best price and when a plumber needs to be found to fix a problem, there is always a worry over being overcharged or extra time being added to the final bill.

Experienced plumber – accurate estimate

A good and experienced plumber should firstly,  always tell the customer the exact cost and time of callout charges over the phone. Often problems can be rectified within the set call out period unless the job requires additional time to complete. Once again, an experienced plumber will be able to give an accurate estimate to include all parts and labour.

Even I have to wait to be fed while Bernard is busy fixing a boiler! But I always try to sniff out a half eaten chocolate bar or crisp bag to keep me going!

Information helps the plumber

However, a customer can often help themselves and the plumber with a little bit of plumbing knowledge. Rather than simply panic when waking one morning and finding you have no hot water, or a leak, for example, a few simple checks can save time for both you and the plumber.

A leak can be a straightforward problem. Firstly, find the stop-cock and turn off and then try to find where the leak is coming from so when you do ring a plumber you can provide the information, which will help pinpoint the problem and the likely time and cost to put right.

No hot water…

However, no hot water is probably the most common reason to call a plumber. Those with a gas water heater installed will need to firstly make sure the pilot light has not gone out and check the temperature setting on the water heater is set high enough to provide adequate amounts of hot water.

With an electric boiler heater, the first thing to do is see if there is power going to the heating elements. Check for a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse on the water heater circuit in the wiring centre or fuse box. If power has not been disrupted then it’s possible that the electric thermostat or a heating element has become faulty.

If a water heater is leaking, then it’s likely that rust has eaten away through the bottom of the water storage tank, and the water heater may need to be replaced.

Once again, having made the simplest of preliminary checks and carefully explaining the symptoms over the phone to the plumber could save precious time and money!

It also means that Bernard might get to feed me on time and save me having to raid the biscuit barrel!

Preventing Limescale Building Up A Large Scale Boiler Problem

Bernard’s family all settled down to watch “101 Dalmatians” on the TV over Christmas.

When it finished, Bernard was asked how it was possible that I was staring so intently at the screen almost as if I was really involved with the movie! It was noticed that I whimpered at all the sad moments, moved around nervously in my basket at scary bits, but most of all, howled like crazy at the funny parts.

“Yes,” said Bernard “It was weird of Moo to do that. He hated the book!”

Woof woof!

There was a lot of terrible wet weather over Christmas and New Year but it’s been mild so no emergency callouts to deal with freezing pipes like last year – yet! We hear that some of the polar conditions currently being experienced in the US are due to arrive here in the UK next week! But Bernard and I are always ready and know exactly what to do when pipes freeze, radiators or boilers stop working…

1 in 6 households are in hard water areas

A particular problem in the greater London area where Bernard mostly works is the build up of limescale, which can cause major problems in central heating systems. More than six in ten properties around the UK are supplied with hard water rich in minerals such as limestone. The average household living in an area with hard water will accumulate around 70kg of limescale in just 12 months, clogging up hot water pipes, appliances and heating systems.

Of course, I don’t mind how hard the water is as long as there is plenty always in my bowl (or else I will find a drink elsewhere – woof, woof!

First signs of a problem will be boiler noise

Limescale is formed when water is heated above 55 degrees and tends to form in the hottest part of the system. The first signs of a problem will be boiler noise caused by overheating of the water as a result of steam bubbles, which collapse loudly as they move away from the heat transfer surface and into the cooler water.

As limescale builds up on the heat transfer surface it has a direct impact on system efficiency, which can be reduced by 12 per cent by just a 1.6mm layer of scale, according to British Water. A loss of heat transfer efficiency means the boiler has to work harder by burning more fuel, resulting in an increase in home energy bills.

Bernard often finds that it is the build up of limescale that is the culprit when investigating a customer’s noisy boiler!

Protecting appliances and pipework

Preventing a build up is easy these days. From using chemical water softeners (for appliances such as kettles, washing machines and dishwashers) to installing electronic descalers to protect the pipework and ultimately, the boiler. Never try to forcefully chip scale away from tap nozzles or heating elements as this will likely to cause structural damage.

I have to admit the I’m not too keen on tasting the white crunchy bits of limescale myself – I much prefer one of Bernard’s tasty hobnobs!

Prevent Christmas Sliding Down The Greasy Pipe And Blocking Drains!

It’s Christmas! Hoorah, lots of snoozing in my basket!

But Bernard my master always expect there to be emergency call outs – and he’s never been wrong yet! The weather’s mild at the moment but if temperatures do drop, there’s bound to be pipes which will freeze up because they’re outside and haven’t been lagged properly.

Can’t wait for Christmas Day – all those scrumptious scraps which find their way into my bowl – even if I have to fetch them off the table myself! Woof woof! Bernard pretends to be annoyed but then he fills my water bowl with beer and I suddenly need to start chasing my tail!

Turkey fat, oil or grease

Of course, it’s all about eating and drinking over the festive season and sinks can so easily get blocked, especially if someone decides to pour the turkey fat, oil or other types of grease or thick foodstuffs down the plug hole. Trying to clear the blockage with hot water may not help very much because in some properties the pipes may have not been correctly installed.

The problem of misaligned pipes is not uncommon and can sometimes be the reason why residue easily builds up into a blockage causing a kitchen sink to take an unusually long time to drain away and start to smell, even if not excessively used. However, a smell coming from a kitchen sink drain could simply mean the waste pipe traps need to be cleaned out. It’s no fun for me trying to sniff out buried bones!

Preventing a build up of waste

Apart from ensuring that turkey fat is never poured away down the sink, one good tip to help prevent a build up of waste blocking up the pipes is to pour boiling water down the kitchen sink followed by hot soapy water on a weekly basis. Follow this up with half a packet of soda crystals and another kettle full of boiling water down the sink every two weeks.

If the toilet or bathroom sink and bath plug holes appear to be blocked then there is likely to be a problem with the drainage system. If the outside drain starts to overflow each time then it’s time for a plumber to lift the grates and trace the blockage.

Seasonal wishes

Hopefully, we won’t get too many blocked drains to deal with on emergency callouts! Bernard spends the whole year conscientiously telling all his customers how to take care of their water systems and reminds them to have their boilers serviced and radiators checked well before the winter season.

I’m sure Bernard would want to join me now in wishing you all – our lovely customers past, present – and those who might need to call because of a blocked or burst pipe – a very merry Christmas!

Just can’t wait for Christmas Day – every year, Bernard always has a present for me. A cat may have nine lives but Moo the dog expects to get a new leash on life! Woof woof!

See you all here in January!

Best To Be Gas Safe Than Sorry You Didn’t Check First For Plumbing Credentials!

On the 1st April 2009, Britain’s gas safety scheme known as Corgi was replaced by the Gas Safe Register. From that date onwards, by law, anyone who works on gas appliances, such as boilers, now needed to be on the Gas Safe Register.

Naturally, the fact that a Corgi was no more is something we canines are more likely to know than humans! But it is still of concern how Corgi continues to be mentioned whenever the issue of finding a properly trained and qualified plumber comes up in conversation. You may even spot a trade van with a Corgi sticker still attached to the side door.

Passionate about the job

Doing the job properly by a trained and qualified installer is something my master, Bernard feels passionate about. Just at the end of November he read about a gas explosion at a private residence in Manchester caused by damage to live electrical wires, which burned a hole in a gas pipe while a new boiler was being installed.

Apparently, the plumber had burnt the cables while using a blow torch to solder together gas pipes that ran alongside. Despite being badly charred, the cables were then wrapped in plastic tape instead of a proper repair made.

According to official figures, around 40 people are fatally injured each year from gas explosions and more than 25 people will die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning due to badly installed or not properly maintained gas appliances. Even more people suffer health problems from CO exposure directly related to a gas appliance.

Deciding if the plumber is right as well as the price

Luckily for me, I can smell gas right across north and east London where Bernard spends most of his time installing boilers and taking care of customer’s central heating systems.

Humans may have bigger brains but can they smell a rat? The kind of rat I’m talking about is the type of installer that humans seem to not worry as much about checking up on their Gas Safe credentials as they are on securing a suspiciously low price.

Unfortunately, trying to decide over the phone if you have found a good plumber when they give the pricing for even small jobs may not be the answer. Most good plumbers will prefer to provide quotes only when they are actually front of the job to be done so their ‘fixed quote’ is certain to be 100 per cent exactly correct – and customers will have no nasty surprises later!

Check to ensure a plumber is fully licensed

Apart from guarantees, references, online reviews and obtaining different quotes ( for the same amount of work to be carried out), it’s always crucial to spend time checking to ensure a plumber is fully licensed and carries full insurance to protect you and your neighbour’s property in the event of a catastrophe. While asking about “long they have been in business for” may be reassuring, it’s not always the case that reputable trades-people last while rogue traders simply disappear!

I’m proud to be able to say that my master, Bernard is Gas Safe registered, a Worcester Bosch Group partner and gives a 5 year guarantee – and he replaced all his Corgi stickers, but sadly not with pictures of Moo!

How To Flush Your Toilet Blockage Problems Away!

What do you call a toilet when it stops flushing properly?

An inconvenience!

One of Bernard’s plumbing jokes that makes everyone groan. I’m sure he got it from a Christmas cracker. However, when a toilet does stop working – as it could well do during Christmas festivities – it can be more than slightly annoying.

By carrying out a few simple, basic actions, in many cases, a toilet can be unblocked or a cistern able to flush again without the need to call for additional help. Some humans might think it quite strange to be taking plumbing advice from a dog but, remember – never judge a dog by the  cover of  a book he likes to chew!

Taking the plunge

The one action that most people will know is to use a plunger to try and dislodge the blockage and restore the water flow. Applying a firm pressure and repeating the plunging stroke several times ought to solve most blockage problems.

However, if the plunging action doesn’t make the water move at all then the next step is to take a look at the toilet ports as they may be blocked. Toilet ports are small rinse holes, which can be found inside the rim of the toilet bowl.

Holes in one

If you live in a hard water area, mineral deposits soon accumulate in the rinse holes and cause a weak flush. Thoroughly clearing all the holes could solve the problem. By using a hand mirror to see the holes, take a small screwdriver or a similar pointed tool – even the end of a wire coat hanger – to gently clear away any build-up of grime or deposits, being careful not to scratch the porcelain. Dogs and cats often get the blame for scratching the porcelain but remember – even when it’s raining cats and dogs, you will still step into a poodle!

Is siphon the terrible cause?

However, if the toilet still does not flush after clearing the rinse holes then there could be a problem with the siphon itself, which can be found inside the cistern. At this point a decision has to be made if you feel able and, indeed, wish to remove and replace the siphon toilet part (which is easily purchased from any DIY store).

Before the work begins, the water supply to the cistern will need to be isolated by turning a valve, which is usually located at the toilet rear, and the cistern drained down. Once the siphon has been replaced, and the water supply restored, then the toilet can be tested by flushing several times.

If the toilet still does not flush then it will be time to call your friendly local plumber – most often answering to the name of Bernard – who is my master and I shouldn’t forget it!

Water Pressure Problems May Be Difficult To Tap!

My master, Bernard loves to tell his customers that I’m able to respond to his questions by answering back in spoken English. Customers refuse to believe it until Bernard asks me, ” What covers a house?”  and I reply twice to make sure, “roof – roof!” And of course it’s easy for me to say how sandpaper feels, “rough – rough!”  The pressure is always on to perform.

Talking of pressure…

At this time of year, as temperatures fall, we always receive a number of calls from customers who fear that the cold weather has caused the water pressure to drop in their home and affect normal supply. If water has frozen in a pipe then supply can be affected. However, the “truth –truth” is that there’s likely to be another more common cause.

The most typical reason is due to water supply being temporarily reduced or stopped completely for repairs to burst mains or routine maintenance. Advance notification tends to be rare and it’s always best to check first to see if neighbours are also affected and/or online with the area supply company.

Changes in supply demand

Another reason outside of the home can be the length of the external supply pipe. On longer supply pipes, particularly those with a smaller internal diameter, the water pressure at a property’s boundary can be affected if the internal supply pipe is too small to deliver the flow of water to the taps at a high enough pressure.

The pressure of the water coming through household taps can sometimes vary anyway due to the changes in response to the demand for water being placed on the distribution system.

Water pressure is actually at its highest at night when very little is being used while during the day and at peak times of use, such as at breakfast or an evening meal, more people in a residential area are using more water, which can cause the pressure to drop. A bath can take longer than usual to fill with water and cause a delay in getting your ducks in a “row-row-row!”

There can be various reasons for a water pressure problem within the home…

Leaks from pipes or fittings are usually the most common reason for reduced water pressure and it’s important to check by carefully listening for hissing sounds from inside pipes or looking for damp patches.

Some pressure problems can be caused by faulty, damaged or leaking pipes and fittings, for example, to ball valves and stop taps. On older properties, the pipes may have become corroded and are restricting water flow.

A partially closed branch stop tap inside a property could also be the cause of low water pressure. By gently opening up the tap, the pressure can be increased, then open and close several times until the number of turns from open to closed is constant and the tap is fully open. Finally, reverse back by a quarter of a turn to prevent the tap from seizing up.

So, it may be no more than a coincidence that water pressure becomes low when the cold winter weather arrives but Bernard may still need to come and take an urgent look.

I might even come along too and answer any customer questions but I’m sure they wouldn’t want to see a dog outside when the weather is so bitterly “raw-raw-raw!”

Freezing Temperatures Could Mean A Problem Condensed Coming Down The Pipe!

Are we going to see a repeat of prolonged, freezing Arctic conditions in the winter months ahead that we’ve experienced in recent years? It’s not so bad for me – I love the snow, my legs never shake nor get snow or ice stuck in between the paw pads. What do you call young dogs who play in the snow? Slush puppies! Woof Woof!

So it’s a great, fun time for a dog to be out digging deep in the snow and sniffing out all sorts of strange scents. But some humans can have real problems keeping sufficiently warm in their house if the temperature drops below zero. Even I admit it can be tough trying to break through ice to find bones I’ve buried!

Exceptional problems with keeping warm

So, apart from turning the thermostat down one or two degrees in a bid to avoid a nasty quarterly bill, why should there be a problem with keeping warm if we have one of today’s modern advanced boilers nicely installed?

In the exceptional winter temperatures of recent years, the mercury plunged down between -9C and -20C. However, the average minimum temperature around most of Britain tends to be around 3 – 4C, dipping down to just below freezing when snow is forecast and often for several days afterwards.

Outlet pipe overlooked

This can sometimes mean that the outlet pipe on the modern condensing boiler, which siphons left over cooled water vapour – or ‘condensate’- can freeze if it’s on the outside and not on the inside of the house. This often results in a blockage, which will shut the boiler down, meaning no hot water or heating!

Being a short-haired dog, my master always wants to strap a special doggie coat around me when we go out in the freezing weather. It’s the same, of course, with the outlet pipe. It needs to be properly weather insulated! It’s amazing how this vital pipe can be overlooked because it’s outside.

Usually, a fault code will show on the boiler’s display (or an alarm will sound) and the code can be looked up in the boiler instruction manual.

Unfreezing the blockage

Unfreezing the outlet pipe might not require Bernard to take a look. The blockage is likely to be at the most exposed external point, or at a bend or dip in the pipe. It can simply be a matter of gently thawing the ice.

However, please note – it’s absolutely vital that boiling hot water is NOT simply poured directly onto the pipe! Instead, wrap a soft hot water bottle around the pipe and allow to slowly thaw – and it can take some time! The boiler can be restarted by following the instructions in the boiler manual.

While pipe insulation will help to prevent ice from freezing, when exceptional temperatures occur, it’s always recommended to contact a qualified, experienced plumber like my master Bernard, for further detailed guidance according to your type of boiler, heating system and layout.

Meanwhile, I shall be looking forward to seeing the first snowflakes – I love snacking on the stuff even if humans don’t!

No Summer Check Up? You Could Have Winter Heating Problems!

If you saw the recent TV programme in which hidden cameras revealed just how much my fellow canines get so fretful when we are left alone in the house, you’ll understand why Bernard, my master, lets me sometimes travel in his van when he’s away a lot on call-outs.

When customers see me, Bernard is suddenly called upon to give his ‘expert’ advice on the welfare of dogs as well as working out what’s wrong with their boiler! One customer actually asked Bernard if he knew how to keep his dog from barking in the front yard. Bernard told him to put it in the back yard! Woof Woof!

Central heating turned on – nothing happens!

From the start of autumn we are always very busy responding to calls from customers who may have just turned on their central heating for the first time since before the summer months – and nothing happens!

One piece of ‘real’ advice Bernard always gives is to check that your system is still running by putting the heating on for about 15 minutes once a month. It helps to keep the boiler pump free from debris accumulating. At the same time, it’s always worth having the boiler serviced too – just like my seasonal visits to the vets for a check-up!

Whenever there is a potential problem with a boiler, the key advice is to always call a professional, trained, qualified and industry-approved plumber like my master, Bernard.

Many types and brands of modern boilers today are sophisticated electronic systems, which are constantly being upgraded and require their own specialist knowledge. Yet it’s simply staggering how some people think that they can simply get “this mate of a mate from down the road to come and have a look – it won’t cost anything!”

Simple checks that homeowners can do

On the other hand, there are some simple checks that homeowners can do, which can help identify common but very simple and obvious boiler problems that you should be able to fix yourself.

The most obvious is to check to see if the boiler pilot flame is alight or power light is on. A pilot flame can be relit by carefully following the manufacturer instructions while the power on newer boilers may be restored by checking to see if a circuit protection device has tripped and needs to be reset.

It’s not unusual for a meter, which is in a cupboard alongside many other stored items, to have its on/off switch knocked off.

Another simple check is to see if the central heating programmer been set correctly or if an individual room’s thermostat is set too low preventing the heating from coming on. If the system has not been used for a while or if there is a leak, then it’s likely that the boiler pressure is not correct.

Beyond the simple checks described above, no attempt at plumbing DIY should be made with the boiler – especially if it’s a gas boiler! My master always recommends the importance of making sure a gas boiler is checked and serviced regularly in order to cut the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I can normally sniff a biscuit half a mile away and can never understand why some humans can’t do the same!

Human Thermal Comfort Or Just Using A Doggy Blanket?

“Where have all your shaggy dog stories gone?” asked a customer when calling up my master, Bernard, to take a look at their boiler, which had decided to give up the ghost just before Halloween, woof, woof!

If only I had a shaggy coat like some of my other canine pals. The clocks have gone back and the long, cold dark nights are drawing in. Luckily I have a big, warm doggy blanket and, of course, Bernard has checked every last valve and connector to make sure our heating system works perfectly.

It’s not just a matter of swapping energy suppliers

With energy bills soaring, it is now more important than ever for our homes to be energy efficient and not waste one kilojoule. It’s not just a matter of keeping the costs of bills down by swapping energy suppliers but also having the right type of boiler, and ensuring it’s checked and regularly maintained so it works to maximum efficiency. This is especially important during the winter months of heaviest use.

Humans always expect their central heating system to work and constantly provide the required level of warmth, when required. But to do this, a central heating system must firstly be well-designed and efficient, which means all the components, such as the thermostat, boiler, radiators, and pipework are in perfect balance to produce the desired “thermal comfort.”

Thermal comfort factors

“Thermal comfort” is defined as the measure of satisfaction achieved when a desirable heat balance between the body and surroundings are met – such as resting on my blanket just in front of the radiator!

For human thermal comfort, the conditions are not so easily satisfied. There are several factors, which influence the ability to achieve a comfortable level:

– Air temperature at floor level should not be greater than 30 C below that at head level

– Airflow around the body should be horizontal and at a rate of between 0.2m and 0.25m per second. A variable air velocity is preferable to a constant one.

– Room surface temperatures should not be above the room air temperatures.

– Relative humidity of between 40 – 60 per cent.

– Air temperatures should be between 16-220 deg.C, dependent upon the type of activity being carried out, age of  occupants and the quantity and quality of clothing worn.

Home value and energy efficiency

A degree of control over all of the above factors can be applied by insulation, draft reduction, control of condensation/ventilation as well as the heating. No two properties are ever alike – I know because I’m often allowed to sit in the van!

Ensuring hot water and thermal comfort heating to all parts of a home whenever it’s needed is more than just putting a boiler in and joining up the pipes. These days, the value of your home is bound up with how energy efficient it is at providing thermal comfort.

But not too bone dry – but that’s a pun better off buried. Hey its Halloween…woof, woof!