October has been a rollercoaster month for the heating industry and government ‘ambitions’. 

Let’s start with the obvious one: the Prime Minister’s extension of the oil boiler phase out deadline to 2035 instead of 2026. This change, so close to the goal post, will have marked repercussions for the sectors.

We are now coming to the end of 2023 and I am pretty certain that a large number of installers have already undertaken some sort of training to prepare for this deadline. That means time out of the business, money spent on course, and a commitment to change based on a date specific ‘ambition’. Similarly, manufacturers will have built facilities for heat pump production in the UK – no small investment– and ploughed capital into training infrastructure.  

In addition to this key change, we also hear that 20% of the country’s homes will not even have to upgrade a gas boiler after that phase-out deadline. With reduced deployment of the gas distribution network and fewer economies of scale for boilers, it isn’t quite clear who has been doing the sums.  

Regardless of all this, the government is retaining the Clean Heat Market Mechanism (a levy on boiler manufacturers who miss their heat pump sales targets, and therefore an indirect tax that will presumably be passed on to customers). 

In addition, there is still a commitment to re-balance pricing by re-allocating electricity-linked levies onto gas. This will, of course, increase fuel bills for customers.  

One of the more alarming announcements, however, was the U-turn on placing minimum requirements on private landlords to improve the standard of their assets and bring them to an acceptable efficiency level. 

In the last issue I mentioned that 3.4 million homes in England are classed as not decent, leading to around £1 billion of NHS spend due to poor indoor comfort. What I didn’t mention is that the worst offending properties (23% of those 3.4 million homes) are in the private rented sector.

With this clear watering down of EPC ambitions, we are effectively saying that private rented tenants can bear ever increasing rental costs while almost certainly sitting firmly in, or on the fringes of, fuel poverty.  

Despite all of the above, the government still claims to be committed to reducing energy consumption by 15% by a target date of 2030. Again, we shall see.

I am anticipating a very sparse year ahead for energy efficiency policy in the lead up to the forthcoming General Election. We still haven’t seen a response from the government to its Boiler Efficiency Consultation, and the Future Homes Standard consultation is also conspicuous by its absence. All these delays make it quite unlikely that these policies will hit the legislative programme prior to the elections, which, by law, cannot be held later than 28 January 2025.  

With this level of inertia, the industry’s only choice will be to fall back on tried and tested advice in order to help consumers reduce their energy bill. So, maybe it is time to pull out some heating controls tips to reduce energy consumption.

Let’s start off with timeclocks/programmers. How much effort do householders actually make to match the operating times of their heating with the times they are awake and in the house? 

It is always worth encouraging customers both to spend some time familiarising themselves with the operation of their programmer, and to regularly consider whether the times of operation could be adjusted to match their actual lifestyle. 

A few small changes to operating times and temperatures could reduce gas consumption by 16% over a 24 hour period, so the potential cost savings are significant. In fact, if we all did it, the government’s 15% energy reduction target doesn’t look too far out of sight.

Inadequate zoning leads to heating a whole home even when this is not needed. Given that more people work from home these days, this is very wasteful when only one or two rooms need to be kept warm during the day. 

Householders may be unaware that this is the case, so it is a good idea to explain to them how lowering the setpoint of TRVs in other, non-occupied rooms could benefit them directly, since the boiler would have less work to do. 

An obvious factor in any discussion with householders on using their controls more effectively is the need to consider the significant benefits that could be made with the installation of better controls. 

Adding load or weather compensation can make a heating system operate more efficiently, whenever it is on. Individual room temperature controls, such as TRVs, can reduce wasted heat from rooms that are warmer than they need to be. Providing a smart thermostat could enable the occupants to be more engaged with their heating system and align its operation more closely to when it is needed. 

In the absence of any real ambitious strategy for energy efficiency and low carbon heating from the government, we will have to dig deep to help struggling customers with the energy bills.