Undercover report: boilers designed to break down in cold weather

It’s 11am on a freezing morning in early March 2018. I am undercover for The Bluelands Gazette, posing as a trainee heating engineer and accompanying a professional on his callouts. The weather app on my phone tells me it’s minus 3 degrees outside. Right now we are attending the home of an elderly lady whose boiler packed up last night.

“Where the fuck have you two layabouts been? I’m freezing my tits off”, exclaims the feisty OAP. My companion mutters something about the weather being really bad in case she hasn’t noticed, which is why we’re an hour late. We are led to the bathroom where a combi-boiler sits in the corner, lights flashing and mocking us with its guttural gurgle.

“So what’s happened, exactly?” asks the heating pro. Our customer looks mightily cheesed off. “It’s knackered, that’s what’s happened, and it was only put in 5 years ago. By you.”

Later, back in the van, my companion confides in me. “Boilers are are all well and good, but they aren’t designed to work when it’s really cold.” I express naive surprise. Surely the whole point of a boiler is to provide mankind with a way of not dying of hyperthermia in our own homes?

“No, no, no. Boilers have the built-in design feature of breaking down when it’s cold. It’s the same reason ice-making machines stop working in hot weather. Now get yourself back up there and chuck a cup of hot water over the condenser pipe. We can charge her a hundred quid for that.”

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