Energy firm warns of spike in boilers breaking down amid 'the big switch on'

A woman next to a radiator with a blanket on looking sad
British Gas have warned over 50,000 customers about their boilers not working during the 'big switch on' (Image credit: Getty Images)

British Gas has sent out warnings to 50,000 of its customers that their boilers could be at risk of breaking down following 'the big switch on' this winter.

'The big switch on' is the time of year when households collectively turn on their heating to avoid the winter chills.

A boiler breakdown could of course add another cost to energy price rises homeowners are already expected to pay this winter.

Why does 'the big switch on' cause problems?

'The big switch on' is when most UK households start to use their heating systems in winter.

As temperatures begin to drop many households start to use their boilers for the first time in months, only to discover their boiler isn't working.

This can cause a spike in demand for heating engineers at the same time and result in a delay to homeowners getting their heating working properly. 

What do British Gas advise to avoid this problem?

Finding that your heating system doesn't work, just as you start to need it can be a nightmare, not only due to being unable to heat your home, but also due to how much the repair might cost or if you need a replacement boiler.

Homeowners will be wondering what causes these breakdowns. British Gas service and repair engineer Joanna Flowers stated that whilst boilers are dormant: "Air can enter the system and form bubbles, which stops them from working efficiently."

Flowers advised homeowners that if your radiators are not working: "If you notice cold spots, switch your radiators off and after they cool, turn a radiator key in the valve at the top to let the air out.”

British Gas also advise to always test your heating systems before the temperatures begin to really drop so you're not left without heating when you need it most.

A woman looking at a boiler and calling for a plumber

Calling for a plumber might not be necessary for the most common boiler issues and the solution might be quite simple, so it is important to check what the issue is yourself if you're looking to save money on a call out charge (Image credit: Getty Images)

Common boiler problems to look out for

British Gas have offered a number of other common issues with boilers that you can run into this winter, and solutions for each one:

1. Low pressure

Symptoms: Boiler switches off, banging sounds, radiators furthest from the boiler stop heating.

Solution: Increase pressure using the filling loop. Reset the boiler, and if the pressure keeps dropping, it might indicate a pipe leak requiring an engineer's check.

2. Frozen condensate pipe

Symptoms: Gurgling sounds, failure to fire up, especially during low outside temperatures. 

Solution: Thaw the frozen pipe using warm water or a warm compress. Detailed steps for dealing with frozen pipes are available.

3. Boiler or thermostat settings issues

Symptoms: Boiler not coming on or erratic firing, error message on the thermostat or blank panel.

Solution: Check timer settings, adjust if necessary. Ensure the central heating dial is turned up. Verify and adjust thermostat settings, replacing batteries if needed.

4. Pilot light out

Symptoms: No visible pilot light, boiler won’t fire up.

Solution: Follow boiler instructions to reignite the pilot light. If gas smell or unusual signs are present, don't attempt reignition. Contact the emergency gas line. If the pilot light persistently goes out, consult a Gas Safe engineer.

5. Boiler locks out and needs resetting

Symptoms: Lock-out light keeps coming on, error codes on the control panel, boiler won’t fire up.

Solution: Attempt a reset using the boiler reset button or following the manual's instructions. If this fails, try switching the boiler off and on. Persistent need for resets might indicate a larger issue, requiring an engineer's inspection.

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.