Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Boiler - Repair Or Replace?

Our boiler sits quite inconspicuously in our little pantry, chugging away when we have the central heating on (not that often now we have the wood stove) or hot water. 
Lately It's not been working all that well. When we set it to heat the hot water it takes an age to do it and then it likes to put the "lock out" light on and stop anything from happening.
I've been shown how to fix this problem and I have got it working a little better now but it doesn't hide the fact that it's an old boiler and probably hasn't got that long left anyway. 
My question is this - Is it worth repairing and to keep messing with it? 
When we build the extension we'll need a new boiler anyway and I want to have it outside the house rather than inside, taking up valuable space. In fact where the boiler currently sits will, eventually, become the downstairs loo.
A new boiler would be much more efficient as well, making the expensive oil go that bit further. Last year was exceptional in the fact that we used hardly any oil at all but we're quite exposed here and although we have the log burner it doesn't really heat upstairs, so we still need our central heating (or so the wife tells me). 

So we're currently toying with the idea of changing it for a new outside oil boiler and I've just done some work for a friend so fitting it will hopefully not cost too much. This will help spread the cost and the work load of the extension, getting a few jobs out the way early. 
The other option is to go for something like a ground source heat pump or a biomass boiler although I don't know enough about these to comment (although I'm trying to learn).
The extension will have another wood stove in it so I'm hoping in the future a large proportion of the heating will be done by burning wood but it's good to have a backup system and one that can heat the water.
Which way would you go? there are quite a few government grants about at the moment for using some of the "alternative" heating systems but they have quite a high up front cost to them before you see any return.

35 comments:

  1. I might be able to get a grant towards a new boiler, worth looking into it wont cost you anything http://www.affordablewarmthgrants.co.uk/index.html there is also help with biomass and ground heat pumps, there is nothing worse than a complete boiler breakdown in the middle of winter, could you run radiators off your log burner for upstairs.

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    1. Cheers for the link Dawn - We got our insulation done through a similar website but it was EDF that were running it. I've put my details in but I don't think we qualify.
      When I fit our second wood burner I think we will try to get hot water off it but not bother with radiators. Well I'm still not sure, just depends how complicated I want the plumbing to be I guess!

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  2. We looked at biomass as there is a very good subsidy - the boiler will be paid for in about 5 years, and the subsidy lasts for seven. However, concerns over supply and storage of the biomass put us off - who is to say that the price won't rocket as they get more popular?

    We will also replace our oil boiler with an external model to free up inside space. If you are able to, don't throw good money after bad in repairing the old one - a £200 bill for the current boiler is like a 10%discount off a new boiler! The oil lines are easy enough to relocate with parts from screwfix and toolstation, saving even more money.

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    1. That's why i don';t think biomass boilers are a good solution. They are only cheap at the moment because of the subsidies. We sell firewood and the price of timber has rocketed in recent years due to supply and demand. If the demand continues and increases further because every man and his dog gets a biomass boiler then prices will increase further. The other issue I have is that the UK cant support the demand for timber so even more will be imported, then it has to be processed into biomass chips or whatever which uses energy- surely that defeats the point of sustainability and conservation.
      Miss Tulip x
      The Thrifty Magpies Nest

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    2. We've got a relativly new oil tank so that also swings me in favour of keeping with an oil boiler. And I agree with you simon about throwing £200 on a repair is money that could be put towards a new one.
      I agree with you as well, miss Tulip, I think that soon the fuel for biomass will become more expensive. Oil will always go up in price but at least we burn a lot of wood that we have a fairly constant supply of it, keeping the cost down (and even more when we fit a second wood burner). I think it needs to be looked at without the subsidies to get a honest picture of it really.

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  3. We replaced our gas boiler in the spring our other one was very noisy and burned so much gas. We now have halved our gas DD each month and the heating and hot water only come on when it really is nessasery. Before we had to heat the hot water constantly. So it might be best to do now and it's another job that's done before the extension. I wish we had done it when we did our extension four years ago

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    1. I think doing it now would make it much easier when we do the extension - one less thing to worry about and organise. We changed our gas boiler about 2 months before moving from our old place so never got to experience what it was like to have a super efficient boiler!

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  4. We have a Stanley Mourne number 7 range multi-fuel range which heats 7 radiators, gives us hot water and we cook with it. The best thing about this is the rads are on all the time. We have oil in my other house. Oil is getting cheaper at the moment. We just top it up with 5 gallon drums. None of our heating systems give us bills because we buy oil, wood or coal has we need it. The disappointment of oil is that your rooms go cold when the heating turns off. Perhaps you could get multi-fuel stove with a back boiler and this will heat the rads?

    Talked to a few people I know who have had ground heat pumps installed. The heat is free but they cost a fortune in electricity to run the pumps. You could always look at solar? There is plenty of new and second hand stoves and boilers for sale on the Internet. I suppose insulation in the new extension will give you the biggest saving on heat? Good luck!

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    1. I've been told that the only way to run those heat pumps in a cost effective way is with solar - we just couldn't afford both at the moment.
      The stove I want to get for the extension doesn't exist I think - I want to see the flames, heat water, be efficient and have an oven to cook on! let me know if you know of one!

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    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tSgTQf6-vM

      you can add soap stone to this one to cook on the top.

      or I am currently lusting after the stove in Dani's kitchen. Rosie! sigh

      http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/stocked-up-for-winter.html

      I have that on my dream board for the next house.

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    3. That youtube video looks like what I was thinking of until I saw Dani's! thats what I want! Does it heat water as well?

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    4. I suppose there must be one with a back boiler.

      But yes I also am hoping for a rosie in the next house. When I was researching before for one, there was a company on the boarder with Wales somewhere that sold them and fitted them. I seem to have lost the link.

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  5. Don't dismiss some form of electric heating. Historically it was considered an expensive option but coupled with properly fitted modern insulation and a pressurised hot water tank, it's now more than viable. Cheap to install, no invasive pipework, no waste during heat conversion like their is with oil and gas. 1kWh in, 1kWh out. I think the whole idea of 'central' heating is out of date now. It was ok when energy was relatively cheap. Making hot water travel round and round a house in poorly insulated pipes is a bad habit we've got into.

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    1. We ahve el;ectrice heaters stored in the loft as a backups but they're quite expensive to run. If our house was better insulated (to modern standards) then you're quite right - central heating isn't needed. In fact light bulbs can heat small rooms. We worked it all out when I was at college - but over here you won;t sell a new house without central heating!

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  6. Personally i would replace a boiler- 2 main reasons- new ones are more efficient and will cost less to run over all ( I believe) and fixing and old appliance is risky. A circuit board went on our washing machine so spent £100 for a new one, fitted it and it blew again- the circuit board was the bit that broke but it wasn't the thing that was the issue. If I was confident of the issue I would have a go at fixing it but it's a case of doing a cost/benefit analysis.

    I wrote about our experience with our broken oven last week- read it here
    Miss Tulip x

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    1. I've fixed quite a few appliances in the past and the trouble is you can end up spending £100 pounds or more and you've still got an old washing machine/dishwasher etc. I think we're heading towards replacing the boiler. Trouble is I've got to do a bit of drainage where I want it to sit first and any holes I dig will fill up pretty quick in this weather!

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  7. my idea is obviously not popular as I would keep the boiler going until you have the extension built. you will have to site it twice. it depends if you are buying parts or just doing up keep. if you are buying parts then it could be that it will cost you more.

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    1. I won't have to site it twice as the idea is to have it outside, hopefully it will be out of the way there and give us more room inside. Hopefully to get ti running again now I've just got to do a bit of up keep. It would be nice not to have to change it straight away and do it when we want to!

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  8. I would also keep the boiler going if possible until you are ready to re-site it.Though I doubt a plumber will be helpful with this and insist on you have a bells and whistles affair, so mend it yourself if you can.
    Regarding biomass I have not heard of anyone who has had them installed who hasn't had problems with the installation and getting someone to help when it plays up. The fuel takes up a lot of space and as you say, will it be cheap in the future? It can't be any cheaper than the free wood we grow, scavenge and barter! (Nor pallets) I can't see that this option is a self-sufficient one as there is too much reliance on others at each stage.
    Sometimes an oil filled radiator in the bedrooms can be more cost effective than the installation and running of CH.

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    1. We had a biomass boiler installed 6 years ago. It cost us £11k and that was with the government grant of around £3,500. The company who installed it went out of business shortly after this. By this time we were having major problems with it. We have had a plumber's bill every year to replace the pump (we learned to replace it ourselves this year) and because a buffer tank hadn't been installed, we have never had a particularly warm house. This month we have had to spend another £3,100 to install a buffer tank and replace various bits of equipment which have worn out due to not being installed properly. Hopefully, it is now working properly but if it had been left up to me I would have had the entire system ripped out and installed oil heating as there are more folk who know what they are doing with oil heating. (We're not on the gas here).

      Having said that, biomass boilers (when working well) are much cheaper on fuel than oil, gas or electricity. We think our fuel bill each year will come in at around £700 and we live in the north of Scotland which is pretty cold.

      Would I recommend it? Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask after our bad experience. If you can find an experienced engineer who has been dealing successfully with these for a few years, then it may be worth looking into. I think the government grants have now stopped but you can claim RHI payments through ofgem. I know someone who is claiming £600 a quarter due to using biomass and solar panels.

      Also, make sure you actually see the size of a biomass boiler, the buffer tank, and the silo for storing the pellets if you intend having one. This lot takes up half of our garage - it isn't small!
      Good luck!

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    2. Gill, hopefully there will be no plumbers involved but don't tell anyone! I have the means!
      And Susan thanks for your comment, really helpful and makes me think that around here there wouldn't be many that could fix or maintain it currently. We haven't got the under cover storage for the biomass fuel either so that would be added expense and work! I think I've been swayed towards keeping an oil system going so far!

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    3. Hi again. It's definitely much cheaper to buy the pellets in bulk compared with buying them by the bag and feeding the boiler manually. We currently pay around £830 for 4 tonnes. We need to order 4 tonnes 'blown delivery' to qualify for free delivery. If we order 3 tonnes we pay £50 delivery, and if we order 2 tonnes we pay £100 delivery charge. So obviously it's cheaper to have a silo compared with buying smaller bags, but they are absolutely huge and must be kept in a dry area or the pellets will get damp. We live in rural NE Scotland and there is only one biomass engineer in our area. Fortunately, he seems to know what he's doing compared with the cowboy who installed the system in the first place. Hope I haven't put you off but it is a huge expense if you're not sure that it's going to be installed and maintained professionally. If you get a dodgy engineer and there are no others in your area, then you're stuck, the way we were. If you have to build a storage outhouse or shed for the pellets, that is an added expense too.

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    4. No your comments were really helpful - I hadn't really thought about creating the space to store it all in - that has huge cost implications as well. Thanks again for your help.

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  9. We have a propane boiler and the circuit board has failed twice with huge repair costs so it is now out of action. If you get a modern one of any style, it might need some kind of electrical protection as we can only guess that a surge took the electronics out unless they just failed.
    They are starting to use geothermal here that you might look into. I am kind of stuck with trying to figure out what to do and might go back to oil as we really need a back up to wood.

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    1. It;s always good to have a backup. With the oil, wood and some electric heaters I'd feel pretty good that we had it covered. Over here to have Propane you need to have a tank that is leased from the gas company, another bill and not a contract I'd want to enter into at the moment.

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  10. Like a modern fridge / freezer, I would replace with a new, modern more efficient boiler. You'll score in the long term.

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    1. I think you're right, with the cost of oil now it's sensible to use it in the most effeicent way possible

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  11. I switched to all wood all the time completely about 3 years ago but then my circumstances are much different than yours. Backups are always nice though!!!

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    1. I'd like to be using wood most of the time, and hopefully we will be when the extension is built, it's just heating upstairs that the problem, but when the house is warm it holds it's heat.

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  12. Clearly your boiler is quite different than what we typically have over here and your conditions are no where near as harsh as here, so caveat emptor. Yours appears to be more like an under the counter kitchen appliance while ours is just an ugly oil fired furnace with a noisy Becket burner and two loops one for domestic hot water and one for the baseboard radiators. Its the gray unit to the right in this photo. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-0B4TrA15Wc8/VEwtp47RwuI/AAAAAAAAE0s/wwb8GFat998/s1600/P1060343.JPG
    As we heat the house principally with a much more efficient direct vent propane fired Rinai unit located in the kitchen, the heat loop on the oil fired furnace hardly sees any use. Currently we only use the boiler for the domestic hot water and thus is not the most efficient set up for that task as it always tries to maintain a reserve of hot water at temperature, and fires up as the temp drops whether you use it or not. Given this experience I think that separate dedicated units for each task is better. An on-demand propane or electric water heater for the domestic hot water, and a separate unit for the household heat gives you more flexibility, and redundancy. Right now US crude production has surpassed that of all nations but Saudi-Arabia, and we currently produce more oil than we import. The cost of oil is at an all time low nearing 70U$ a barrel, and continues dropping, and around here heating oil is at 2.70 U$ a gallon. But there is no telling what will happen in a few years time when megalomaniacal tyrants with whacked-out "good intentions" and perverted aspirations decide that its convenient to put the kibosh on that one and shut off the valves. So over here, right now I still favor propane which is a oil refining waste byproduct and I can buy in bulk 400 gallons at a time, for less than 2 U$ a gallon. As for GVT subsidies I have only found them to be false economy as the come with too many restrictions, covenants and conditions.

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    1. So much space in your basement! You're right about my boiler it's meant to be an under counter one and I doubt it could handle the winters you have to endure! Lately I've been using the immersion heater (electric element in the hot water tank) as it must be more efficient that our old boiler pumping the water all the way up there to indirectly heat it. It was taking ages to heat the tank, where as the immersion would do it in under an hour.
      The ondemand system you talk about is called a "combi" over here and I'm in two minds as to go for this or not. It would mean altering a lot of pipework in the house but it would mean that it was a whole new system- much easier for me to understand and fix with no hidden surprises!

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  13. We have an outside oil fired boiler for our central heating and hot water, although once we have the solar panels and extra water storage tanks installed we will switch to our own generated electricity for the water.

    At the moment it has been disconnected as we rather thoughtlessly installed it in just the place the steel uprights to hold up the new slated conservatory roof will be. It has been really efficient and we chose it over a biomass boiler due to the cost of the pellets potentially rising and the storage space needed for them, also as someone else pointed out there are not that many repairers for them at the moment.

    I'm sure you'll have already have made the right decision for you and your family by the time I send this comment, but I thought I'd put my opinion into the pot ;-)

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  16. Try not to reject some type of electric warming. Verifiably it was viewed as a costly alternative however combined with legitimately fitted current protection and a pressurized boiling point water tank, it's presently more than feasible. Modest to introduce, no intrusive pipework, no waste amid warmth change like there is with oil and gas. 1kWh in, 1kWh out. I think the entire thought of "focal" warming is obsolete at this point. It was alright when vitality was moderately shabby. Making boiling hot water go all around a house in inadequately protected channels is an unfortunate propensity we have into.
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