Winter’s already nipping at our toes, so follow advice fromon ensuring your heating systems are working safely, reliably and efficiently.
No home heating fuel is cheap. Even wood stoves demand manual effort that makes ever kW of delivered heat to your air and water matter.
Heat pumps run on electricity not simply fresh air or Mother Earth’s snug bosom alone. With winter nipping at our toes, it’s time to ensure your heating system is operating safely, reliably and at optimum efficiency.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Near Zero Energy Build (NZEB) or an A2/A3 tightly insulated little box, it’s still worth remembering that back-up source you might tickle on in the dark, raw months around the New Year. Don’t wait to test it when you need it — take an hour, and turn the system to check the dry (boiler/fire) and wet end (radiators and pipes).
Presuming many of us have radiators, open the thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs linked to automatic bypass valves) to the highest setting, and once they have warmed up run your hand over the rad’ to ensure it’s piping hot top to bottom.
If this is your first time with a retrofitted ASHP, the running temperatures of the radiators will be considerably lower to marry to what should be appropriate, high levels of insulation in the house and the longer expected running times of your heating system — don’t panic.
If after running any system for an hour, the top edge of the radiator is still cool, the individual radiator and/or perhaps the water pump, will require bleeding to remove air pockets that are depressing the efficiency of your boiler or HP.
Check the TRVs are operating if any of the radiators are stone cold. Screw it off and wiggle and depress the pin inside the dialling head, then put the head back on.
If this doesn’t work, the TRV may need replacing — a moderately easy DIY job. Properly working TRVs will make the bottom edge cooler when they reach their set temperature.
This is a good time to take a look at furniture placements — shift chairs or tables away a few centimetres from the surface of the radiators to allow warm air to convect unimpeded — the principle way a radiator actually gives off warmth to the room.
If you have a sealed central heating system (under pressure) the gauge should read in the area of 1.25bar when cold and about 2bar when hot.
If you have a new house and don’t know where the pressure gauge is, ask the heating engineer when he visits and have him/her show you how to top up the water in the system if needed (the filling point is not supposed to be open all the time).
An oil boiler should be in a well ventilated area with nothing leaning against it or stacked on top of it that could block vents in the housing. The basic outward, visual checks — you can and should do, but don’t skimp on a full annual inspection and service by a heating engineer who will at the very least take away the dust that inevitably builds up on the inside of a combustion boiler and all over the heat exchanger.
If there was a discreet crack in the firebox or target wall or a dirty photocell — would you spot that?
Oil boiler maintenance is sometimes self-taught by a general tradesman, so be careful who you call — METAC qualifications deal effectively with the “dry” side of the system. DIY prepping from a YouTube video?
This is 21st-century madness. If during the winter, even after an inspection you notice anything unusually like odd noises (termed kettling), reduced performance (oil levels falling quickly) or soot or staining building up around vents — even if your annual check was done — call in an engineer.
The air to fuel combustion ratio could be off or there could be a component failure on the way — not something you want to deal with on December 24!
The boiler should start first time, every time. If your radiators or hot water seem too hot or never hot enough — ask the engineer to show you how to adjust the boiler temperature for winter performance.
To avoid water to taps being too hot in winter, consider installing thermostatic mixing valves to safely regulate temperatures.
The insulation around the boiler should be intact and that includes the most vulnerable pipe on any modern condensing boiler — the condense pipe.
This carries the moisture created during the cycling of the boiler outside — so obviously it should be well insulated to prevent it freezing and shutting down the heating. If you’re running on oil, take a look at the tank — are there any signs of rust or corrosion?
If you smell oil, there may well be a leak.
You can claim on some household insurance policies for a serious spillage that’s leached into the surrounding ground.
You are responsible for any bleed to your neighbour’s property and resulting environmental damage, and insurance for spills does not cover standard tank maintenance. If you have a tank lock — ensure the supplier can access the tank if you’re at work when they deliver.
Call or go online to check the latest oil prices per 500l/1000l, and don’t be shy to challenge a reliable local supplier if new competing suppliers are offering a better price — it can bring you a better deal.
Gas boilers must have sufficient pressure to run the radiators — you can do a visual check on the boiler, but then call in a fully registered gas heating engineer to re-pressurise the boiler.
A RGI will carry a full valid ID card. If you get a cold call by an unregistered “gas man” report them to here: rgii.ie — someone’s life might depend on it.
There are plans for annual service checks from as little €10 a month with SMS messaging to your smart device to remind you to set up your annual check.
Well worth consideration. If you smell gas and suspect a gas leak, turn off your gas at the meter and follow the Gas Networks Ireland, safety advice here: https://www.gasnetworks.ie/home/safety/gas-safety-in-the-home.
Heat pumps, though they rarely give trouble once properly installed and commissioned, should also receive an annual health check to ensure they are performing to the manufacturers’ “tolerances”.
You may have a period of free annual services as part of your deal when buying in the technology — follow it up, and have the engineer show you how to do your part — for instance, swapping out filters on your unit.
Heat pumps do have a water pump, for example, that could go down, vital electrical connections, vents that can get dirty, internal thermostats that might be off, and if you have a HP attached to radiators they may need bleeding in just the same way as a gas or oil fired system –- this may be done by a general plumber if not you.
HPs contain a refrigerant, so the engineer taking the cover off the HP itself must be certified to handle “F” Gas and its component parts in your heating system.