The ultimate guide to preparing your boiler for winter - Total landlord Insurance

September 29, 2022
Total Landlord Insurance
The ultimate guide to preparing your boiler for winter - Total landlord Insurance

As a landlord, you have to provide your tenants with a safe, comfortable home, and that includes a decent heating system that’s maintained in proper working order.

While a boiler breakdown in winter can cause misery for your tenants through being cold and not having access to hot water, it can lead to other potentially huge issues. If pipes freeze and burst, the property could flood and this happens more often than you’d think. In fact, escape of water claims caused by frozen pipes are our number one source of insurance claim – two and a half times higher than the next most common claim type.

The best way to protect your property from this kind of damage is to take good care of your boiler. A healthy boiler, used regularly, should prevent pipes from freezing and bursting and can also help prevent damp, mould and condensation from causing damage to your property, your tenants’ belongings and possibly even their health.

Maintaining the heating systems well so you avoid breakdowns and other problems is one aspect of your responsibility as a landlord, but you also have to consider how affordable the property is for your tenants to heat. And with the current cost of living crisis and spiralling household bills, it’s never been more important to give your tenants a comfortable home that is within their means to keep warm.

Energy costs have already almost doubled in the last year and this winter they’re going to rise again, with the price cap set to increase to £2,500 a year in October under the Government’s ‘energy price guarantee’, which will last for two years. This is not a limit on how much you will pay – your bill depends on how much energy you actually use. So you’ve got to do all you can to make sure both the heating system and the property itself are energy efficient to help your tenant afford the rent and other bills too.

Here, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to your legal responsibilities for heating your rental property and how you can help your tenants stay warm this winter. You can also read mydeposits’ article on top tips for preparing your boiler for winter to avoid deposit disputes, and a mydeposits case study exploring call out charges for boiler repair. And, as we approach the season when your property is likely to be most vulnerable to the elements, it’s also worth reading our ultimate guide to getting winter ready.

Your legal responsibilities for keeping your tenant’s home warm

Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, you have a legal responsibility to provide your tenants with a decent heating system and make sure it stays in proper working order throughout the tenancy.

And under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, you must also make sure that your tenant’s home meets certain standards of condition and safety at the start of the tenancy and throughout. A property that’s not properly heated can start to suffer from damp and mould, and other faults with the boiler or pipework could lead to problems such as water and gas leaks. So it’s crucial you take care to maintain the heating system properly. You can read more about the Homes Act here.

You also have legal obligations specifically relating to gas and electrical safety:

Annual gas safety checks

  • Every 12 months, you must have a Gas Safe registered engineer carry out a safety check on every gas appliance and flue
  • You have to keep a record of the check (the ‘gas safety certificate’) and a copy must be given to existing tenants within 28 days of the inspection and to new tenants before they move in
  • You must also carry out the necessary maintenance and repairs to ensure all gas pipework, flues and appliances remain in a safe condition

Servicing the boiler

It’s important to know that the gas safety check on your boiler is not the same thing as a service. The difference is similar to a car MOT and service – the MOT/safety check makes sure it’s safe and the service checks the individual parts are working properly.

So, although it’s not a specific legal requirement, you should have the gas boiler serviced each year by either the boiler company themselves or a Gas Safe registered engineer. This will help keep the boiler working efficiently and ensure any manufacturer warranty remains valid.

Landlord boiler cover and home emergency cover

You can take out specific cover for your boiler, however, you do need to make sure that it offers good value for money. A recent article from Which? suggested that “paying for services and repairs when you need them works out cheaper than taking out boiler cover in most cases.” However if you are not local to the property, self manage and you don’t know a good, qualified gas engineer, it may be worth investing in. This will help you look after your tenant and reduce hassle for yourself as emergencies tend to happen late at night or when you are on holiday!  

If you are considering taking out boiler cover, it may also be worth researching wider cover through full home emergency cover which gives you and your tenants 24/7 access to contractors for any kind of emergency in your rental property, including breakdown of the heating system and plumbing and drainage issues.

For much more information, read our separate Ultimate guide to gas safety and landlord gas safety certificates.

Gas Safety Week

Gas Safety Week takes place every year during the month of September. Coordinated by Gas Safe Register, it provides a platform for the gas industry and consumer organisations to communicate information and awareness about gas safety. Visit the GSW website for safety tips and other useful information.

Five-yearly electrical safety checks

  • Under The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, you must have a full electrical inspection and test carried out every five years by a qualified electrician or approved contractor – sooner if it was recommended on the previous report
  • Any investigations or repairs required must be completed within 28 days and a copy of the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) must be given to existing tenants within 28 days of the inspection and to new tenants before they move in

In Wales, the current recommendation for five-yearly checks will become mandatory under new regulations within the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, which comes into force on 1 December 2022.

In Scotland, the five-yearly mandatory electrical checks also include a PAT test on any portable appliances supplied by the landlord.

Energy efficiency requirements

Under the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), your property must achieve a minimum rating of ‘E’ on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) in order to be legally let. The EPC is valid for 10 years and a copy must be given to tenants before they move in. However, there are expectations that all rented properties will need to be a minimum of ‘C’ in the future, so if you are carrying out any renovations, it’s worth doing what you can to achieve this rating sooner rather than later. Read our guide to having an eco friendly property for more information.  

There are various exemptions that apply – certain reasons that are accepted for not bringing a rented property up to a minimum ‘E’ rating. To see the exemptions and find out more about energy efficiency laws, read our guide to MEES.

It’s important to know that the gas safety certificate and EPC form part of the ‘prescribed information’ that you’re legally obliged to give to your tenant. If you fail to provide them with copies of the latest versions, you may find yourself unable to evict the tenant, as any Section 21 notice you subsequently issue can be declared invalid.

How to carry out an informal boiler inspection yourself

Even though gas safety checks (with certificates) are a legal requirement, it’s not a legal requirement to have a service, but we would always recommend you should have your boiler professionally serviced once a year to make sure it stays working at its best and, if anything does go wrong, it will help to ensure that, as a landlord, you did everything you could to keep the tenants safe.

Ideally, both the gas safety check and the boiler service should be scheduled for the autumn, to give you peace of mind that the heating system is in the best possible shape for your tenants through the winter.

However, if that’s not possible or you just want to be able to periodically check the heating system yourself, here’s what you need to know.

Check for cracks and signs of leaks

The first thing to do is make a visual inspection of the boiler. Look for any cracks or signs of leaking, which include:

  • Rusting or oxidisation of the pipes
  • Puddles or evidence of evaporated water on the inside of the boiler shell

If you find any of these signs, it’s worth calling a qualified, Gas Safe registered plumber.

Check the pressure gauge

Check that the water pressure gauge is working and the boiler pressure is at the right level. Most combi boilers operate between 1 and 1.5 bar when cold and up to 3 bar when they’re on, but you should check the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended pressure.

If the pressure is too low, the heating won’t work properly and it will cost your tenants more to heat the property. To increase the pressure, simply open the valve on the filling loop until the gauge shows the correct pressure and then close the valve right away.

If the pressure is above 1.5 bar, you may need to bleed your radiators. [LINK to section below: ‘Check and bleed your radiators’]

You can usually fix pressure issues in one of these two ways but if the problem persists, you may have a leak, so speak to a professional. And even if your boiler isn’t due its annual service, if you spot something that worries you, it’s worth getting a qualified plumber out to take a look.

See this video from British Gas on how to re-pressurise your boiler.

Turn the heating on gradually

Central heating systems are often not used over the summer months, and this can cause air to build up in the radiators. So, as the colder weather approaches, advise your tenants to wake the central heating back up gradually by switching it on for around 20 minutes every other day – or as long as it takes for the radiators to reach their full temperature.

As well as putting less of a strain on the boiler, this will also help identify any issues before the tenants need to have the heating on permanently.

When it does start to get colder outside, advise the tenants that having the heating on for longer but at a lower temperature gives a much more enjoyable heat and shouldn’t be any more expensive than having it on for shorter periods at a higher temperature.

Check and bleed your radiators

When the boiler is on, go around the property and check that all the radiators are fully heating from top to bottom.

If your radiators are warm at the bottom but cold at the top, they need bleeding. To do this:

  1. Turn off the central heating.
  2. Place a rag under the valve to catch any water that escapes.
  3. Fit a radiator key to the valve and turn the key anti-clockwise about 90 degrees to let the air out.
  4. When the air stops being released and water runs out smoothly, close the valve again.
  5. Turn the heating system back on and check that the radiators are now heating fully.

If the radiators are cold at the bottom but warm at the top, this is a sign that you have a build-up of ‘sludge’ inside. This is a thick, dark liquid that can collect in the bottom of radiators as water, metal and air mix over time. Although you can try to remove the sludge yourself, it can be messy and may cause damage to nearby walls, flooring or carpets, so it’s probably best to call a qualified plumber.

Check and insulate your pipes

If the heating system is working properly and the thermostat is kept at no lower than 12 degrees Celsius, that should prevent the water in the pipes from freezing.

Another way to protect the pipework is through insulation. Not only does it help prevent pipes freezing and cracking, but it also helps reduce heat escape, which is good for the environment and will save your tenants money on heating bills.

Pipe insulation lagging can be found in most good hardware shops and is simple to fit. You just cut the length you need and wrap it around the pipe. Make sure you buy the right size, because if it doesn’t reach all the way around the pipe, heat will be able to escape.

It’s also a good idea to drain any outdoor water supply (such as a garden tap) and isolate it from your indoor pipes ahead of winter. To do this, close the stop valve on the inside of your property and then let the outside water supply run until the pipes are empty.

Top heating tips for your tenants

The more information you can give your tenants on looking after the heating system, the better they’ll be able to make sure their home stays warm enough through the winter, while keeping their energy usage and costs as low as possible.

So make sure they know (or your agent does this for you) how to repressurise the boiler, where the main water stop cock is and how to bleed the radiators with a key. There should also be clear instructions on what to do in an emergency (see next section). Then we’d recommend you/your agent passes on these top tips:

  1. Setting the thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature will help keep energy bills down. According to the Energy Saving Trust, raising the temperature by just one degree Celsius in homes with just one thermostat will increase your heating bill by around 10 per cent!
  2. Check the pressure gauge on the boiler every couple of weeks to make sure it’s still in the ‘normal’ range (according to the manufacturer’s instructions).
  3. Check each radiator to make sure the whole body is hot. If it’s cool at the top, it probably needs bleeding.
  4. Keep the space around the radiators clear so the warm air can circulate properly. Avoid drying clothes on radiators and make sure furniture isn’t blocking the heat.
  5. If the property has a modern wood-burning stove, using that in the evenings, rather than gas central heating, could save around £130 on heating costs this year.
  6. Through cold spells, keep the internal temperature at a minimum of 12 degrees Celsius, even if you’re going away for a few days. This will help reduce damp and condensation and prevent pipes freezing and bursting.
  7. If there are any problems with the boiler, such as persistent low pressure or unexplained ‘banging’ noises, report them immediately to your property manager to avoid bigger issues building up.

What happens if there’s an emergency with the heating system?

When there’s a problem with the heating or water system in your own home, unless you have full management from a property agent, you’re often simply at the mercy of the plumber or electrician, who will get to you when they can. But when you’re a landlord, you have a legal responsibility to keep the property and its services in good working order and tenants will often expect things to be fixed right away, as their rent is covering maintenance. It’s important to check, if you use an agent, whether they take on this legal responsibility for you in the contract you have. You don’t want a situation where you pay them for full management, they fail to look after the tenant and then you are still liable for any issues.

If you don’t use an agent to manage your property, you do need to have a plan in place for a quick response if there’s an emergency, such as the boiler breaking down or a burst water pipe. And it’s always worth checking when you employ an agent what their procedures are if an emergency occurs.

If you don’t have this cover, then make sure you or your managing agent has contact details for an emergency plumber, a Gas Safe registered engineer and an electrician that all have 24-hour callout numbers.

Then provide your tenant (or check your agent does) with a clear list of instructions on what to do in an emergency:

If the boiler breaks down or the heating stops working:

  1. Contact the property manager
  2. If you need an emergency response, call this 24-hour number:

If there’s a leak or the water pipes are frozen:

  1. Turn off the water at the stop cock
  2. Contact the property manager

If there’s a major leak or flooding:

  1. Turn off the water and electrics
  2. Call the emergency plumber on:
  3. Leave the property
  4. Contact the property manager

It’s also advisable to have some free-standing electric heaters that your tenants can use in case the heating system fails in a cold spell.

And if your boiler breaks down while it’s still under warranty, make sure you contact the manufacturer as soon as possible, to avoid incurring any unnecessary repair costs or possibly invalidating the cover.

Check our advice on what you and your tenants should do in the case of any other emergencies over winter, in our ‘Get winter ready’ article.

Leaving a property unoccupied

All of these tips are especially important if your tenants are going to leave the property unoccupied – perhaps to spend some time with family elsewhere over the holidays or chasing some winter sun. You may even be in-between tenants.

If the property is left unoccupied for just a short while, ask your tenants to leave the heating on and set the thermostat to around 12 degrees Celsius. That will help prevent the pipes from freezing and stop the fabric of the property becoming too cold, which could take a long time to warm up on the tenants’ return. If there’s a loft hatch, ask them to leave that open as well, to prevent the roof space becoming too cold.

For longer periods when the property is standing empty, it’s advisable to switch the water supply off at the mains and drain down the entire water and central heating system, so there’s no water left in the pipes. That means, no matter how cold it gets, your property isn’t at risk of burst pipes and flooding.

Importantly, if the property is going to be empty for more than 30 days, contact your insurer, as you’re likely to need specific unoccupied property insurance and you will need to be aware of what you have to do if the property is left empty, especially during the winter.

If you have Total Landlord Insurance, between 1 November and 31 March (inclusive of both of these days) you will need to:

Switch off the water supply at the mains
Drain the entire water and central heating system OR
set the central heating system to continuously operate 24/7 with the thermostat set at not less than 10 degrees Celsius/50 degrees Fahrenheight
Leave the loft hatch door open

To ensure the property was heated correctly, if there is a leak, it is possible that utility bills will need to be provided prior to paying out for the damage.

If you’d like to find out more or get a quote, just get in touch with our advisers at Total Landlord Insurance.

Give your tenants an eco-friendly home

Having a smooth-running, efficient heating system will go a long way to helping your tenants keep their bills down, but what else can you do to make sure that as much of the heat they’re paying for stays inside their home?


Up to 25 per cent of a home’s heat is lost through its roof, roughly 35 per cent through the walls and gaps around windows and doors, and another 10 per cent through the floor. That’s why having modern insulation and draught proofing is so important.

While it’s relatively easy to lay mineral wool insulation in the loft, it’s advisable to use a professional installer for all other areas, including cavity walls and smaller areas where spray foam insulation might be required.

Double glazing

Having modern double-glazing and good window seals will help prevent heat escape and should also reduce noise from outside the property, giving your tenants a more peaceful home!


If the property has open chimneys that aren’t currently used, fitting a draught excluder should stop around five per cent of the home’s heat escaping. For most chimneys, this should cost under £50.

For more advice and ideas on giving your tenants a home that’s as green as possible, read our Ultimate guide to having an eco friendly property.

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