Baxi boilers have earned a dubious reputation in the Toronto area that is largely undeserved. As one of the first combination boilers available in the Toronto market the brand has suffered from early adoption made worse by both poor application or installation and a lack of understanding on the part of subsequent home owners and service companies.
To provide some context: the concept of a “combination or combi” boiler capable of heating radiators and domestic hot water was first developed in the early 1900s. The modern version of wall hung combination boilers have been used in Europe for more than 35 years and have been installed in Toronto since the mid 1990s.
The advantage of combi wall hung boilers is the fuel efficiency of the unit, the space saving of a single unit to fulfill both space and domestic water heating, as well as the versatility to operate with radiator, radiant in floor, and ducted hydronic fan coil systems.
Like any new, exciting, and energy efficient product, when the Baxi first appeared it was jumped on by early adopter Toronto heating contractors who saw the potential applications, as well as energy conscious homeowners who were used to seeing wall hung boilers in Europe and Asia. As anthropologist, Morgan Gerard points out “early adopters are typically described as curious, adventurous consumers who buy first, talk fast and spread the word to others about the pros and/or cons of what they have purchased”. Essentially they know they are ahead of the curve, and are more aware that they open themselves to potential issues of cutting edge products.
The growing pains with the Baxi lay in discovering the ideal circumstances in which to install the boiler, and then how well these systems operate over the medium to long term. Most new equipment is tolerant of a less-than-ideal application for 1-3 years, but then, sometimes persistent, issues may begin.
Unfortunately, this is where subsequent homeowners began to question the quality of the Baxi, rather than seeing the application as the root cause of a breakdown. In Toronto, these circumstances were exacerbated by service contractors who either did not understand the equipment parameters, or became too focused on the “box” and did not step back to look at the piping, application, or both. Certain large rental organizations also installed the Baxi boiler with air handlers in circumstances that caused massive short cycling of the boiler – imagine constantly turning your car off at every stop sign and then turning the ignition back on again; multiply by 365 days a year and you get the idea.
It is unfortunate in these situations that the manufacturer is tarred by poor installation practices, a situation made worse by consumers not understanding that the boiler is not actually the root cause of the problem. Indeed homeowners logically started focusing their frustration at the boiler, instead of stepping back to examine the larger application, and this is largely an issue of perception.
Consumers commonly treat a boiler purchase like shopping for a refrigerator. They tend to lock in on a particular brand, and perceive themselves to be astute shoppers by phoning several companies to compare pricing, or going online and reading consumer reviews of installation companies as a method of due diligence.
Either method is compromised because it presupposes there is no difference between company A, B, C or, (heaven forbid!) D, or E when it comes to what they will suggest and how they will install the equipment. Malcolm Gladwell’s observation bears remembering “We have come to confuse information with understanding.”
It is vital to remember that the cost of installing a boiler is not just the cost of installing the “box” on the wall, but is rather the knowledge of the manufacturer’s specified piping practice combined with experience in application, skill in execution, and the depth of resources to support the product over the medium to long term.
Clients who allow themselves to be strongly influenced by consumer review websites are simply yielding their decision making ability because they do not understand how to shop for a boiler. In the same manner, clients working with general contractors assume the contractor has their best interest in mind when suggesting heating equipment. A consumer is always better off knowing the mechanical contractor on their project, as they will have to have a relationship with that contractor for maintenance and service for many years to come.
As a tip, focus on three service companies who are well established in your community, and whose trucks you see on a somewhat regular basis – this gives you more indication of who works in homes like your own more than anything you will find online.
In our experience installing high efficiency wall hung boilers, application and piping practices are the predominant cause of boiler breakdowns, followed by a lack of maintenance by homeowners. In the case of the Baxi, it is clear that the unit is robust. Recently, this article appeared in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: http://www.newsusa.com/articles/article/wall-hung-boilers-survive-superstorm-sandy.aspx
Even though a homeowner cannot be expected to know how to properly pipe a boiler they certainly know when something looks right. Below I have included a couple of visual examples of Baxi boiler installations so you can see what I mean. The first two photos are a Baxi boiler and piping installed by others.
Now here are a couple of examples of Baxi and piping installations by Belyea Bros. Heating & Cooling. Consumers need to be aware that large descrepencies in installation estimates should be a warning sign. When it comes to heating and cooling your home, you need to spend more time finding the right company than the “best price” (i.e. the lowest), as you very often get what you pay for.
Experts in Heating & Cooling Older Toronto Homes ®