If household technologies were royalty, your boiler would be king. Especially at this time of year.
The heartbeat of all gas- or oil-burning households, the Energy Saving Trust reckons it’s responsible for over 50% of your energy bills.
So it’s important to ensure your boiler is working as efficiently as possible, and to know the right time to replace it.
Modern boilers are a lot more efficient than ones manufactured and installed as recently as 10 years ago. Temperature control devices have developed in that time, too, meaning you can be far more precise with how you heat each area of your house.
Essentially, replace your boiler and you’ll probably use less gas than you currently do.
However, there are a number of factors to consider…
Be wary of saving statistics
The potential saving that’s currently being touted by installers and energy providers is £310 a year.
This has been calculated by the Energy Saving Trust, and is based on a household having the oldest, least-efficient boiler possible for a three-bedroom, semi-detached house. In reality, if your boiler was installed in the late 1990s or early 2000s, you’re more likely to save half of that.
With the average price of a new boiler installation being approximately £2,300, and energy providers quoting closer to £3,000, the fuel savings are likely to be small in the short term.
Where you will benefit is by reducing the risk of expensive, emergency call-outs when the most important household technology decides not to do its job.
When should you replace your boiler?
Boilers last up to 15 years. If yours is reaching that age, then think about saving for a new one.
Annual services will ensure the best lifespan, but the older they get, the harder they have to work to heat your home. And this means they are less efficient, and the risk of malfunction is higher.
Servicing and insurance
Annual services are essential.
Unless you’re a Corgi-registered engineer, it’s the only thing you can personally do to upkeep its maintenance. These services will ensure the boiler is safe and will indicate the need for repairs before any issues become expensive to solve.
Available through energy providers or independent engineers, service costs range between £50 and £150.
The jury is still out on boiler insurance cover. It usually costs around £100 a year, and if you don’t have savings to pay for repairs when you need them, it might be a worthwhile investment.
Some packages, such as Npower’s (£15.50 a month), include an annual service and check. However, there’ll usually be an excess to pay for any call-out, and the usual minefield of terms and conditions to navigate.
Your home insurance policy may also have boiler cover in place already.
Before you invest in a replacement, you need to know whether you’re getting the right type of boiler.
The most common is the combination (or ‘combi’) boiler that heats up your hot water as and when you need it.
However, Rodger Webb, director of the Heating and Hot Water Council, highlights other factors you should consider before replacing: "If you’re planning on expanding your family or adding a new bathroom and your need for hot water increases, then a hot water storage cylinder will be necessary," he says. "This also applies if you’re interested in installing solar thermal technologies at a later date."
Basic cylinders cost from £150, or several hundred more for solar-compatible ones.
Whatever system you’re replacing, the incoming boiler will be a condensing one.
Heralded by John Prescott as the saviour of domestic carbon footprints, they became a mandatory government requirement in England and Wales in 2005. Boasting over 90% efficiency, condensing boilers utilise otherwise wasted heat created in the heating process by condensing water vapour into water.
The technology behind them is impressive, and few changes need to be made to an existing system to install them – just an additional condensate pipe (or a condensate pump if you live in a flat) and a different flue.
However, it’s worth knowing that these systems are still in their relative infancy and haven’t always found favour. During 2011’s severe cold snap many condensate pipes froze, causing boilers to fail when they were needed most.
HHIC’s Webb advises that installation processes have been developed since this incident with more pipework being run inside the household and larger bore pipes. When you’re replacing your boiler ask the installers if they’re implementing these safeguards.
Behind the price tag…
Finally we get to the most important part of this boiler-replacing tale: the price. A quick Google search reveals a top-notch, A-rated condensing boiler to be around £1,000. So why is the average price over double that?
“You’ll probably only ever buy about three or four boilers in your lifetime and the technology changes so much in between each purchase,” explains Jon Davies, founder of New Boiler Cost, an independent website which breaks down all boiler installation costs and calculates approximate prices in different regions of the country. “Installers can sometimes bamboozle you with science and terminology. The more information that’s out there, the better: installers can be very coy on pricing.”
The boiler is clearly the largest investment and the next highest cost is the installation itself. A two-man, day-long job installation will cost at least £500.
Other necessities may include a system flush (around £300), magnetic filtering (around £100) or a condensate drain pipe or pump (between £100 and £250).
Evidently the price stacks up quickly. And that's before additions which aren't necessary but might be worth having, like thermostatic radiator valves (about £20 a radiator) or a wireless thermostat and controls (around £150).
Getting the job done…
When it comes to actually getting the right people for the job, there are two options: an independent installer or an energy provider.
Energy providers won’t always offer the cheapest price when compared to independent installers, but they often include additional benefits such as boiler care packages and smart controls so you can switch your heating on from your phone.
Whatever your choice, it’s essential to shop around and speak to as many installers and providers as possible. Happy heating!