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What to do if your boiler breaks in the winter

front panel of a boiler

What do you do with a broken boiler in a household full of people, children or elderly relatives who need to stay safe and warm?

This guide shows you everything you need to consider (in the order you need to consider it), so you’ll know exactly what to do if your boiler breaks down.

Table of contents

  1. Why are there more boiler breakdowns during Winter?
  2. What to do if boiler breaks down
  3. How to keep your family safe if your boiler has broken
  4. A smell of gas
  5. Boiler broken how to keep warm
  6. Who to contact if your boiler breaks down
  7. What to do if your boiler is under warranty
  8. What to do if you have boiler cover
  9. What to do if you have home emergency cover
  10. How to prevent your boiler from breaking in the future
  11. FAQs

Why are there more boiler breakdowns during Winter?

The simple answer is that you use your boiler way more during winter. Boiler can also develop small faults over the course of a year. If left unchecked and not used during the summer, homeowners and landlords often find these minor faults turn into big issues by the time the colder months hit.

What to do if boiler breaks down

Follow the guidelines below and you should be able to restore your household to warmth and comfort as soon as possible.

1. What to do first after your boiler breaks down

Don’t panic. The first sign you’ll notice is that your home will start to get colder and your hot water runs cold. Here’s what to do next:

  • Check that it’s definitely your boiler that’s broken: If you lose both heat and hot water, you’ll know your boiler has failed.
  • Check for more dangerous symptoms of a broken boiler:

1. A yellow and floppy flame – it should be blue and crisp
2. Loud banging noises
3. Abnormally high water pressure
4. Higher than normal gas consumption (check your gas bill or smart meter).

If you notice any of the above signs, switch your boiler off immediately.

  • Make a note of your boiler’s error code on its digital display before you switch it off. You can give the code to your professional engineer to help diagnose the problem.
  • Check supply lines before you assume your boiler is broken. Is it getting the gas, electricity, and water supply it needs? Check your other gas appliances, like ovens and hobs, are working. If not, you may have a gas supply problem and will need to contact your gas transportation network. Also check if your boiler is plugged in and switched on.
  • If you have home emergency cover with HomeServe, call us straight away and we’ll take it from here. We’ll arrange for one of our Gas Safe registered engineers to come to your property as quickly as we can. You don’t need to worry, the callout a gas safe registered engineer and check to see if it is covered by your policy.
  • If you don’t have home emergency cover, you’ll need to find a trusted Gas Safe registered engineer yourself and call them out, covering any fees. We have a repairs service ready to help with a one-off repair.

How to keep your family safe if your boiler has broken

Boilers have a number of fail-safe fittings like pressure relief valves, oxygen depletion sensors, and overheat stats that will shut the unit off automatically if something is wrong. On rare occasions, however, a broken boiler can pose a serious threat due to gas leaking or a fire. Make sure you’re aware of the following considerations:

A smell of gas

If you smell gas or suspect a gas leak, turn off the boiler and contact the Gas Emergency Service immediately. The numbers are listed below:

  • England: 0800 111 999
  • Scotland: 0800 002 001
  • Wales: 0800 002 001
  • Northern Ireland: 0800 002 001

Carbon monoxide leak

As a homeowner or landlord you should also be familiar with the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odourless, invisible gas that can kill. The symptoms of exposure include:

  • A tension-like headache
  • Tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Homeowners and landlords should have a working carbon monoxide detector installed in your property to detect any amount of carbon monoxide in the air.

If you smell gas within your property, the first point is to call the National Gas Emergency Service Provider (ESP) from the outside of your property on 0800 111 999. If you suspect symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in anyone in your household, it’s imperative that you leave your property and stay somewhere else until your boiler is fully repaired by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

Read our article What to do if you smell gas in your property to find out more information.

Boiler broken how to keep warm

If your boiler has broken down in winter, you’ll need to take precautions to stay warm without central heating. This is especially crucial for elderly people, children, and those with chronic conditions. Wear layers, draw the curtains, use hot water bottles, and if you think the situation is unsafe, relocate to a family member or friend’s home or go to a hotel.

Who to contact if your boiler breaks down

Never, ever try to repair your boiler by yourself. Your boiler is a gas appliance and so not only is this dangerous, but it may invalidate your insurance policy or warranty if you attempt to fix it yourself.

Check the terms and conditions of your warranty or insurance policy to find out who you should contact for repairs. It should always be a Gas Safe registered engineer. Our nationwide teams of experienced engineers all have a Gas Safe Register ID card that you can check when they arrive.

When you initially call an engineer about your emergency, have the make and model of your boiler jotted down, and any error code that it’s displaying. While you’re on the phone they may ask you a few questions to find out exactly what’s going on, confirm that it’s safe for you to be in your home, and also to rule out any minor issues that you can sort out yourself, such as low pressure, a frozen condensate pipe, incorrect settings or a pilot light that has gone out.

What to do if your boiler is under warranty

Many boilers have a manufacturer’s warranty or guarantee, a time period in which the manufacturer will fix any genuine fault in the boiler free of charge. Nearly all boilers on the market will have a one-year guarantee and you can sometimes pay more to get an extended warranty. These generally protect your boiler for two to 10 years.

If your boiler is under warranty, you’ll need to use the manufacturer or one of their approved engineers for any repairs. Engaging someone else will compromise the warranty.

If your boiler has broken, you should contact the manufacturer first and they should send a service engineer to your home.

What to do if you have boiler cover

Is boiler cover worth it? Well, although boilers are crucial to the smooth running of your home in winter, boilers are usually excluded from standard home insurance policies. Boiler cover, however, is an insurance policy that pays out for the repair and even the replacement of a boiler if it develops a fault.

You can get HomeServe boiler cover that covers the repair or replacement of just your boiler, or you can choose a comprehensive policy that includes your whole central heating system, and also adds on other types of cover like plumbing, drainage and electrics.

If you have HomeServe boiler cover, or more comprehensive heating cover, contact our emergency helpline and we’ll send out a Gas Safe registered engineer straight away, which means you won’t have to go without heat and hot water for long.

A boiler cover policy will cover the cost of repairs, emergency engineer callouts, and even replacement of your boiler unit. Another great thing about boiler cover is that it usually includes a free annual service, which is hands down the best way to prevent future breakdowns.

What to do if you have home emergency cover

Call your policy provider straight away! Home emergency cover is here for this very reason and is worth it in the types of situations that do occur up and down the country in winter.

If you have a boiler breakdown that means your home is suddenly cold and you have no hot water, call the engineer out. If your home is unsafe to stay in while the problem is fixed, your insurance may also cover overnight accommodation for you and your family, up to a maximum cost.

How to prevent your boiler from breaking in the future

The best way to prevent costly, inconvenient, and even dangerous boiler faults is to have your boiler serviced regularly. In fact, you should have all gas appliances in your home safety checked and serviced annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer. With boiler cover from HomeServe an annual service is included.

If your boiler is more than 10 years old, your home would benefit from a new, more efficient boiler installation that will save energy and cash. You can also contact HomeServe for one-off repairs to your boiler or central heating system.


How do I keep my house warm when the boiler breaks?

Shut the curtains to keep the heat in. Plug any draughts under doors and around windows. Buy or borrow an electric heater for the bedroom or lounge/kitchen where you are going to be.

Can I claim for a broken boiler on house insurance?

Not usually, no. Although boilers can be prone to breaking down in winter, they are not normally covered by standard home insurance. You’ll need specialist boiler or central heating cover for proper peace of mind.

Is a broken boiler an emergency?

Have you ruled out faults that you can fix yourself, like low pressure, a frozen condensate pipe, incorrect settings or a pilot light that has gone out? If yes, and if it’s winter, then yes, a broken boiler is a home emergency that a home emergency policy will cover.

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