Keeping your central heating system in good working order is in your interest from both a financial and a safety point of view. Below are some measures you can take for central heating maintenance, most of which will increase the efficiency of your system – and thus have the happy side effect of reducing your heating bills.

These suggestions may be used as either a troubleshooting guide, if you suspect your heating isn’t working properly, or as a checklist for ongoing maintenance of the system.

Have your boiler regularly serviced

Having your boiler regularly serviced by an engineer, checking such things as boiler components, conformity to current regulations and burner efficiency, lessens the chances of a breakdown and costly repair or replacement further down the road.

Use your heating less

Making fewer demands on your boiler can really help lengthen its life. One way to do this is to set your thermostat to a relatively low level (‘preferably between 18–20 degrees Celcius’, say the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council so your home isn’t heated to such a high temperature. Improving the property’s insulation can assist with this, as the heat produced by the system will be better retained and you’re likely to feel comfortable at a lower setting.

Another way to use less heating is to set the boiler timer according to your daily routine, so it only comes on when you’re up and in the house or flat, and isn’t needlessly producing heat in other periods.

Check the water pressure

Most boilers have a built-in pressure gauge which allows you to check the water pressure. All boilers are different and there will be a recommended pressure for your particular boiler, findable in the instruction manual or by contacting the manufacturer (in general it will be somewhere around 1). If the pressure is lower than this, you may be able to repressurise the boiler yourself, following instructions in the manual. Reasons for a loss of pressure could be a leak somewhere in the heating system, or if you have bled the radiators recently (see below). If you find you are constantly losing pressure, it is likely the former.

Check your radiators

When the heating is on, run your hands over the surface of the radiator to check that heat is evenly distributed throughout. If as is commonly the case, the top of the radiator is cool while the bottom is hot, there is air in the system and the radiator needs to be ‘bled’ to re-maximise its heating capacity. This is a relatively simple operation which you can perform yourself by opening the bleed valve at the top of the radiator (a small knob on the side which can be turned with a screwdriver or supplied key) and releasing the trapped air until water begins to dribble out (remember to hold a cloth beneath!). If you’re needing to bleed the radiators often you likely have a leak somewhere in the system, which needs to be identified.

Check for carbon monoxide / gas leaks.

Gas Safe, the official gas registration body for the UK, warns that ‘badly fitted or poorly maintained gas appliances can produce a highly poisonous gas called carbon monoxide (CO) which can leak into your home’. Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and tasteless, so not readily detectable to the senses, though there are noticeable symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headaches, breathlessness, nausea, stomach pains, breathing difficulties and dizziness. Carbon monoxide detectors (which themselves need to be regularly tested and maintained) are readily available. You can also check the pilot light of your boiler, which should have a flame that is crisp and blue, rather than orange/yellow, which indicates it could be emitting carbon monoxide.

Power flush your heating system

Over time, deposits of rust and other materials may build up in your heating system – cool areas on radiators (see above), discoloured water when you bleed them, or excessive noises from the system could be an indication of this. One way to address the issue is by means of a power flush, performed by an engineer, which is a cleansing process whereby a machine is used to pump cleansing chemicals through the system, flushing out the build-up.

(Photo by Alvimann)