Taking a cold bath

I thought about calling this blog ‘Grumpy Old Barry’ but decided I didn’t want to be associated with a negative image.  And I didn’t like the acronym.  However, there are some things which deserve to be complained about.

Take the new boiler as a case in point.  For the second time since I got back from Greece, on Tuesday night I couldn’t persuade it to give me more than 3 inches of hot water in the bath.

When we moved into the house in 1975 the first thing we did was to renovate the kitchen which meant removing the old cast iron anthracite-fueled boiler in the corner with its 9 inch diameter flu pipe and 1½ inch diameter copper water pipes.  We replaced it with a work-horse of a gas boiler, the Ideal Standard, and at the same time replaced the cast-iron radiators and 1½ inch copper pipes with steel radiators and micro-bore pipework.

The boiler served us extremely well for 30 years, requiring no maintenance or repair apart from the replacing of the thermo-coupling every 7 or 8 years or so. It delivered lashings of hot water and bath-time was a real pleasure. I like my bath very hot so I come out  lobster red.

But the boiler was ‘inefficient’ by modern standards. What finally triggered us to do something about it was that the radiators eventually clogged up with deposits, a problem exacerbated by the fact that when they were installed the ‘latest fittings’ had been used with inlet and outlet at the same end.  A basic working knowledge of hydraulics tells you that’s not a clever idea, there just cannot be enough water flow.  Having become increasingly cynical I now need to be convinced  that the ‘latest model’ of anything is not just some marketing ploy rather than better technology or an improvement.

The radiators trundled on for the 30 years, gradually, imperceptibly, becoming ineffective.   Then, finally, the lack of flow as the gunge (a technical plumbing term I believe) sank to the bottom of the radiator and became ever deeper and more solid, meant the radiators virtually stopped heating up at all.

So in January 2007 we decided that it made sense to replace the radiators and install a new, more cost-effective boiler which would save us money and be trouble-free into our dotage.  I must admit we were seduced by the thought of saving money on fuel.  We were required by a change in legislation to have a condensing boiler, an environmental protection measure designed to reduce inefficient fuel consumption. The theory is that the boiler only heats the water we use and not a tankfull of water which gradually loses its heat.  It also provides hot water on demand.  Both more efficient and more economical.  In theory.

Didn’t work out like that.  It took two days to remove the old system and install the new and then …. the boiler wouldn’t work. It was a cold January and Enfys was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments.  We had a gas fire and an open log fire so we could heat the house reasonably well.  But for a week hot water in the kitchen was provided by boiling the kettle and we borrowed the 10 gallon tea-urn from church and I built a wooden frame to position it over the end of the bath so we could have hot baths.  Health and safety would most definitely not have approved but that was the last time we had reliable and consistent hot water in the house.

When eventually the manufacturer’s heating engineer came and replaced the motherboard in the boiler’s computer the central heating worked fine, very responsive, heats the house quickly and satisfactorily.  But the hot water has been a problem from then until now.   The hot supply to all taps and the shower is completely unreliable.  Sometimes it’s fine, other times it runs cold after a minute or so.  I’ve reverted back to boiling the kettle to do the washing up.  I sometimes give up trying to fill the wash basin in the bathroom and either settle for a cold wash or boil the kettle.  I have stood shivering while I try to get the water hot again when the shower turns cold on me.  Baths are a lottery, being both tedious and stressful as I try to juggle the flow to get enough hot.

I had heard from a number of people that by their nature combi boilers take much longer to produce a basin or bath full of hot water compared with the conventional hot water tank. That was expected if not welcomed.  The water is heated as it flows through the pipe and the slower the flow the hotter the water which comes out of the tap.  Therefore I was prepared for the bath to take longer than previously to fill.  But I was not prepared for the flow of hot water to keep going icy cold.  This means that I have to constantly monitor the temperature and keep turning the tap off in the bath, turn the tap on in the wash basin and when, if, it goes hot again, then turn on the bath tap.  I find it a very irritating.  When I climb out of 3 inches of lukewarm water having spent 20 minutes unsuccessfully trying to get enough hot water to have a bath, I have caught myself murmuring the odd swear word about what the Cornish would call ‘fangled’  combi boilers.  Not convinced by them at all!

I used to really enjoy a nice hot bath at the end of the day.  When I was in Greece it was one of the things I was looking forward to about coming home. Now my heart sinks at the prospect.  Genuinely!

Being brutally honest about it, will I want the faff of going through this in 20 years time or, indeed, will I still be up to the intellectual challenge.  Having a bath should not require successful completion of a training course in Quantum Heating Hydraulics.  Schools are now running classes on ‘how to use a bus’ (they even issue certificates!!!!). Perhaps evening classes should be run on ‘how to have a bath’.  Or, better still, Colleges of Further Education, or Universities as they now seem to be called, could offer domiciliary training visits to coincide with the monthly visit by the Corgi engineer carrying out maintenance and repair.

Arguably the new boiler uses less gas than the old one because it spends less time heating water so in that sense at least it is more efficient.  Before I went to Greece in May I changed energy suppliers and now I’m on a pay-as-you-go tarrif, paying only for the energy I use with no standing charge, so I guess I’m saving money on fuel bills.  However, I also had a water metre installed on the basis that as a one person household  I use little water and there is little point in paying the water bill for a family home.  But that doesn’t take account of the fact that at the moment I’m pouring tens of gallons of water down the drain every day trying to get the taps to run hot.  Hardly efficient.

So is it a fault with this particular boiler?  Maybe a ‘Friday afternoon’ job?  Or is it endemic to condensing or combi boilers?  I don’t know.  All I can say from my experience is that the enforced switch to condensing/combi boilers is not the fuel-efficient, money- saving, environment-protecting measure it was supposed to be.  It is close to being a nightmare.

Would I recommend combi boilers?  No way!  I would want to explore the efficiency of factory-insulated water tanks and a combination of electric heating and solar panels.  But that is getting  a bit technical for a blog.  And there seems to be no choice now in the UK.

The maintenance engineer is coming again next week for the umpteenth time, I’ve lost count as to just how many, to try to sort it out.  I’m glad that for the first time ever I took out an extended warranty and maintenance contract.

In the meantime, if you see me in the street and cross to the other side, I’ll know why.  I do try my best with personal hygiene but the technology is against me.

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