Taking Care of Your Central Heating

Taking good care of your central heating is important for a number of reasons – not only does it prevent breakdowns at inconvenient times, but it also helps to keep you safe and save you money in the long term.

Poorly maintained central heating systems can be dangerous – leading to gas leaks and breakdowns. But they can also be inconvenient – breaking down in the midst of winter and leaving you without heat for days.

It is important, therefore, to take care of your central heating, know when there may be an issue and what to do about it. Remember, when calling someone out to work on your central heating they must be on the gas safe register.

There are various ways you can take care of your central heating system – from ensuring it is regularly serviced to cleaning it as often as necessary. Here we’re going to look at all the different ways you should be taking care of your central heating, including diagnosing those nasty boiler smells you may have from time to time.

How to Diagnose Boiler Smells

A boiler should provide you with years of clean, efficient and safe heating power.

Every gas appliance in your home should be checked annually by a gas safe engineer – you should be getting your boiler serviced regularly, but make sure to have your other gas appliances checked too.

As with anything though unforeseen issues can arise that can compromise a boiler’s safety. One tell-tale sign that your boiler has encountered issues is if it starts producing unusual smells.

Not only can these smells signify a problem with your boiler, but they can also indicate that your wellbeing is threatened. Being able to diagnose boiler smells can save your life. Here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for and what to do if you encounter them.

  1. Rotten Egg

You would have probably come into contact with this smell before at some point in your life. Take lighting the hob on a gas cooker for example. While you wait for the pilot light to catch you sometimes catch the smell of a little bit of gas that doesn’t burn. These eggy, sulphur like smells can also emanate from your boiler and you should be concerned if they do. Utility companies purposefully add these scents to natural gas so it is easier to detect should it enter the atmosphere. If your boiler is letting off a sulphur like smell it could indicate that it has a leak.

  1. Burning and Heavy Dust

If a boiler hasn’t been used for a while, say during the summer months, it can produce a smell of burning fabric or dust upon start up. This is often just the result of the pilot light burning off accumulated dust from the boiler housing. However, if the smell persists it can indicate a serious issue with your boiler.

If your boiler produces a smell like this first give it a chance to burn off the collected dust. If that doesn’t help you can try either cleaning or replacing the furnaces air filter. If the problem persists you should contact a qualified boiler or HVAC repairman to take a look at your boiler.

  1. Metallic or Electrical

A boiler is comprised of many electrical elements. Issues can arise with any electrical circuit when wires fray or become disconnected. These issues can be further accentuated in a boiler thanks to the exposure to heat. If these circuits or elements become too hot they can emit smells similar to burning metal, melted plastic or burning oil.

If you smell what could be something burning inside your boiler you should immediately switch it off. You should then call a qualified boiler or HVAC repairman to determine the issue. It would also be a good idea to keep an eye on your boiler to ensure nothing combusts, even after it has been switched off.

  1. No Smell

Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as smelling something that could be awry. Your boiler can emit a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that can kill those that inhale it. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to those associated with the common flu. The gases characteristics combined with its effects make carbon monoxide notoriously difficult to detect. You can purchase carbon monoxide detectors and should be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – which we cover in depth later in this article.

How to Clean Your Central Heating System

Although it may not seem like it with these cold February days, spring is well on its way. Lighter nights and warmer days are upon us; and whilst you may not see yourself dialling down the central heating any time soon, you will be before you know it.

Once temperatures start to see double figures, it is a good idea to do a check of your central heating system.

  1. Bleed your Radiators

Radiators require bleeding when pockets of air get trapped; these small pockets cause hot water to not circulate as effectively as it should meaning it can take much longer to heat your home. Regularly bleeding your radiators can help avoid this occurring. As the heating in our homes is used so often throughout the winter months, we can become a little lax in caring for it properly; but once the colder season starts coming to an end it is time to give your central heating a little care and attention.

Whilst you’re bleeding your radiators and undoubtedly doing a little spring clean simultaneously, why not give them a coat of fresh paint to brighten up the room.

  1. Flushing your Central Heating

For something a little more powerful, you can flush your entire central heating system. Rust will begin to build up inside your central heating system over time.

This build up can cause a number of things to occur in your central heating system such as – radiators requiring frequent bleeding and being cold at either the top or bottom, little to no heat distribution to the radiators, a noisy or problematic boiler, little to no hot water and high fuel bills. If left untreated this build-up of rust can lead to boiler failure.

Instead of waiting for your boiler to fail, the change in season is a great time to give your heating system a reboot and flush it out. Central heating flushers are designed to flush out and remove the harmful iron oxide deposits (rust) which cause radiator and boiler problems. The flushing machine is connected to the heating circuit and a high flow of water is pushed through the circuit to effectively purge the system of sludge, scale and corrosion.

The Dangers of Not Taking Care of your Central Heating

  1. Gas Explosion

As we’re sure you know, a gas leak can be catastrophic if it is exposed to a naked flame. Unfortunately gas explosions are far more common than they should be, this explosion in Bude as one example.

If your boiler starts to emit a smell of rotten egg (added to gas to make it easier to spot) you should extinguish all naked flames. You should then open doors and windows and leave your house immediately. Finally call the national gas emergency number on 0800 111 999.

  1. Carbon Monoxide Leak

Carbon monoxide has no smell or taste – but it is extremely poisonous.

‘Every year there are about 60 deaths in England and Wales from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning’ – NHS

Having no smell or taste, is one of the things that makes carbon monoxide so dangerous, as it can be difficult to diagnose and can go undetected. Additionally, the symptoms may be passed off as general flu or illness – however one clear difference is that carbon monoxide poisoning does not cause a temperature. It is important to be aware of the symptoms which are:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Stomach pain
  • Difficulty breathing

So, what can you do to protect against it? Vigilance is always key when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you start to experience flu like symptoms get yourself checked out at the doctors. If they tell you you’re well think about where you felt ill. It makes sense to pay attention to where your symptoms occur, is it always in the same place and at the same time of day?

You can also ask others if they are feeling the same as you, this is a very clear indicator of what could be carbon monoxide poisoning. It is also a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector near your boiler, this will remove the guess work and tell you if you have a leak.

If you are concerned your boiler has a carbon monoxide leak it’s important that you air out your house by opening all doors and windows and then immediately leave the premise.

Once you are away from the danger you should contact the emergency gas number on 0800 111 999.

How to Know If You Need a New Boiler

So, you’ve taken great care of your boiler and had it serviced regularly – but, it’s finally given up. As with anything, eventually a breakdown will likely happen – and it can be incredibly frustrating especially if it’s the middle of winter. Aside from the bad smells we have discussed, there are some other tell-tale signs to look out for which mean you may need a new boiler.

  1. Radiators Take a Long Time to Heat Up

If you take good care of your central heating system and bleed your radiators regularly, they should be heating up pretty quickly. So, if it is taking a few hours to heat up or they only stay tepid – it’s probably a sign that your boiler is giving up.

  1. Your Bills are Increasing

If you find yourself confused by your energy bills it could be a sign that your boiler is not running as efficiently as it should. An older boiler takes more energy to run, hence higher bills. You can check your boiler’s efficiency pretty simply by looking on its Erp energy label – Green is the most efficient, whilst red is the least. An efficient boiler can save you a chunk on your energy bills.

  1. The Boiler is Leaking

A leaking boiler is a big deal and should be dealt with immediately. If you spot puddles around your boiler, the internal parts are likely wasting away – it can lead to further rot and corrosion if left untreated and wastes a lot of water in the process. Getting an engineer out quick will prevent further damage.

  1. Loud Noises

Boilers do make noises, especially when starting up, but it shouldn’t be any more than a slight humming sound. If it starts banging or whirring loudly you should get an engineer out to have a look as it could be a sign something is wrong. Turn off your boiler if you do experience this, it helps keep damage to a minimum whilst an engineer comes out to you.

As with anything related to your boiler and central heating – you should always use a registered gas safe engineer.


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Ryan White



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