Staying Warm This Winter: 9 Signs You Need a New Boiler and How to Pick the Right One
Living in a house with a broken boiler in the winter is painful. When you hear "Baby It's Cold Outside" during the holidays, there’s nothing worse than when it’s cold inside too. You'll do anything to get out of your own house and go somewhere where it's warm!
It doesn't take a complete breakdown and freezing temperatures to indicate that you need a new boiler. There are warning signs that can save you a lot of hassle and discomfort if you spot them and replace your malfunctioning boiler early enough.
What exactly are those warning signs? Once you notice them, how do you go about replacing your junky old boiler with a spiffy new one?
Those are the questions we'll answer in this guide. Read on to discover the signs and get guidance on what to do about them when they appear.
9 Signs You Definitely Need a New Boiler
There is no shortage of evidence when a boiler breaks down. It assaults your senses, from the smell and look of your boiler to the temperature it emits.
We've cast our net wide in rounding up these nine signs. We wanted as thorough and varied a collection as possible. We now present this collection of complaints to you in all its leaky, messy glory.
1. It's Making Strange Noises
If you just recently got your boiler installed, funny noises can be a sign there was a problem with the installation. Fixing that is a matter of making a few adjustments, which is relatively simple.
If it's not a problem with the installation, gurgling noises can indicate a more serious problem like kettling. "Kettling" is a term for when your system is filled with sludge. Banging sounds can point to other issues with your pump.
When you've got these more serious issues, you'll likely have to call an expert instead of attempting the fix yourself.
2. It's Old
This one is a no-brainer. If your boiler is old, you may need to replace it.
But how old is too old for a boiler?
The general rule of thumb about the lifespan of a boiler is that it needs replacing after 10-15 years. If you wait too long after that, you're asking for trouble.
If you're not sure of the exact age of your boiler, another way to tell it's too old is when it becomes difficult to find replacement parts because the manufacturer has stopped making them.
It's a difficult pill to swallow because a new boiler can cost a pretty penny. It seems much more attractive at first just to get a temporary fix to your old boiler rather than go to all the trouble of shopping for, buying, and installing a new boiler. But one temporary fix leads to another, and that pile of fixes quickly ends up more costly than the price of the new model.
Speaking of cost savings, it's unlikely your old boiler is running at peak efficiency. This means that when you replace the unit, you're likely to see a drop in your heating bill because of the improvements your new boiler makes to your system.
3. The Temperature Is All over the Place
There are few feelings worse than running water for a bath or shower and getting a surprise from the temperature.
You turn the hot water faucet, and the water never warms up. Or you get the water to warm up, and then the temperature pings and pongs back and forth between hot and cold throughout the duration of the shower.
This kind of temperature roller coaster is a sure sign that your boiler needs replacing. A new unit should correct the problem by providing a steady stream of heat that makes bathing the relaxing experience it should be rather than a constant game of chicken you play with the faucet.
4. You Have No Heat
Consider this a corollary to the previous item on the list. It's just a more extreme version of the temperature problem.
It's almost like a Jeff Foxworthy joke. You might have a broken boiler if... it doesn't produce any heat!
If your water or your home doesn’t heat up at all and you've done the other troubleshooting related to your heating system, your boiler might be to blame.
5. You Keep Repairing It
There's a point at which you have to accept that your efforts to revive your old boiler just aren't working. Like a doctor in a prime-time medical drama, you need to look at the clock and pronounce the time of death.
Only you can determine when that point is. You might have a great deal of patience. Perhaps the seeming hassle of getting a new boiler outweighs the money you spend on repairs.
If that's the case, continue to repair your boiler, but know that those repairs will start to come more frequently. You will reach a personal breaking point as your boiler reaches its literal breaking point.
It's normal to get your boiler serviced once a year by a professional plumber or gas safety technician. If you're wondering where to draw the line for repairs that are too frequent, you shouldn't have to get it fixed every couple months.
If it just needs a small part, that's one thing. But if your boiler needs major work multiple times per year, it's time to put down the defibrillator and let it die.
6. It Leaks
A leak is a bad sign in any home appliance, but it's especially troublesome in a boiler. It means your boiler isn't just broken or inefficient. It might actually be dangerous.
The danger comes from the interaction between the water in your boiler and the electricity that surrounds it. You don't need us to tell you that this isn't a good combination.
The minute you observe a leak and can identify that it's coming from your boiler, call a professional to inspect the damage. Your boiler may be salvageable, but if there is a significant amount of corrosion, it will need replacing as soon as possible.
A gas leak is a less obvious but no less problematic form of leak. There are a couple of different types of gasses that can leak from your boiler.
Carbon monoxide is naturally odourless, which is why you we strongly suggest you have a carbon monoxide detector in your boiler room. If you detect a slightly eggy smell, this may be a gas leak. Gas companies add a scent to natural gas to alert you when a leak occurs. If you detect the rotten-egg smell of sulphur, you should open your windows and leave the area as quickly as you can.
If you smell burning fabric or frying wires, those can signify other, slightly less urgent problems with your boiler. A gas technician can address any and all of these smells.
7. Problems with Your Pilot Light
Problems with the pilot light are a classic sign that your boiler needs replacing. They are so prevalent that we lumped two of the most common problems together.
One problem that occurs in old boilers is when the pilot light keeps going out on its own. If your pilot light goes out once, your boiler is designed for you to reignite the light easily. But if it keeps going out after you reignite it, this points to a deeper issue with the boiler.
Another pilot light problem relates to the carbon monoxide problems we discussed previously. While carbon monoxide is naturally odourless, there are visual cues that point to the presence of the deadly gas.
Typically, a boiler's pilot light should burn blue. If your boiler's flame burns a yellow colour, that is a sign of the presence of carbon monoxide. You should take the same precautions you would if you smelled sulfur coming from your boiler.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue; the gas can be fatal at high enough levels of exposure. If you notice these symptoms, call a medical professional and then a gas technician to assess your boiler, whether or not you notice the other signs of carbon monoxide.
8. It Has a Bad Grade
We don't mean your boiler is failing in school. If you're sending your boiler to school, you may have carbon monoxide poisoning. You should get help from an appropriate professional.
The grade we're talking about is your boiler's efficiency rating. You should see this every year when you get the report from the plumber or gas safety technician who performs your boiler inspection.
You want your boiler to have an "A" rating. Anything less is seriously suspect - and not just for the impact your unit may be having on the environment. A poor energy efficiency rating may directly affect your wallet.
To give you some specific numbers, "A"-rated boilers have at least 92 percent energy efficiency, while boilers with "G" ratings function at 80 percent or less.
What this means is that you could be losing money on every dollar you spend on energy with a "G"-rated boiler. That's a lot of extra cash you're literally burning every year.
9. More and More Expensive Energy Bills
There is a way to tell your boiler has a bad grade before you even get your annual inspection done. That is by watching your energy bills slowly get more expensive over time.
An energy inefficient boiler doesn't just waste the money you put into it. By its very nature, it requires more energy to do the same work as a more efficient boiler. This requires more money to pay for that energy, which is how you see those bills start to rise.
Short of physical inspection, paying close attention to your heating bill is one of the best ways to tell when your old boiler has passed its prime.
How to Look for a New Boiler
Once you've come to the conclusion you need a new boiler, there are several factors to consider in doing your research on just what type of unit is best for you. Let us walk you through them.
Three Different Types of Fuel
There are many ways to break down boilers into categories, such as based on the type of fuel they use: natural gas, oil, and electricity.
Electric boilers are rare because of how expensive electricity is as a fuel source. Oil boilers are typically used in areas with limited access to natural gas. Gas boilers are by far the most common type.
Three Sub-Types of Gas Boilers
Since you'll likely be exploring options within the natural gas boiler category, we'll break gas boilers down for you even more. Once again, there are three main types.
The first type of gas boiler is known as a conventional boiler. Conventional boilers have hot water tanks that store hot water for later use. They are also called heat-only boilers because of their limited components.
The second type is the system boiler, which is closely related to the conventional boiler. The main difference between the two types is that system boilers have a few more components build into their systems. These more self-contained systems are easier to install and conserve space.
Finally, there are combination boilers. Also known as a combi boiler, this boiler heats the water you need as you need it, which eliminates the need for a hot water storage tank entirely.
The type of boiler you choose should depend on the resources in your area as well as factors like price, size, and energy efficiency of the specific unit.
Consult an Engineer
Personal research is a great place to start in your hunt for a new boiler. But these are complicated systems, and it may not always be obvious the unit that will best fit the existing specs in your home. Ultimately, you'll get a lot of mileage out of going to the experts.
When you consult a boiler or heating engineer, they can assess your home and provide recommendations that are tailored to your needs. Just make sure you know their biases first, as some engineers have incentives to install only certain brands.
Keep That Same Energy
There are many things that can go wrong with your boiler, but fortunately, there are just as many warning signs of when those things are going wrong. Now that you know what to look for, you'll be able to recognize when you need a new boiler as soon as the need arises.
As informed as you are, boilers are still full of unexpected issues. Address all of them by consulting our boiler service professionals.