“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” – Derek Bok
This document is written for landlords, tenants and home-owners moving into a property, but may be of interest to home-owners generally.
It’s a fact of life that in any home, things go wrong and there are occasional emergencies: it’s wise to know how to take simple steps to deal with them or at least stop matters getting much worse – ignorance definitely isn’t bliss here – it can be very expensive. Better still, by keeping an eye on the things covered below, problems can be averted.
Landlords in particular would do themselves a favour by re-working the material below into an information sheet for their tenants, as this could avoid having to pay for expensive unnecessary call-outs.
In what follows, checklist items are in bold italics and notes are in normal type.
I know where to find the main stop valve (“stop cock”) and I’ve checked that I can operate it and that it isolates the water supply to the whole property.
There may be number of stop valves, all very useful, but isolating only a part of the property. The main stop valve will turn off the water to the kitchen cold tap. Once found, which may be easier said than done, the main stop valve may be stiff and need lubricating before it can be used. Don’t use excessive force, and don’t leave the valve fully open – turn it through a small angle (less than a quarter turn) – this helps avoid it sticking.
Gas emergency – there’s a smell of gas in the property:
I know where to find the gas meter and emergency control valve, and I’ve checked I can operate it.
The emergency control valve is located beside the gas meter. It shuts off the gas to the property. To access the meter you may need a utility key for the meter box – I f so make sure you have one. Before you try to operate it, check that none of the gas appliances in the property are burning gas – particularly the boiler. The valve’s handle should be in line with the gas pipe. Turning it through 90 degrees should encounter a stop – the gas is now off. Now turn it back on. If it’s too stiff or there’s some other obstacle to turning it, or there’s no stop, phone the Gas Emergency number below (it should be on a label on the meter) and report this. Within a few hours, National Grid will attend and rectify it at no cost. Don’t ignore it – remember it’s an emergency control valve, and if there’s a problem with it, it’s classed as a gas emergency. If you do smell gas, here is the simple drill:
- Do NOT turn any electrical switches on or off as this generates small sparks – if you need light, use a battery torch or the torch in your mobile phone.
- Leave doors and windows open to let the gas disperse.
- Shut off the gas at the emergency control valve.
- Phone the Gas Emergency number 0800 111999.
I know where the consumer unit (fuse box) is, and I know which fuse or circuit breaker operates which circuit.
Unlike water and gas, electricity doesn’t “pour out” and there are unlikely to be electrical emergencies in the same way. However, circuit breakers may occasionally trip, especially those which are “earth leakage circuit breakers (ELCBs)” or “residual current devices (RCDs”– two names for the same thing), and it’s pretty essential to know how to reset them.
Central Heating and Hot Water:
I know what type of boiler and central heating system is in the property. I have the user instructions for the boiler.
A few properties have electric heating, but most have a gas boiler. Many gas boilers, particularly in smaller properties, are “combis” or combination boilers. These provide instantaneous hot water to the taps, and there is no storage of hot water. They are recognised by having typically six copper pipe connections and are generally on sealed systems with a pressure gauge and filling loop. There is often a separate pressure gauge on the boiler, but some boilers display pressure on an electronic display.
The other main type of gas boiler is “heat only” with fewer copper pipe connections, providing hot water to a storage cylinder. These may be on sealed systems with with a pressure gauge and filling loop, or “open vented” with a feed & expansion (or “header”) tank, typically in the loft.
User instructions for boilers can often be downloaded from manufacturers’ websites.
I know how to reset the boiler if needed.
It’s worth studying the controls on the boiler to identify how to reset the boiler as sometimes this is worth trying if there’s a problem. On some boilers, what looks like a reset button is in fact an indicator lamp!
I have a sealed heating system: I know where the filling loop is and how to repressurise the system.
Sealed heating systems may operate for years without attention, or may have tiny leaks (so tiny no water will be evident) and lose pressure gradually. If the system pressure gets too low, the boiler won’t fire or work properly, and to get it going, the system pressure must be restored by letting in water at the filling loop. Commonly, filling loops are located under the boiler but may be some distance away, perhaps in a kitchen cupboard, or may be built into the boiler (some Worcester boilers require a key to be inserted for filling to take place). If external to the boiler, the filing loop is a flexible, silvery, braided pipe with one or two taps with commonly black handles. Turning these through 90 degrees opens them fully. Once an adequate pressure (generally 1 to 1.5 bar) is achieved, the taps must be turned off.
There are Youtube videos explaining how to do this, such as this one:
I know where the room thermostat and programmer (timer) are located and how to operate them.
Intelligent use of room thermostat and programmer (and also very significantly, thermostatic radiator valves) can avoid wasting energy and money. Room thermostats are generally simple to operate, whereas changing settings on some programmers can demand the patience of a saint. As with boilers, instructions for programmers can generally be found on the internet.
I have a hot water storage cylinder with an immersion heater, and know how to turn this on to provide an emergency backup of hot water if the boiler isn’t working.
Traditional copper hot water storage cylinders often (but sadly not always) have an immersion heater in the top, with a cable leading off to a switch. Unvented hot water cylinders (often referred by one trade name, Megaflo) have the immersion heater near the bottom. To Check it works – when switched on you’ll usually be able to hear a faint fizzing noise from the cylinder, or if unsure, watch the electricity meter and observe the extra rate of consumption with the heater on. Don’t leave it on when the gas boiler is in operation as electricity costs more than gas, and don’t expect it to heat up the water as quickly as does the gas boiler – it only has a fraction of the power. When the boiler’s broken, leave it on all night for a full cylinder in the morning.
I know when and how to bleed radiators and have a radiator key.
If a radiator is failing to become warm, particularly at the top, it more than likely contains air and should be bled. A number of Youtube videos show how this should be done, including this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGinKwkrQsw
This isn’t just a nicety – air in the heating system will lead to corrosion which in turn will cause failures and lead to expensive repair work in time.
I know how to isolate the outdoor tap and what to do over the winter.
Outdoor taps can be damaged by becoming frozen, and pipework feeding them can burst. It’s worth searching for a means of isolating the tap (there may or may not be one), perhaps under the kitchen sink. Before the onset of winter, isolate the tap and open it. In the spring, when the tap is needed again, reverse the process.