Should you insure your boiler?
With energy costs rising, families will be looking everywhere for ways to try to save money.
One thing you could cut is boiler insurance, argues Charlie Mullins, managing director of Pimlico Plumbers. "If you want to fill the bank account of a multinational insurance company then take out a policy, but if you want your boiler fixed call a plumber," he says.
However, Kevin Spears, energy expert for uSwitch.com, disagrees. "Risking the winter without cover could leave you strapped for cash if your boiler does pack up and you haven't got any savings," he says.
Last year, a fifth of UK households had a boiler breakdown over the winter, at an average cost of £320, according to uSwitch.com. The average boiler insurance policy costs around £100 a year, so it seems the cover could be a money-saver. But what are the catches?
What's included varies depending on which policy you opt for. Most cover boiler repairs, parts and labour; unlimited cover and claims throughout the year; and annual inspections to make sure your boiler is working properly.
You can also take out insurance that will cover your entire central heating system, including radiators and pipes, but this will cost you more.
However, whichever policy you choose, they tend to be riddled with exclusions. For example, you may only be covered up to a certain cost, or for the first few hours of labour. And most policies don't cover boilers more than 15 years old, while those over seven will require an inspection first.
Some policies also require you to pay an excess (usually around £50) when you claim. Most boiler and central heating plans will provide a 24-hour, 365-day helpline to deal with urgent problems - but the definition of 'urgent' varies between providers.
A boiler exploding and water gushing down your walls may be enough for a plumber to be called out instantly, but your hot water not working for a few hours might not.
It's usually a case of getting what you pay for - the more you pay for your policy, the more protection you'll get.
One of the best comes from npower and costs £15.50 a month for the first year, which covers you for an annual service and safety check, unlimited call-outs and all repairs, and gives you access to a 24-hour helpline.
Check your home insurance first
Before you take out a policy, check whether your boiler is already covered under your home insurance.
Legal & General's home policy includes emergency cover, which covers common problems such as your boiler breaking down or a burst pipe. But this is just for emergencies and exclusions apply - your boiler can't be more than eight years old and it will only be covered between September and April.
The amount paid out is also capped at £150 - less than you would get with separate boiler insurance. Alternatively, some providers let you buy emergency cover on top of your normal home insurance - usually cheaper than standalone boiler cover.
Going it alone
The likelihood of your boiler breaking down is mainly to do with how old it is and what condition it's in.
If you decide to go down the self-pay route, make sure your boiler is serviced on a regular basis, and any problems are fixed before they get bigger. Nicholas Brown, a technical engineer for British Gas, says it costs on average £62 for an annual service.
If you opt not to have boiler insurance, you need to be prepared to cough up if your boiler does fail. A good way to keep maintenance costs down is to get your timing right - for instance, schedule in a service during the summer, when it will be cheaper.
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.