Sunday 17 March 2013

Who'd be a gas boiler engineer?

problem? What problem?

This is the sorry tale of a gas engineer and his noble fight against the boiler from hell.

One fine day our gallant hero received a call from a customer. His boiler had stopped working and - if we could find a minute in between saving fair maidens and slaying evil dragons - would we be able to pop out and have a look at it.

I won’t say what boiler it was as I can’t afford a lawyer but most service engineers will recognise the make from this description: it had a large bucket underneath it to catch the various leaks that were coming from its various joints! I have yet to see an example of this particular make of boiler that didn’t have at least one leak, in fact I’m surprised that the manufacturer doesn’t provide a free bucket with every purchase.

So, donning our dragon skin wellies, we waded over to the recalcitrant boiler. As luck would have it it was one of the easiest diagnoses I’ve had to make – I removed the burner unit and water started pouring out of the primary heat exchanger!

Personally I’d start looking for a new boiler at this point but for some bizarre reason the customer was rather fond of this old, damp, lump of metal and rust, and so we ordered the new part.

A few days later this arrived and we began to remove the old heat exchanger. As usual the service manual suggested that this would be very easy and straightforward, and as usual it wasn’t, not because there were lots of intricate bits to remove but because what bits there were were stuck together by years of limescale, rust and sheer bloody mindedness.

In the end we were left with no choice other than to cut out a bit of pipe and order a replacement. This decision made, we quickly had the old heat exchanger out and the new one in.

Two days later we return with our new section of pipe. As expected, fitting it was far from straightforward but we got there in the end and refilled the system. And it leaked! Not from any of the new parts, but from an area of the boiler we hadn’t even touched! So we tightened the joint in question, and it leaked even more. So we took it out. And it promptly fell apart.

Just to add a much needed touch of excitement to the situation the customer was hosting a party that evening and needed the boiler working. Sadly the bit that had just disintegrated was the by-pass assembly and the quickest we could get a replacement part was 10 working days.

So off we pop to the merchants to have a root around their warehouse and see what we can find that might work in the interim. An hour later and we return with a fine collection of obscure compression fittings and, as luck would have it, we manage to cobble something together.

We refill the system and much to everyone’s surprise we’re leak free. We switch on the boiler and... Bang! A fuse blows!

By now I’m convinced that this bloody boiler is cursed! Fortunately it’s only 4:45 on a Friday evening so the Technical support department isn’t drunk yet.

Sadly, the only way of knowing what bit was failing was to disconnect the suspect and turn the boiler on; if it still blows the fuse, it’s not that part so try disconnecting something else. This approach works but does tend to make a large dint in your supply of fuses, especially when the fuse that’s blowing is the aptly named ‘quick-blow’ 2amp fuse on the boiler itself. As you’ve probably guessed we had at least 5 suspect parts and only 3 fuses.

Fortunately I am quite familiar with the Law of Sod in all its forms so I figured that in this scenario the most likely cause would be the least suspicious item. With this in mind we disconnected the flue stat, wired the terminals together and turned the boiler back on... and it worked!

All we had to do now was find a replacement, fit it, and then quietly back out of the room before another bloody part blew.

We returned a week later to fit the new by-pass assembly, which caused another leak. So we ordered a new isolation valve and came back yet again the fit that.

Finally, after about a three weeks of buggering around we had the boiler fully fitted and working. It still looks like a refuge from ‘scrap-heap challenge’ but inside it’s pretty much new these days.

And if it ever breaks down again? Yup, we’re on holiday! And it's going to be a long, long holiday :)