Trouble shooting tips | OFTEC consumer advice

Trouble shooting tips for oil heating systems

Heating and/or hot water not working?

The good news is that oil-fired heating is generally very reliable provided you have your boiler and fuel storage tank regularly serviced and maintained by an OFTEC registered technician. However, in the event that either your heating or hot water fails unexpectedly, there are some simple practical checks that may help you identify and resolve the problem yourself.

First, we would recommend that you become familiar with the user instructions for your boiler, heating controls (programmer/timer and room thermostat if fitted) and fuel storage tank. If you no longer have the instruction manual, they are usually available, free of charge, on the manufacturer's website; however, always be sure to identify the correct make and model before downloading them.

We've compiled a few checks that you may be able to carry out yourself to help you resolve the lack of heating or hot water. None of these steps involve the use of tools, working with electricity or working at height, but please be mindful of your own health and abilities and, if you are at all unsure, call an OFTEC registered heating technician.

With the exception of the fuel level advice, these steps do not apply to vaporising appliances
such as stoves and range cookers that need to be lit manually.

Check you have fuel

It is possible that the fuel level gauge may not be working and that the tank is empty. If safe to do so, you can check this by removing the tank's fill point cap and looking inside the tank or possibly dipping the tank with a long pole, such as a bamboo cane.

Check you have a power supply (electricity) to the heating/hot water system

Most programmers/timers have a digital display. If the display is blank, this suggests it has no supply of electricity. You may wish to check that no fuses have 'blown' or switches have 'tripped' in the consumer unit (fuse box) and that the power switch for the heating system has not been inadvertently turned off.

Check your programmer/timer is showing the correct time / day

If there has been a power cut, your programmer/timer may have reset itself to its factory default settings. If needed, set the correct time and day and re-enter your chosen time periods for turning the heating and hot water 'on/off'. Next, to assist in diagnosing the lack of heating and hot water, temporarily set the heating and hot water to be permanently 'on'.

Many modern/sophisticated controls allow different time settings on different days and it can be quite easy to accidentally muddle these up when altering the settings, so this is also worth checking.

Check your room thermostat is turned up sufficiently

If you have a room thermostat, temporarily turn it up to maximum to test whether this triggers the heating to come on. A room thermostat may be wall mounted or could be mounted on a stand on a mantelpiece or bookshelf etc.

Check you have not lost system pressure

If you have a combi boiler or a sealed heating system, there will usually be a water pressure gauge at or near the boiler. If the gauge shows a reading of less than 0.5 bar, you may need to add more water to the heating system. Consult the boiler user instructions on how to do this.

If the water pressure was low or zero, your boiler may have overheated. Consult the boiler user instructions to identify whether you can reset the boiler by using its overheat reset button/switch (if it has one).

Check your boiler has not gone to 'lock-out'

If none of the steps above have resolved the issue, you will need to check that the boiler's burner has not shut itself down (sometimes referred to as 'lock-out') due to a fault or suspected fault. Your boiler may provide some indication that this has occurred via a symbol on its display or a light on its control panel. It is possible to reset a burner, but for safety reasons this should never be attempted more than twice. Consult the boiler user instructions on how to do this.

If the steps above have not resolved the issue, it's definitely time to get a professional in. Use our 'Find a Technician' search facility to find competent heating technicians in your area.

Spotted an oil leak?

Fuel storage tanks and boilers that are regularly serviced, checked and replaced when recommended will rarely spring a leak. However, leaks can and do happen, and the consequences of a substantial loss of oil can be significant.

Any escape of oil needs to be resolved urgently, so call your local heating technician in to diagnose and fix the issue. However, it's also important to minimise any potential environmental damage. This could be by catching leaking fuel in a bucket, or stopping the flow of oil towards a drain with absorbent material such as sand or soil. You should never wash oil down a drain.

Detailed advice on dealing with spills can be found on the Oil Care Campaign (OCC) website. The OCC is a joint initiative between the UK environmental regulators, trade and professional bodies and industry and is a useful source of advice.

You may also need to contact the National pollution hotline on 0800 80 70 60 (England, Scotland and NI) or for Wales call 0300 065 3000.

Please wait ...