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Boilers on the Blink. UK Boiler Breakdown Study 2019

Nick Geary
By: Nick Geary
Updated: 19th September 2023

Boiler Guide helps thousands of people each year to save money by providing a quick and easy way to find and compare quotes from local and trustworthy Gas Safe engineers.

We've helped so many people since we launched in 2003 that we decided to learn a little more about them. Specifically, where they are in the UK.

To do this, we analysed ten years of boiler repair enquiries from UK households, received between 2009 and 2019, to find out where and when boilers are most and least likely to be 'on the blink'.

A note about the data: Certain regions are more densely populated than others so to simply compare the number of enquiries from each wouldn't be a fair representation. So, to make sure our findings were as proportionally representative and accurate as possible, we found out the total number of households in each region (according to the Office for National Statistics), how many boiler enquiries came from each of them and then calculated the figures as percentages. This gave us accurate but very small numbers, so we finished off by multiplying all of them by 10,000 to get our final results for comparison.

Once the dreaded maths was out of the way, here's what we found out about 'Boilers on the Blink' in the UK.

Where in the UK Are Boilers Most Likely to Breakdown?

  • The most boiler repairs were needed in London with 6.08% of boilers estimated to have broken down during this period. This was closely followed by the West Midlands at 6.04% and the North East at 5.59%.
  • Boilers are least likely to break down in Yorkshire with 4.27%, Scotland at 4.38% and the North West at 4.79%.

The next logical question is why are more boilers breaking down in London than elsewhere? It's not that there are simply more homes and more boilers in London as we took this into account when standardising the data, so what else could it be?

Perhaps it's because there are older properties (and therefore older heating systems) in the capital which are more likely to develop faults. There are also plenty of listed buildings which aren't allowed to update their heating systems as easily. Of course, it's a very densely populated area with a large number of homes of multiple occupancy, which could be placing boilers under more strain.

Being in the south of the UK, London also enjoys a higher average annual temperature than the north. Although you may presume that this would mean they use their boilers less, in reality households which leave their boilers inactive for a longer period of time can find that the system stagnates and blockages develop, causing more repair issues.

The number of rental properties is also a possible factor. According to a report by UK parliament on 'Home ownership and renting: demographics', private renting is more common (and owner-occupation is less common) in London than the rest of the UK. In fact, according to a survey carried out by the Resolution Foundation in January 2019, London has the lowest percentage of homeowners at just 37.2%.

Interestingly, the North East and the West Midlands – which were the regions which submitted the 2nd and 3rd highest numbers of enquiries to Boiler Guide – have the next lowest levels of home ownership.

UK Region Percentage of Homeowners (including outright owners and mortgage payers)
London 37.2%
North East 51.8%
West Midlands 53.8%
Yorkshire 54.4%
East Midlands 55.2%
Wales 55.2%
Scotland 55.2%
South West 55.5%
North West 55.5%
South East 57.4%
UK average 52.8%

Why does renting or owning a property make a difference? Well, in a rental property, the responsibility for servicing, repairing or replacing the boiler falls to the landlord rather than the tenant. If the boiler breaks, the tenant won't be the one paying for a repair or replacement, so this may mean that boilers don't receive the ongoing maintenance they need to stay in good condition. The landlord isn't in the property to notice small issues worsening over time and, as long as the boiler is functioning, tenants may be less inclined to raise it with their landlord until a complete breakdown occurs.

However, Yorkshire's home ownership levels (although significantly higher than London) are by no means top of the table, yet we received the fewest boiler repair enquiries from this region. So is there something else going on which makes a boiler less likely to break down up north? We're not sure, but perhaps the colder temperatures mean that people are using their boilers for more of the year and so they have less chance to stagnate and develop faults.

It's also possible that there is a correlation between household income and what impact that has on a household being able to pay for a boiler repair. In 2018, the BBC reported that the towns and cities in the UK with the lowest average wages were mostly in Yorkshire and the North West of England which (excluding Scotland) have also submitted the lowest number of repair enquiries to Boiler Guide. Does this suggest that although a boiler may be struggling, a household without much disposable income may choose to hold out as long as possible until paying for a repair is the only option. It's no surprise that the highest wages are earned in London, which could also be a factor in London homes being more likely to have the money needed to get a boiler repaired sooner.

When Are Boilers Most Likely to Break Down?

  • It's widely believed that boiler repairs are more likely to be needed at certain times of year, so we also looked at the date of each enquiry to see if we could confirm this statistically. Combining all the enquiries for each year by month, here is when boilers are most likely to break down in the UK.
  • With a chunky 15.56%, most boiler repairs and breakdowns happen in January of each year. December is the next busiest month with 12.01%.
    July is the quietest month year after year with just 3.8% of enquiries coming in at that time, and demand for new boilers or boiler repairs is always lower between March and October.

To some, it may not be earth-shattering news that boilers are more likely to break down in the cold of winter and less people are fixing their boilers in the summer, but there are lessons we can learn from seeing it confirmed in cold hard data.

Why is a Boiler More Likely to Break Down in January?

There are two common reasons for a boiler on the blink during the winter months of December and January.

The first is that you are using your boiler on a daily basis and the harder a boiler has to work, the more strain you're placing on its components. If the boiler is suffering from wear and tear or small issues, this is the time you're most likely to push it over the edge into a breakdown.

The second potential reason for a boiler breakdown in winter is the freezing outside temperatures. Frozen water in pipes, the boiler itself and the condensate pipe can create a blockage which will cause the boiler to stop working.

How to Prevent a Boiler Breakdown

Get your boiler serviced every year by a Gas Safe engineer. A boiler is much like a car in that it needs to be maintained to keep it in good working condition. The annual boiler service is an engineer's opportunity to check the boiler is working efficiently, effectively and safely. They will also be able to catch small issues before they cause a major problem and will clean and replace parts which are showing signs of wear and tear.

  1. Insulate your pipes. To prevent frozen pipes you can wrap them in pipe insulation which you get from most DIY stores for very little money. If you're concerned that your pipes are frozen, you can often thaw them by pouring warm water on them or with a hot water bottle.
  2. Carry out some occasional boiler maintenance. For example, check that the water pressure level is between 1 to 2 bars (and adjust it if it's not) and that the pilot light is a strong blue flame (not yellow or orange). Your radiators will also need bleeding now and again to get rid of air pockets which build up over time and will stop your radiators from heating up fully.
  3. Turn your central heating on during the summer. Obviously, your heating shouldn't be on continuously during the summer, but leaving a heating system inactive for too long can cause the system to stagnate and blockages to form. To keep the water flowing through the pipes, turn your heating on for 15 minutes once a month during the summer.

You should get to know how your boiler works and to recognise when there might be a problem. Listen for odd noises and if the boiler seems to be struggling to reach a high enough temperature, don't ignore it as it's unlikely things will get better without some maintenance or a repair.

Signs That Your Boiler Needs Replacing

If you think that your boiler may need replacing in the near future, don't wait for it to completely give up before you get a new one. Aside from the inconvenience of living without heating and hot water until a replacement is fitted, there are several other reasons why you shouldn't delay a boiler replacement.

An inefficient or malfunctioning boiler won't be heating your home effectively so you'll probably be feeling cold in your home and turning the thermostat up to compensate making your heating bills more expensive. It could also be costing you significant money in repairs, and most importantly, it could become a serious safety risk if it starts to leak carbon monoxide in your home.

Here are some common signs that you're boiler should be replaced sooner rather than later.

  • It breaks down regularly.
  • It keeps turning itself on and off.
  • Your heating bills are more expensive with no changes to your usage or energy tariff
  • Your boiler is over 12 years old and/or replacement parts are no longer available to get it repaired.
  • The pilot light (flame) is no longer burning blue. If you notice that the pilot light is orange or yellow, the boiler may be producing carbon monoxide, an odourless and colourless gas which is potentially lethal. Similarly, if you can smell the eggy odour of gas in your home when the boiler is working there may be a gas leak. If you suspect a gas or carbon monoxide leak you should turn the boiler off and contact the Gas Emergency Line on 0800 111 999.

Why is Summer the Best Time to Get Your Boiler Repaired or Replaced?

Although demand for boiler services, repairs and replacement is lower between March to October, this is actually the best time to get these jobs carried out. Here are a few reasons to go against the trend and get your boiler repaired in the summer.

  • Heating engineers and companies are often less busy during the summer and may offer more competitive prices.
  • You should find it easier to get an appointment time that suits you.
  • Having work carried out on your boiler means it will need to be turned off; if you have to go without heating and hot water, it makes much more sense to do it in the summer.
  • If a boiler breaks in winter you will be without heating and hot water until it can be fixed. Getting things sorted ahead of the winter will give you real peace of mind that your boiler is in good condition before it's tested by the freezing temperatures ahead.

Nick Geary

About the author

Nick Geary

Nick has a wide range of experience writing about conventional and renewable heating solutions, and is always increasing his knowledge by researching any new heating technologies on the horizon.

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