As the sun sets on a year of Boiler Plus, HVP Editor Joe Dart looks back at how the legislation has been received since its launch in April 2018.
First revealed in October 2017 in response to the government’s Heat in Buildings consultation, Boiler Plus signalled a major change in the way that many installers approached boiler replacements upon its launch in April 2018.
Under the policy (which only applies to domestic properties in England), there would be a new minimum performance standard which would require all domestic gas boilers installed to hit a minimum ErP efficiency rate of 92%. In addition, Boiler Plus regulations meant that all replacement gas and oil boilers would also require time and temperature controls to be installed at the same time, if not already present and working.
The standards would also compel installers to install one of four additional energy efficient measures when installing a replacement combination boiler in the home: flue gas heat recovery, weather compensation, load compensation, or smart controls with automation and optimisation functions.
With Boiler Plus now one year old, and a review of the policy due later this year, we took the opportunity to reach out across the industry to ask for feedback on how Boiler Plus has progressed so far.
"Well, it’s been a full year of Boiler Plus and personally I’m glad it’s here. It’s a drop in the ocean of where we need to be but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. You don’t always need to install the top of the range controls to be compliant but I see it as a tool to make my installs as efficient as I can."
Drew Styles, Drew Styles Plumbing & Heating
On the whole, industry reaction to Boiler Plus as a concept appears to be positive. Andy Mansfield, Marketing Communications Manager at Resideo, maker of Honeywell Home products, said the company welcomed the opportunity that Boiler Plus gave to inform installers and customers about what a heating control is, and what it can do for a well installed and balanced heating system.
He explained: “We are delighted that there has been a focus on heating controls, that they have been elevated from just the thing that controls the boiler from a temperature and time point of view, to something that is seen an energy efficient benefit to the end customer, and the installer can talk in positive ways about the controls that they’re actually fitting for their customer.”
This positivity was echoed by Colin Timmins, H&V Portfolio Manager at BEAMA: “I think the principle of what [government was] trying to do is very welcome, to boost standards. We’ve had the same regulations for about 10 years, in terms of the basic boiler interlock, thermostat, time clock etc. so it was nice to get something moving towards higher standards.”
John Thompson, Chief Executive of the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors, said he was encouraged about the role Boiler Plus could play in improving energy efficiency and meeting environmental standards, however he admits that there is room for improvement in its implementation.
A significant issue for Boiler Plus, says John, are the rogue traders who refuse to comply with the standard. In order for installers to comply, they need to be installing one of the aforementioned new energy efficient measures. However, unless they are willing to absorb the cost of these additional measures themselves, their quote prices will come out higher than those tradespeople who offer non-compliant boiler replacements to their customers.
John explained: “The legitimate installers in this industry will go forward, they will adopt the changes. But they feel pretty unhappy about implementation because they then end up in a situation where they’re actually competing against people who are actually not bringing in the new requirements for a variety of reasons. So, we end up with a dual playing field.”
He added that APHC members do feel “aggrieved” that they’re having to work to a standard which is potentially going to make them struggle in the marketplace to compete on price. John says that some members have lost out on jobs because their competitors are able to offer cheaper, non-compliant boiler installs.
"On the whole, I think Boiler Plus is doing a good job. It has definitely raised standards of installations carried out by registered engineers."
Jamie Kenna, Kenna Plumbing & Heating
However, it is important to note that not everyone who has installed a non-compliant system since the introduction of Boiler Plus has intentionally done so to gain a business advantage. For example, there was confusion surrounding compliance in the regulation’s first few months, with at least one high profile example demonstrating a lack of clarity around compliance.
In June last year, a leaked British Gas customer quote suggested that the company might still undertake boiler replacement work in the event that the customer rejected the installation of Boiler Plus compliant measures.
Although no evidence of wrongdoing came to light, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Government commented at the time that it would be “reminding the company of [its] responsibilities in meeting the minimum standards contained in the Building Regulations”.
In July, the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) posted a clarification on the Boiler Plus regulations for installers and consumers. This document stated that responsibility for compliance sits with the installer, and the installer must not carry out an installation that does not meet standards, even if the customer requests an opt-out.
Although the statement did help to clear up a ‘grey’ area, it also highlighted another issue – that of enforcement.
Boiler Plus sits within the Building Regulations, meaning that the responsibility for enforcement falls upon local councils, specifically their Building Control departments.
This is problematic, as John Thompson of the APHC explained: “The way that the legislation’s written, enforcement bodies won’t go out and check these things without a consumer complaint. So there’s very little complaint activity going forward to give building control the impetus to tackle the issue. That’s where the problem sits.”
We reached out to a number of London councils to ask for statistics around the number of enforcement cases they had processed since the launch of Boiler Plus. Of those that responded, none were able to provide us with statistics, but a spokesperson for the London Borough of Havering commented: “Most boilers are covered by a competent person scheme so Building Control inspect very few and we do not have any statistics available.
“I can confirm that, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe we have had a specific enforcement case regarding Boiler Plus [since April 2018].”
As responsibility for reporting Boiler Plus non-compliance largely rests on the consumer, it is unsurprising that there have been few known examples of enforcement of Boiler Plus standards.
John Thompson suggests that if Boiler Plus had been better communicated to consumers by government then perhaps we would be seeing more cases of enforcement, as they would likely be more aware of what to look out for when speaking to an installer about a boiler replacement job.
He said: “If you look at something like the Part P Building Regulations rollout in terms of consumers, [the government] spent millions on that. I don’t think they’d spend millions on this initiative, but they would have spent money on consumer awareness [before austerity].
“Part P demonstrated that if you have a strategy focused on consumers then you can bring about real change.”
Colin Timmins of BEAMA, however, doesn’t believe that the responsibility for raising awareness with the consumer should necessarily fall solely on the government.
He said: “Industry said all along the way that we would help get the message out, and largely it’s a case of doing that through the installer because we still know that largely the consumers tend to listen to the installer in terms of the recommendations they get.”
Interestingly, Colin reports that BEAMA has seen very little engagement on Boiler Plus from a consumer perspective: “We quite often get householders come to us asking about changes in regulations, and we haven’t had that [with Boiler Plus].
“It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from that, but maybe with Boiler Plus, as you’re mainly just replacing one form of thermostat with another, it could be that the installers are doing it and just not feeling that it’s something the consumer needs to know about really.”
"I haven’t heard any news of installers or homeowners in the last 12 months being prosecuted by Building Control for not complying with Boiler Plus. I have not had any of my company’s combi boiler installs inspected for Boiler Plus, nor do I know of any other installers or homeowners that have been inspected for this. Does that mean 100% of new combi boiler installs in the last 12 months comply with Boiler Plus? Probably not!"
Peter Brown, Peter Brown Plumbing & Heating
A review of Boiler Plus by BEIS is due later this year, so is there anything that the industry expects or is hoping to see taken under consideration?
Andy Mansfield of Resideo says there is more work to do to make Boiler Plus a smoother journey for installers.
He explained: “I think with the complexity of Boiler Plus in terms of the choices that the installer has to make – weather compensation, flue gas heat recovery etc. – there could be a level of complexity removed by looking at the ErP standards for heating controls.”
Andy also believes the government should “invest more attention” in tests conducted by Salford University in conjunction with BEAMA in 2013, which showed that the installation of a room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) can reduce energy bills in a home by 40%.
TRVs were conspicuously absent from the final version of Boiler Plus but, according to Colin at BEAMA, it is expected that TRVs will likely be included in any future version of Boiler Plus, as the government has committed to implementing the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, which requires individual room temperature controls to be installed with a boiler replacement.
For Colin and BEAMA, the hope is that Boiler Plus is applied more consistently across all types of heating systems.
He said: “Currently it’s only in existing homes, and only in the regulations alongside gas boilers, so what it really needs is for the whole compliance guide to be written so that it’s the same requirements in new buildings, and we need to consider what we do for other types of heating systems that are out there as well.”
As for John of the APHC, aside from more effective regulation of installers, he hopes to see Boiler Plus play a role as part of a wider, more joined-up UK energy strategy for housing.
He explained: “There seemed to be a [government] strategy in the early 2000s when they were looking at some of the initiatives at that point in time, but again along came austerity measures and we put a lot of things on the backburner. I think we need an energy strategy related to UK housing, and Boiler Plus sits within that.”
The first year of Boiler Plus has proved to be an interesting one and, although views on its effectiveness may differ, most do agree that there are significant opportunities to strengthen and build upon the policy in the coming years.
When asked to summarise Boiler Plus’ first year, a BEIS spokesperson commented: “The Boiler Plus scheme is benefiting consumers and cutting carbon emissions across the UK. This first year has been encouraging, with installers and industry learning and spreading awareness about the new additional energy efficiency measures.”