Getting winter ready

19th January 2021
A regular boiler service optimises boiler efficiency (copyright PSI Heating)

Extreme cold weather puts extra demand on the heating and hot water system, but regular scheduled maintenance can help avoid costly or disruptive problems. Neville Small, Key Account Director at Baxi Heating, looks at some of the cost-effective measures that can help keep the heating service running optimally during the winter months.


This year more than ever, the importance of protecting our buildings with efficient HVAC systems has been brought sharply into focus, both to enable buildings to remain open and to protect occupant health and wellbeing. 


Ventilation systems and air quality have rightly been identified as having a vital role to play in mitigating the risk of transmitting COVID-19 infection. However, ensuring that the heating and hot water service is well maintained and working as intended is also key to keep our workplaces, hospitals, schools and all other buildings functional, efficient, comfortable and safe.


Now, as we head into the winter months when demand on the heating system is at its peak, implementing a maintenance programme will help maximise system performance and minimise building running costs, energy use and associated emissions. Here’s a look at some of the cost-effective measures that can deliver considerable savings. 


Regular service


Is there a routine service schedule in place? Arranging for the heating equipment to be serviced on a regular basis will optimise system performance and maximise continuity of heat. 


The schedule can differ considerably depending on the type of building in which a heating system is installed, and its use. For example, in a care home application, boilers more often than not are running on a 24/7 basis for occupant comfort. In turn, this can mean that a heating system could require up to three services a year based on the number of running hours. However, in an office, a boiler may only be in operation for eight hours a day, five days a week during colder seasons, and so typically require only one annual service.


For boilers, a typical service will include cleaning of both the heat exchanger and condensate trap, flue-gas analysis, checks on gas pressures and interfacing connections like the flue, controls functionality, and water treatment. The service should be carried out as per manufacturer instructions and using only genuine parts to optimise asset performance and longevity while ensuring full compliance with an existing warranty.


Look for manufacturer service kits that contain all the genuine parts required for a first-time fix to save engineer time and costs and minimise disruption for end users. 


10% savings from improved insulation


Carrying out routine visual inspections of the plant, even where there is remote monitoring capability, provides the opportunity to check for signs of wear and tear.


Boiler insulation, for example, degrades over time and heat losses of up to 10% can occur, so a regular condition check will identify when it needs replacing. Similarly, replacing the insulation on the associated pipework and valves can result in further savings of up to 10% of the energy input. 

7% savings from water treatment


Water quality can affect both the performance and lifespan of boilers and the heating system. If left untreated, sludge and debris can accumulate overtime in pipes and radiators, affecting the circulation of water in the primary circuit and heat output, and reducing the efficiency of the overall system. 


In hard water areas, lack of water treatment can lead to the build-up of limescale in domestic hot water heat exchangers. This creates an insulating layer, inhibiting heat transfer to the water. A 1mm layer of limescale will cause a 7% increase in energy input to the domestic hot water system to meet the same heat demand. 


Water treatment can resolve both issues. This should be carried out annually by a qualified technician, with water quality checked on a regular basis. 


Check the controls


It’s advisable to check both the boiler and Building Management System control settings on a regular basis, adjusting the settings to take account of the building occupancy to optimise efficient energy usage. 


At the time of writing, England’s second lockdown is anticipated to end at the start of December. But with the possibility of further lockdowns and local restrictions likely to continue into the New Year and Spring, a flexible approach to opening and closing buildings will be key to enable businesses and organisations to bounce back quickly and make hay while they can.


If a short-term building closure is anticipated over the Christmas period, we recommend leaving the system in operation but lowering the outputs. This will avoid the possibility of damp entering the building, reduce the risk of microbial contamination which can cause corrosion, and help building operators keep energy bills down.


Ensuring that the controls are set to offer the building frost protection and background heat will also help to avoid the possibility of the pipes freezing.


Plan ahead


In these uncertain times, it pays to be prepared. Consider flushing out the hot water system, including the outlets and pipes, thoroughly on a regular basis to ensure good water quality and eliminate any risk of legionella.


Equally, where boilers have reached the end of their serviceable life and need replacing, prioritising safety will be key. Turnkey prefabricated and preassembled boiler rig modules may provide the most appropriate solution, enabling vastly reduced installation times while making it easier to adhere to social distancing as fewer workers – and fewer skills – are required on site and for less time. 


Ineffective maintenance costs money


The last thing anyone wants is to be in an emergency situation with no heating or hot water. Added to which, if a boiler or water heater isn’t properly maintained, heating costs can increase significantly – as much as 30% in our experience. 


At Baxi Heating, we look forward to offering continued support to building services professionals and building operators with robust and reliable heating products that are straightforward to service and backed by extended warranties, a full range of genuine spare parts that can be dispatched for next day delivery, comprehensive service kits that enable a first visit fix, and a round-the-clock technical support helpline. 


Well-maintained heating systems will not only keep operational costs down in these difficult times but have a valuable part to play in protecting the wellbeing, health and safety of building occupants. So let’s make sure our buildings and heating systems are winter ready.