Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Old Boiler

It's warmer today (+4) than it has been for the last two/three weeks (we got down as low as -13 one day) temperatures which aren't a complete surprise seeing as we live in Germany and it is winter, the season of freezing weather.  Germany is completely geared up for these seriously cold periods, every car has winter tyres (so they hold the road better in freezing and slippery conditions) they never seem to run out of grit/gritters, the instant it snows people are outside shovelling their paths and everyone is appropriately attired* - kids in ski jackets, five layers of clothing and ugly winter weatherproof boots and the adults in fur (if they're rich/live in Düsseldorf/Cologne) or hideous duvet-like coats that seem to come only in black.

So why is it, when the country can cope with freezing temperatures that they install heating systems that can't?  A friend across the road has a house that's maybe four years old at a push.  A beautifully designed modern house that has a heat pump/exchange system, the problem is that part of the system is outside and when the temperatures got too low, part of the system froze.  So the system stopped working.  It took the service team over a week to sort the problem out, which seemed to finally result in them 'heating up' the frozen bit outside.  But in the meantime poor J was having to go swimming every day so that she could have a shower at the pool and farm the (4) kids out to friends on a rotation basis in order that they could be showered.  Fun.  Fortunately they have a good sized fireplace (a very German thing to have in your house, a "kamin") which they kept going 24 hours a day and even then one of the kids' bedrooms got down to 13 degrees.

The day after I'd offered J the use of our shower (which turned out to be the day her heating system unfroze and started working) our boiler stopped.  This was Sunday afternoon.

Now our modern German heating system sings and dances it's so technically complex, but can it run for a year without having its hand held by a (very expensive) service engineer at least once?  Not a hope.
Not only does it have to be serviced every year but even then things happen which cause it to flash up an error code and stop.  This must be the third time (in 4-5 years) we've had to have an engineer come and administer first aid and these visits don't tend to be cheap. 

We lived in three different houses in the UK, the first had a nasty storage heater system so we'll gloss over that.  But the other two houses had the normal, common or garden British central heating system, gas fired boiler (usually in the kitchen or the garage) and radiators.  Over a 14 year period I don't think we ever had either of those two boilers serviced (didn't realise you were supposed to until we moved to Germany) and the only thing that ever went wrong was the pilot light blowing out once or twice.  I would kill for such a basic, simple system.  Instead we're stuck with something that has been over engineered and is consequently as temperamental as a teenager who's had their mobile phone confiscated.  As the engineer was leaving today (after his 20 minute visit to replace the faulty mother board or whatever it was that was broken and warp drive had been resumed) I asked him (as I had been told to) whether the number of problems we have** is usual with such a boiler or whether we're overworking it/have it set up incorrectly.  He said we're just unlucky.  I'd put money on seeing him again inside of 12 months.

* apart from a boy in Ben's class who is still wearing his knee length cotton, summer shorts - no idea why and can't for the life of me work out why his mother doesn't make him wear something more appropriate.
** would love to write "have had" but think it's probably more realistic to keep the tense present and therefore current, as I can guarantee that this will not be the last problem.

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