The boiler stopped working.

This is a not untypical feature of life at the moment. At least two other people my OH works with also had boiler failures. All the repair people are flat out and/or taking a break till the new year.

The annoying thing is that our boiler had been serviced very recently under the annual coverage plan we pay for. It’s more than a few years old, but has been regularly serviced. It hasn’t been 100% reliable, and it needs a reset every now and then, but usually pushing the reset button gets it all going again. Not this time.

Probably there is some frozen water in the condensate pipe, but this is in a fairly inaccessible area at the top of the house because our boiler is in the loft. The little corner where the pipes leave the boiler is usually fine, because it’s right next door to the flue from the woodburner. But there’s a bit of pipe that emerges from the loft and joins the downpipe from the guttering. If it’s frozen, then it is there, in a corner of the house that doesn’t see any sun in winter.

Without the woodburner, of course, we’d be freezing our asses off. Given the gas price hikes, we’ve been avoiding using the heating this year, like many people. Unlike a lot of people, we have a very efficient Scandinavian woodburner and plenty of kiln dried logs.

Our similar woodburner in France has a ceramic surround, which is absolutely brilliant. It acts like a storage radiator in that it stores heat from the fire and then releases it for a long time after the fire has died down. If you were thinking of getting a woodburning stove, I strongly recommend you get a model with a ceramic or soapstone surround — like this one. Absolute miracles of heat and fuel efficiency.

Now, I might not have been quite as extreme as my OH has been over this heating business. I’d have probably had it on for half an hour a day just to keep it ticking over. Maybe it would have been better to do that. Because the problem with using just the woodburner is that even when you light it as soon as you get in from work, there isn’t really enough time to get the whole house warm.

Our thermostat is at the bottom of the stairs, which are in the living room. So heat from the woodburner crosses the room and goes straight up. This is useful for drying clothes at the top of the stairs, and allows some heat to reach bedrooms and bathroom. But when you get in from work and the thermostat reads 8°C at 3:45pm, there’s very little chance of getting the temperature above 15° by 9:00pm. As I sit here now, the ambient temperature is 13° (up from 9°), and the fire has been going a couple of hours (work finished early today).

Just once this year, we’ve managed (on a weekend) to get the temperature up to a balmy 20°C (which felt too hot!), but that was starting from a base of around 13° and as this cold snap has extended, the baseline temperature has dropped a lot. And this year is better than it might have been because I fitted a wonky cat flap, which I’m happy to report means that our cat no longer leaves the door to the cold, unheated “conservatory” open when he goes in and out.

I’m doing bucket baths at the moment, and my OH is showering at work. My big concern is what happens when we’re away in France over Christmas. The last few years there have been no worries about freezing pipes. My normal practice is to set the thermostat quite low and run the heating for a bit every day. But we can’t manage that this year because British Gas can’t come out to repair the boiler till January. Yikes!

What I’m hoping is, if this current snap ends, I can get the boiler working when the ice melts.

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