Winter months put extra strain on your central heating system, not least because you need to use it much more than in preceding warmer months. Sudden and sustained use can lead to or reveal problems with your boiler and radiators, all of which need to be addressed swiftly when temperatures are low.

Condenser boilers

The chances are your boiler is of the condenser variety. These systems are much more efficient than older-style boilers, but have one notable disadvantage: when it gets very cold, they tend to break down.

Condenser boilers function by re-using some of the hot waste gases to heat water, which creates condensation. This condensation is transported away from the boiler via a condensate pipe, which usually runs to the exterior of the building. If this pipe splits or bursts, a homeowner can find themselves without heating or water.

On the upside, thawing or fixing the condensate pipe is a straightforward affair and can usually be done by homeowners themselves.


After the summer and autumn, during which your central heating system was probably used very little, a number of issues can present themselves when you eventually turn the heating on. Radiators failing to heat up properly is one of the most common. Cool patches on radiators can be remedied by bleeding them – a simple task that you should be able to do yourself with the aid of a bleeding key and a tub or rag to collect the waste water.

Sudden intense use

Turning your heating on suddenly after months of near-dormancy can put a lot of pressure on your boiler – especially if you crank the heat up high. Dust and grit can build up when a heating system is not in use, increasing the chances of a mechanical problem. You should be able to avoid this situation by turning your heating on periodically over the summer and autumn. If you haven’t done this, you can still reduce the chances of a breakdown by operating your boiler at low temperatures initially, then turning the heat up gradually as required.

Get your boiler serviced

It's also prudent to have your boiler serviced before the cold weather begins, so your household benefits from a heating system that is up to the task – ahead of time.

Avoiding burst pipes

Since water expands when it freezes, anything it contains is liable to fracture – even metal pipes. As such, it's important that your pipes never experience sub-zero temperatures for any extended period. Pipes liable to freezing – perhaps in a garage or remote area of your property – should be insulated if possible. Turning on any taps served by at-risk pipes can prevent freezing; just a trickle is enough.

Going away?

If you're planning a winter weekend getaway or holiday, it's a good idea to program your heating to come on while you're absent; ensure the temperature is at least 13 degrees Celsius (55F). Once again, trickling water from faucets will help prevent pipes freezing. always recommend seeking the services of a professional tradesperson If you're not entirely comfortable carrying out repairs or maintenance by yourself.