This is a riveting post about boilers – enough said.
My old boiler was 30 years old and was what is known as a back boiler. This meant it was hidden behind a gigantic monstrosity of a gas fire in the living room. I now know that my gas fire was an abomination to human eyes because my plumber’s first reaction when he saw it was: ‘How long have you had that thing in here?’ ‘That thing’ is, of course, something you say only when you think that the thing in question is hideous. ‘About 30 years,’ I’d said, ‘what’s wrong with it?’ I could have felt embarrassment and shame at the fact that my gas fire was an affront to my plumber’s sensibilities but preferred to take the curious approach. ‘Nothing,’ the plumber replied, rapidly, ‘it’s just I’ve not seen one of those since possibly the last century,’ (I made that up) – he actually said that Baxi back boilers (try saying that quickly) were very old fashioned and he’d not had to deal with one in quite a long time. ‘Well, now’s your chance,’ I’d said (secretly, in my head, which I do a lot.)
The offending Baxi gas fire. The empty bottle of vodka in the background is not ours, I’ve no idea how it got there.
I’m calling the plumber ‘my plumber’ as this is how I now think of him, after a week spent in his (and his son’s) company.
Last week I had a new boiler installed, which is a Worcester Greenstar Combi boiler. My plumber assured me that the Worcester is just about the most reliable boiler on the planet and that, in the 11 years he’s been fitting them, nothing has ever gone wrong. I’d put off getting a new boiler because a) they cost a lot and b) I have great difficulty in letting things go. I don’t mean this in the psychoanalytic way – I mean I literally cannot let things go. I used to have a red Peugeot car which I clung onto for years and, when it gave up the vehicular ghost, it was taken away for scrap on top of a big lorry and I waved at it saying ‘my poor little car’ and the thought of it being crushed actually caused feelings of horror and guilt – the men of the household thought this was possibly certifiable.
The second thing about my ancient heating system, that my plumber couldn’t get his head around, was the noise it made. But when you’ve lived with something for 30 years you get used to it. When he came round to check out the lay of the plumbing land, the boiler happened to come on to heat the hot water tank, and made its usual comforting, rumbling, hissing and high pitched whirring sounds. ‘How do you live with that noise going on in the living room all the time?’ my plumber said, aghast.
I lived with the noise just fine, being that it perfectly matched the tinnitus noise inside my head, so I’d come to rely on my old boiler for more than just heating purposes. In fact the tinnitus masking property of the old boiler was the primary reason I’d delayed getting it replaced. Anyway the time had come, as a couple of months ago the thermostat in the hall started making a very weird noise indeed, which only I could hear apparently, according to the husband. Rather like the time, in the distant past, when only I could smell gas coming out of the hallway stairs cupboard, whereupon I forced the husband to ring British Gas, who found a leak under the stairs (caused by one of their employees who’d ‘knocked’ the pipe whilst reading the meter.) The Gas man knew this because I described who’d read the meter and apparently this bloke’s modus operandi was to go about causing leaks all over the place. This scary incident is why I also have a tendency not to trust the ‘experts.’
The noise in the thermostat coincided with the boiler suddenly switching itself on and off on a continuous loop. ‘That can’t be right,’ I whinged to the husband and forced him to listen to the thermostat. He couldn’t hear a thing, even with his ear right up to it but it was there just the same. It was clear to me that the thermostat was dodgy and so was the ancient boiler. ‘It’s time to take the plunge and get a new boiler,’ I informed the husband.
The husband doesn’t really like spending money on ‘doing up’ the house. It’s not that he’s totally averse to it but, if left to his own devices, the house would more resemble the local tip. Therefore it has fallen to his wife to keep the house looking maintained and presentable. The husband rang the plumber who fitted us in sometime in November, coming round first for the aforementioned preliminary chats.
On arrival last week, Mr T, the plumber, agreed with my diagnosis that the thermostat was on the blink and that I’d soon have a shiny new boiler which would be more powerful, more efficient and would also heat water instantaneously. This actually isn’t true. Even with the hot water turned up to max I have to run the cold water for quite a long time before it comes out anything like hot, and even then it will suddenly go all cold again.
My plumber remarked that most people go on holiday when having a boiler fitted so they don’t have to endure the upheaval and that most people have the work done during the summer, so they don’t get cold. Not being most people, I hung round the house while he pulled up my carpets, removed floorboards, took out the hot and cold water tanks and flushed the radiators. And he must have sincerely wished that I’d gone on holiday because I followed him in and out of rooms, saying things like: ‘Is that supposed to happen?’ ‘Why are you doing that?’ ‘Why are those floorboards black around the edges, is it mould?’ The answer to the floorboards is that I have a 1930’s house and back in the day they had rugs, not fitted carpets, which didn’t reach the walls so they painted the edge of the floorboards. My plumber was a mine of information. ‘Why?’ my plumber and I asked ourselves. Why would you paint floorboards at all when the natural wood would have looked much better. We discussed at length how crap the good old days must have been without heating or fitted carpets and how dark and dingy everything was and how the cold air would have whipped up through the cracks in the floorboards.
All went swimmingly as the plumber drained the hot water and concentrated on the upstairs first, pulling up the back bedroom carpet as the boiler was going inside the airing cupboard. I took him a cup of tea on day 1, mentioning that the pulling up of carpets, I’d just had put in a couple of years ago, was a bit of a worry. ‘No worries,’ the plumber and his son replied, ‘you’ve got carpet grippers, you’ll never know they were up when we’ve finished.’ (I did know they’d been up when they’d finished but again, according to the husband, only I can tell.)
I spent the first 2 days in a t-shirt and cardi, sitting in the kitchen with an electric heater. ‘Weather’s mild anyway,’ the plumber remarked, ‘there’s something to this global warming.’ On day 3 the cumulative effect of no heating found me in the lounge wearing a t-shirt (the same one; when you’re a housewife you can wear the same clothes for days on end) a cardi, and a fleece. ‘Bit cold are you?’ my plumber said, ‘it’s still 14 degrees in here look at your (now new) thermostat.’ He pointed out that before heating we’d have thought nothing of sitting about in jumpers and an overcoat but that now we expect to sit around in a sauna with practically nothing on. Which is absolutely true. In fact the best thing you could do for the environment is to set a statutory lower thermostat setting and force people to put on a jumper instead – which the government tried to do a few years ago and was met with derision.
My plumber was obsessed with temperature degrees and the fact that most people are idiots when it comes to their central heating. ‘I get calls all the time saying my heating’s not working,’ he said. ‘I go round in early October, when the weather’s drizzly and grey, and they’ve turned on the heating but it’s not getting hot. This is because it’s warm outside and they’d have to whack it up to 25 o to get any decent heat going. It’s all psychological. See a bit of rain and they think winter’s set in and on the heating goes.’
Back in the lounge my plumber got behind the telly in the corner to cut a pipe leading up from the lounge into the bedroom. Two days ago he’d drained the system and so cut into the pipe without a care in the world. Suddenly water gushed out of the pipe at force. For a few seconds the plumber stood mesmerised, whilst dirty water soaked the front of his jumper, soaked the wall, soaked the carpet, an oak cabinet behind him and went all over the telly and electric cables. ‘Where’s that water coming from?’ he turned and asked me in surprise, as if I would know (I never did find out where it came from.) ‘ I’ll get some buckets,’ I said, fearing for the state of my carpet and the TV. ‘It’s all over the cables and the sockets,’ he cried and then shouted for his son upstairs to get the water vac. ‘No, don’t bother with buckets, he’ll vac it up’ (there’s such a thing as a hoover which sucks up water.) The plumber pointed the pipe towards the wall and stuck his hand over the end, screaming for his son. His son was not answering. This was because the son carried out his part of the work upstairs plugged into an iPod, I’d noticed. I began to run upstairs to get the son when he appeared carrying the vac (plumbers refer to hoovers as vacs.) And all was well. ‘Not to worry, it was only about a gallon of water,’ my plumber said as we tested out the telly and found it worked. The plumber must, yet again, have sincerely wished I wasn’t there.
I sporadically made cups of tea for the plumber (I kept forgetting that cups of tea are requisite) and we chatted on about our offspring and what they were getting up to and isn’t life difficult for young people these days?
Not as difficult as when the ‘young people’ went off to fight two world wars obviously, or lived through the Depression, or those young kids who had to climb up chimneys, or the 5 year olds who worked 12 hour days in the lace industry (I’ve been watching Celebrity Antique Road Show.) It’s all relative isn’t it?
By day 4 my plumber was on high alert with regard to the housewifely apparition who was apt to haunt him whilst going about his work. I wandered into the bedroom with a cup of tea, unannounced, to find the plumber and son frantically rubbing away at the carpet and the son saying, ‘Don’t worry, the vac’ll fix that.’ ‘Here’s your tea,’ I said, to let them know I was there. ‘Christ,’ the plumber said, clutching his chest, whilst the son tried to suppress laughter. Actually, considering my carpet is a very pale beige, they did sterling work in trying to maintain its original condition.
On day 4 the plumber also fiddled under the stairs connecting the gas supply to the new pipework. There was a strong smell of gas. ‘I can smell gas,’ I said. ‘And I can also smell acrid smoke in the living room.’ This unexpectedly precipitated a lecture. ‘It’s ok, perfectly normal and you can’t smell gas you know. The gas smell is added for safety reasons as gas has no smell (new to me.) It’s funny, people worry so much about gas when it’s electricity they should really be worrying about. You can’t see or smell electricity and yet people are willing to go playing about with it with their DIY, when electricity can KILL you (emphasised), it can kill you instantly. Gas is nowhere near as lethal. You smell gas, you vent it out of your windows and your doors and ring somebody. Oh and the smoke smell is me soldering the new pipe work.’ Armed with this information I retreated to the small bedroom, dragging the electric heater behind me where, clothed in t-shirt, cardi, second cardi and fleece, I crawled under son No.3’s duvet in an endeavour to keep warm.
All further work went without a hitch, except for a fairly loud altercation between plumber and son which took place in the loft and which sounded like something pretty drastic had happened re: the son majorly cocking up. I left them to it and when the plumber came down asked if everything was ok? ‘Fine,’ he said, tight lipped, without any explanation, whilst probably thinking doesn’t she ever go out?
My week without heating, hot water and, at times, electricity has alerted me to just how awful life is for those people in Syria and other war torn places that we’ve all become numbed to via continual TV charity adverts. It’s amazing how the cold seeps into your bones, even during a mild November, when you’ve no access to hot water and heating.
The removal of the old boiler has left a hole in the fireplace which I’ve covered with a new electric fire, just for show purposes, until I get the living room sorted, in my quest to do up the house again for the first time in 20 years. I knitted the Mr Men years and years ago.
My plumber called in, unexpectedly, a couple of days ago to see how I was getting on. ‘The tap water isn’t very hot,’ I whinged, ‘I’ll turn it on and you can see.’ Plumber and son marched into the kitchen. My plumber turned on the hot tap, waited an age and then steam began to appear. ‘How’s that then?’ ‘Look, I can hold my hand under it easily,’ I said, ‘it used to be much hotter than that out of the tank.’ ‘Well I set it at the setting that most people are ok with,’ he said. Not being most people, he took me upstairs, opened the boiler panel and showed me all the knobs and levers where I could increase heating levels, and a blue lever which I had to pull to re-set the boiler to the correct pressure gauge setting whenever I aired the rads (plumber-speak for radiators.) The words ‘pressure gauge’ worried me and the pressure dial worried me even more, being that it had a red section which indicated DANGER.
My plumber whacked the hot water setting to MAX and asked if I was happy now? ‘Will the boiler blow up?’ I said, not liking the look of MAX at all. The son couldn’t hide his hilarity. ‘I don’t think boilers come with a self-destruct button,’ he said. ‘Of course it won’t blow up,’ my plumber soothed, ‘they’re not made to blow up (the words ‘you idiot’ flashed through his eyes.)
After leaving, my plumber left the boiler handbook (which I’ve scoured for safety purposes) and said just ring if you’ve any problems. And so far so good. We’ve got rads that are so hot you can barely touch them, even on the lower settings. Even the massive rad out the back heats up with ease. This is because my new boiler has a powerful pump and is wonderfully efficient. Methinks I should have chucked the old one out years ago.