The Saga of Our English Boiler

Alright guys, I have to apologize for this one in advance. I know I had planned a different blog post on how I learned Korean today, but I’m annoyed, and also freezing cold, and this is a nice cultural experience for everyone. It’s going to be long and ranty. You’ve been warned. Whatever, it’s my blog, and I can do what I want right? Right. So here we go.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote in my blog post “7 Things I Never Knew About Until I Moved to England” that we have this little electric water heater in our shower, separate from the main heating system. I jokingly wrote that the whole reason they exist is because English boilers and pumps and water tanks break so often that letting agents have a liiiiittle more leeway in fixing all that stuff if you at least have hot water in your shower.

Again, when I wrote that I was joking. But now? Not joking any more! Reeeeally not.

I’ll backtrack.

Yesterday morning, Ivan and I got up, turned the heating on, I turned my SAD light therapy lamp on, and we sat down for breakfast. After about 20 minutes the electricity in the whole flat went off. At first I thought maybe it was an outage, but the lights in the stairwell in our building were still working. Then I thought maybe my special lamp had blown a fuse. I unplugged it, and Ivan uncovered our circuit board, flipped the breaker back on, and we sat down again. We thought maybe we had solved the problem but after about 10 minutes, it went off again.

Fine. I call the letting agent. They send an electrician, but rather than looking around, he just walks in and says, “You must have a fault somewhere, probably in one of your appliances. So you have to unplug everything, and then re-plug your appliances, extension cords, etc, one by one and you’ll know which one has the fault because the electricity will go out within a second of when you plug it in.” And then he leaves!

So, to keep things short, despite the fact that I was a little annoyed that he wasn’t more helpful, I spent the rest of the day and most of this morning unplugging and replugging devices to little avail. No matter what I tried the power would come on and then go off some time later.

At some point I had a lightbulb moment. I remembered that the only time the power ever seemed to go off quickly was when we had the boiler running in order to have the heat on. BINGO. So, still in my pajamas, I unplugged every appliance in our flat (including the fridge, the oven, etc) and turned the boiler on… and waited. And sure enough… power goes off.

So I call the letting agent again, and this time they send a plumber.

He spends about 20 minutes poking at the boiler, and decides that the fault must actually be in the pump that sends hot water up from the tank. There’s only one problem, which is that he doesn’t actually know where the pump is. He tries to get into the attic, which rains down a cloud of dirt and dust on him. He taps every wall in our flat, and then goes outside to examine the whole building, and he’s still stumped. Eventually he calls the head plumber, who clearly doesn’t agree with his assessment that we just don’t have a pump in our flat.

“No, I swear, I looked! The loft (attic) only has one small tank in it, and there’s just no space for a pump here. I know they wouldn’t put it in the basement but I can’t find it. No, it’s not in the kitchen! I’m tellin’ ya, I’ve looked, it’s just not here!”

I mean… How do you manage to lose a water pump that’s integral to the plumbing of the flat!? Eventually he hung up, phoned the letting agent, and they sent a different plumber over about 20 minutes later, one who’s worked for them for longer. He walks into the kitchen, pulls the fridge out from under the counter, and starts unscrewing the side panel from the cabinet. When I walk into the kitchen to see how he’s doing, all I can see is his behind sticking out from this massive hole that’s now appeared.

“Look, I knew they would have it in here somewhere… Did you know, last time I was here we had to get in here, there was a huge wasp infestation problem, the exterminator said he’d never seen a nest so big!”

Greeeeaaaaat. He must have sensed my expression, because he made sure to tell me that that was 8 whole years ago, and it’s definitely not a problem now.

“Ah here it is! Hang on, I’ve got to call the head plumber, see what to do, you see he’s gone elsewhere early to watch a football match, he’s probably got a beer in his hand right now… Hello, Paul? Put yer beer down! I’ve found the pump!”

(Keep in mind it was not even 4 in the afternoon at this point. Only in England, I swear to God…)

Long story slightly less long, basically there is a valve that takes water from the boiler and redirects it to the radiators when the thermostat gets turned up, and it’s malfunctioning and tripping our power. So… we have a problem with our heating. Brilliant. And because the main plumber is at the bloody pub, I’ll wait until tomorrow for someone to look at the valve, which means I get to spend tonight without heating.


I have lived in 5 flats in the 4 years I’ve been in England. Of those 5 flats, 4, that’s right F-O-U-R, have had water problems. One of them was a leaky bathtub, and the other 3 were boiler problems. In one of those flats we went for a whole month without hot water in our shower. I mean for fuck’s sake here. That’s just ridiculous.

I slyly and kindly mentioned this fact to the first plumber who was around, and he smiled and said, “Yes, there are a lot of places like this, because everything is old. That’s why there are so many problems, because people don’t want to update the equipment.”

Okay, I totally get it, replacing pumps, and boilers, and plumbing with new pipes and equipment is expensive and it takes a while. Therefore, landlords don’t want to do it. Fine. But how much time and effort are you really costing letting agents and tenants who have these things break year after year after year? How much do they have to pay plumbers to come out and fix these things on a regular basis, and how expensive is it to constantly order new parts? Couple that with shoddy insulation, expensive heating, windows that don’t seal, endemic mold problems… Why is British housing so freaking expensive when it’s practically falling apart?

So maybe it’s just my awful, shitty luck, but I can’t believe that this is the fourth place I’ve had this problem in. Seriously, fuck this shit.

Also, I had no idea until today that we had a thermostat that controls our radiators (so we don’t need to turn them on and off individually), or that we could heat our water separately from our heating. I also had no idea what half of the random switches were in our flat. Now I know that we have emergency hot water if our main boiler fails, and I know which switch cuts the electricity for our shower boiler. Gee, that seems like stuff that would have been useful to know when we moved in!

So yeah, I kind of do think they install those shower boilers because people have so many water/ heating problems here. You know all you tourists who are like, “Oh I love Europe because everything has so much history! Everything is so old!” Yeeeeah, it’s not just those moldy castles in Scotland that are old and crumbling. My boiler and aging pipes aren’t beautiful and romantic, they’re just a pain in my ass.

Maybe if you ever move to this country you’ll be one of those people whose flat doesn’t have any problems. That hasn’t been my experience, but hey, your move. In the meantime, England, you suck right now.


Cold, grumpy me with our boiler covered in cat butts magnets.



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