How to cope while waiting for your boiler to be fixed

Most households rely on their boiler to provide all their space heating and hot water. When the boiler breaks it can take a while to get it repaired or replaced. These tips are intended to help you to cope for that period of time until normal service is resumed.


Space heating

If your central heating system breaks down when the weather is cold you will probably end up using secondary heaters to try and keep warm. Some people may have a gas fire or log stove fitted, or an open fire with a working chimney. If not, you will have to rely on electric heaters.

Using secondary heaters will be less effective than central heating and will usually cost more to run too, so before you go any further it’s important to do everything you can to keep your heating requirements to a minimum.

  • Wear more clothes – you may feel silly wearing a coat and hat in the house but it will certainly help you cope, feel more comfortable and stay healthy.
  • Draught-proof – you can do this anytime, but if you’re having trouble with your heating system it’s especially important. Temporary fixes like taping windows shut or using an old towel to block the gap at the bottom of a door can make a big difference in an emergency.
  • Draw the curtains – they will act as an extra insulation layer for your windows.
  • Use a hot water bottle or electric blanket instead of trying to heat your bedroom. Hot water bottles can be used round the rest of the house too.
  • Don’t try to heat parts of the house where you can manage without. Concentrate on where (and when) you really need the heat to stay comfortable and well.

Temporary electric heating

Electric heaters are very expensive to run, but they are cheap to buy and mostly don’t have to be fitted. If you don’t have any, you may be able to borrow some from friends or, if there are elderly people in the house, from a charity.

Because they are so expensive to run, it is important to choose the best type of heater for the job in hand.

  • Fan heaters – very good at heating the air in a room quickly, good for short blasts of heat, for instance while you are getting dressed. The room will cool down very quickly once they are turned off.
  • Halogen heaters (these are the ones that glow the moment they are switched on) – very good at heating people who are right in from of them. Good for one person sitting in a room on their own, provided the heater is close by and pointing directly at the person. Again, the room will cool down quickly once they are turned off.
  • Convection heaters – these heat the air in the room more slowly, and so tend to heat the whole room up. They mostly have thermostats to turn them on and off to keep the room at a steady temperature. More suitable for heating a whole room when there are several people likely to be in there for a while. The room will still cool down fairly quickly when they are turned off.
  • Oil-filled radiators – these heat the whole room up too. They take a while to heat up themselves and so will take longer to heat the room, but will also keep the room warm for longer once turned off. Best for heating rooms that will be used for a long period.
  • Traditional electric fires – these give directional heat (like a halogen) but take longer to heat up and are generally more powerful. Not very popular these days as they do a bit of everything, rather than one job very well.

Other secondary heaters

  • Gas fires – usually much cheaper to run than any electric heater, and will heat the whole room. The only gas fires that are not cheap to run are 'decorative fuel effect fires'. These are the inefficient fake coal fires that sit in an open fireplace – proper fake coal fires that are fitted instead of the fireplace are much more efficient and so are cheap to run. Portable gas heaters are not recommended for use in the home because of the danger of toxic fumes building up.
  • Log/coal stoves – can also be cheap to run (though log prices vary enormously) and again will heat one room effectively but will rarely heat the other rooms much.
  • Open fires – very inefficient heating systems. Even if the fuel is cheap you may be better off using electric heaters.

Water heating

If you’ve got a hot water cylinder, then there is probably an electric immersion heater too. Even if the boiler has stopped working you can still use the immersion for hot water, though it won’t do anything for your radiators. Take a look at your cylinder – if there is a thick electrical cable leading to the top of the cylinder (or one going to the top and one going to the bottom) then you can heat your water electrically.

There will be a switch or two, usually in or next to the cupboard with the cylinder in it and usually with a red light on the switch. Turn it (or them) on, wait half an hour and see if the water has got hot. If so, problem solved, but don’t forget to turn the switches off again once the water is hot, or to set the timer to do this for you if there is one. And don’t forget to turn it all off once the boiler is fixed – immersion heaters are more expensive to run than a modern gas or oil boiler, no matter what tariff you are on.

If you don’t have a cylinder, or if your cylinder doesn’t have an immersion heater, then you’re going to have to manage in other ways:

  • If you’ve got an electric shower then this will still work.
  • You can boil kettles and boil pans full of water on the hob for washing up, hand washing, and even to fill a bath if you have the patience. Don’t worry about whether you are using an electric kettle, gas hob or electric hob – the cost difference is very small and it should only be for a short period of time.

All front loading washing machines and all dishwashers will still work fine, even if they have a 'hot fill' connection. The machine will detect that the hot water supply is cold and will heat the water internally anyway.