It’s Christmas Eve, the boilers broken…

John Thompson
John Thompson

The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors () have some advice on actions to take to reduce serious damage to property and how to find an emergency plumber to fix the problem.

Plumbers are in high demand during the Christmas season, especially if the weather turns colder and finding a reputable plumber at short notice on Christmas Eve can be challenging. To avoid frantic calling around and relying on unreliable website searches take some time to prepare emergency contact numbers; it’s easy to sigh with relief when the first plumber called is available but if you choose a rogue tradesman it could leave to more problems and unexpected costs.

If homeowners don’t have a trusted plumber to call upon look for a member of a trade association, such as APHC, who will check that a trader’s qualifications and past work are checked and verified to a high standard. Most associations will have a member search facility such as; where you can search via a number of criteria including postcode or town.

Some basic questions will reduce the risk of employing a rogue trader such as prior to confirming a call-out don’t be afraid to check how much the plumber or heating engineer will be charging. In an emergency a reputable trader will be able to provide a cost for the call-out and rates for on-going time spent on the job. Prior to any remedial being carried out, the customer should be informed of the costs and time-scales involved and if you feel pressurised into accepting work without a full explanation, have the confidence to question or get a second opinion. Understandably call-out charges might be slightly higher on Christmas Day but should be clearly explained prior to arrival.

Also check if the tradesman has the right credentials to work on your appliances, for example anyone working on gas boilers must be GasSafe registered and qualified to work on gas appliances. Just because it’s an emergency, consumers should not put themselves at risk.

John Thompson, chief executive of APHC, said: “We know that many people only search for a plumbing or heating engineer in a distressed situation, when they are desperate to get the heating and hot water working as quickly as possible. This can lead to rushed decisions and sadly, the opportunity for rogue traders to take advantage in an emergency. We strongly advise homeowners to have the contact details of reputable tradespeople at hand or have access to the right organisations to quickly search for a reputable trader.”

In addition have some plans in place to isolate problems prior to a plumber arriving to minimise damage:

For major water leaks – turn of the water supply at either the main stop tap, usually located in the kitchen or the boundary stop tap, provided by the water company at the boundary of the property often next to the water meter. Some older taps could also affect your neighbours as well!

Smaller internal leaks – these can be stopped using isolation valves next to the relevant appliance and can quickly stop a problem without turning the entire water supply off. Either turn the lever or use a screwdriver to stop the water supply.

Hot water systems – to stop water entering the hot water system on a hot water cylinder find the gate valve (usually in the airing cupboard), turn this off and turn on any hot taps to empty the cylinder of water. On a combi boiler the lever operated isolation valve will be located under the boiler.

Gas leak – of everything piped into a home, nothing is more dangerous than natural gas. If you think there is a gas leak:

  • Turn the gas off at the meter using the emergency control valve
  • Open doors and windows and ventilate the area
  • Do not smoke or use naked flames
  • Do not operate any electrical switches or appliances (turning them on or of can cause a spark)

Call emergency services to report the leak on 0800 111 999 (24 hours)

Oil Leaks – oil is highly flammable and can be isolated via the tank isolation valve on the outlet of the tank or appliance isolation valve on the boiler or range as the pipeline enters the property.

Full details of the ‘Dealing with emergencies advice’ can be found in a free consumer advice guide available from  along with information on preparing for cold weather, guides to heating systems and new environmental technologies such as sola thermal hot water and biomass boilers.