Boilers are a funny old game.
No matter what make or model you have, you’ll inevitably be told by professionals that it is, in a word, shite. I’d love to see what is in their houses.
Then there’s the entire mythology around the whole heating ‘engineer’ thing. I appreciate those that can truly spec and install a whole system, the Gas Safe Register certainly has its merits here, and even when servicing any gas-side components on a system of course you’ve got to be sensible and get someone who a) knows what they are doing, and b) can ensure compliance, but I reckon they’ve seen easy bucks in the extension of the need to consider almost any part of the system out of bounds for all but GSR folk.
The kidology in this field is staggering and leads to the kind of charges for parts that many industries can only dream of. Consider my boiler, an Ideal Icos HE36 which, if I’m to believe the reams written about these boilers on the internet, is utter garbage. It may well be, too.
Thing is, there are all these plumbers telling us that, yet someone is speccing and installing them, in my case about seven years ago when the heating system was replaced in this house we’ve bought.
Where are all those defending their choice?
Why don’t the ‘bad’ companies go out of business?
Is it just that money talks and the decent ones are +20% of the price of the shiters so never get chosen by penny-pinching owners?
Anyway, my tale involves my boiler, a condensing-but-not-combi unit (confuses a lot of people) which sits in the garage and usually has a chirpy 7-segment LED and a friendly light to tell me that it’s A-OK. In the 15 months we’ve been here it’s keeled over once due to a blocked condensate pipe (a common enough problem with any condensing boiler) but which has otherwise provided a lot of heat just when we’ve needed it.
Yesterday however I noticed it was not giving off very good vibes as the front panel was pretty much an ex-panel. Off with the bugger!
First thought: Fuse! (but I’m thinking “Please don’t let it be the PCB”)
Nope. Power was traced to the same supply as the programmer which was fine.
Second thought: Internal fuse! (but really I’m thinking “Fuck, the PCB is away”)
At this point a quick check online suggests the control board will be away but I’m not one to give in without a fight so I stripped the bugger down and checked the internal fuse which of course was fine.
This fuse is accessible via a holder from the outside of the PCB casing, a casing which carries this ominous warning:
Yeah right. As I posted on Twitter, without even seeing inside it I knew it would look like a relic from the 1980s. A £12 BOM and about as complex as a modern toaster. You can buy a perfectly serviceable mobile phone for less than £20 or get tiny SMT components replaced on something as complex as an iPhone yet we’re supposed to defer to the Gods of JUP* and just junk this whole thing if it is faulty and buy a new one?
Okaayy. If the manufacturers in their ‘emperor’s new clothes’ states of mind tell us that then it must be true and they’ll be quite happy to charge us £180 for the privilege. Factor in the inevitable callout/fix fee and you can see why Rogue Traders often shows people being charged the thick end of £500 for such a repair. Daft.
Thing is, these thing internally look like they fell out of some Mil-spec Cold War behemoth, all cheapo milky orange PCBs, chunky mains voltage stuff, wobbly traces and quaint through-hole ICs that wouldn’t scare a Homebrew Computer Club member if I’d teleported him (and it would almost certainly be a him) here from 1977.
Not much stuff that can go wrong here except the usual caps etc. and sure enough there was the distinctive smell of fried electrolyte when I opened it up. Couldn’t see any obvious signs of excursion though and I lack a cap test mode on my trusty Fluke so I resigned myself to replacing the thing.
It seems this is a common enough problem with the Ideal Icos and Isar ranges for them to have changed the PCB casing cover to orange to allow people to quickly identify a new board. Orange-wrapped service replacements are available online from just less than £70 delivered which isn’t actually too bad – I was steeling myself for £150+
A bit of digging about though showed that British Gas are offering a very decent fixed callout & fix fee of £79 which would almost certainly cover my repair, and handily beat any local tradesman’s quote I reckon. Nice work, British Gas. It seems they’ve been offering this for a while and while the price seems to fluctuate a bit I can see no evidence that it’s ever been lower than £79.
For £9 I’d be happy to let them take the risk.
Then I recalled I have emergency cover as part of my home insurance so I checked the policy and sure enough, this would be covered.
I’d used Direct Line’s emergency cover before when we were renovating and I screwed a floorboard right into a mains water pipe (I know; idiot) and was impressed as they had a bloke on site within a couple of hours on a Sunday who sorted it in 10 minutes.
So tomorrow the chap will come and I’ll play dumb and let him get on with it. In meantime, June isn’t a bad month for your boiler to break down and I’ve got a couple of immersion heaters so won’t start to smell any worse than I do already.
Moral: Worth checking your options if you’re in the same boat.
* Jumped-Up Plumber. Good way to ingratiate yourself with heating engineers, calling them that.