Thursday, 23 October 2008

Boiler fun

Aside from the high drama of being made redundant, getting the bends and planning a cross continent mundane matters still happen.

The central heating conked out last Sunday, although it's been unwell for a good couple of years. It's actually a combi boiler, a good ten or fifteen years old, and the hot water part is fine, just seems the pump for the central heating is gone. I tried ringing a guy I've used once before, who I'd stored on my phone as "Gasmark". Obviously I assumed the chaps name was Mark on the grounds that I've obviously stored the name like that to remember the guys name and trade. I mean, where do you think a lot of our surnames come from? Well, turns out I was wrong this time and when some lady answered the phone and I asked for Mark she was a bit bemused and told me I must have a wrong number. When I hang up I remembered that Gasmark was actually the name of the company and the guys name was actually Andy. In typical British fashion I was a bit too embarrassed to ring back so I set out to get another plumber.

I'd originally found Andy when the boiler had packed up in May, from the Ratedpeople website. Whilst this sounds like some dubious social networking application one might find on Facebook or Bebo it's actually quite a good way to get quotes for work you need done like, er, fixing a boiler. You put a brief description of the work you want doing ("Central heating pump not working"), more details ("Valliant combi boiler, hot water working but central heating not coming on") and the price range ("Not sure"). The website then contacts up to three tradesmen, passes them your details including your phone number and they get in touch with you.

I posted the job on the website but only got one response in two hours and as I was a little desperate to get it sorted I rang them: no call out fee, just the cost of the parts and labour to fit the costs which sounded OK. They turned up at about 1pm, Mr Plumber himself (I never got his name) and his apprentice. They quickly got down to work... well, they took the front off and asked if I had the manual, which I did. They got me to turn the heating on and off a couple of times and ran through a flow chart in the manual at which point they rang Valliant tech support to get them to tell them which specific tests to run and consequently which parts to order. Hmmm. Unfortunately Valliant tech support aren't good at answering the phone so we were on hold on speakerphone and we had to wait. And wait. And wait. Forty minutes later we're still waiting although Mr Plumber has fixed one of my radiators (good) and found three leaks from the boiler (very bad). It was around then that M's "Pop Muzik" came on as hold music for the third time and whilst it's a fine piece of early 80s pop fluff it was at this point we all just about gave up the ghost.

Mr Plumber intimated that it could be one of two things and either way we were looking at in the region of £250 for parts and labour. Given the leaks as well we were up to £500+ and I'd be better off getting a new boiler for £1000 all in. He had a point, he really did, the boiler's been on it's last legs for a while. He left me a brochure and told me to ring him that evening or the next morning to get it fitted by the end of the week.

Now, while I couldn't disagree with Mr Plumber's verdict I've got to say I wasn't enthused about either his ability or his lacklustre tool kit. I ended up ringing Andy from Gasmark about doing the job and we talked it through on the phone: £550 for a new Ravenheat condensing combi boiler, £400 to fit for £950 total. Sweet! One drawback, he needed the £550 upfront in readies to actually go and buy the boiler...

He dropped round in the evening to pick the cash up when he was the way back from another job and assured me I would see him again with boiler. While on that flying visit he took a quick look at the boiler and diagnosed the actual problem (diverter valve) in less than 5 minutes whilst providing a temporary quick fix. Now, you see, that's what I want from a trades person. Solid actual knowledge, expertise, know how, not referring to the bloody manual then ringing tech support!

He did turn up with the new unit (phew) which is there in the front room now waiting to get fitted, just in time for next weeks predicted cold snap. OK, so I'm the best part of a grand down but with any luck I'll be warm this winter and if we do rent the house out got a working unit with a three year parts and labour guarantee. Result.

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