Paul Harmer, Lead Technical Consultant for the CIPHE, explains how system balancing should be an integral part of effective heating system maintenance.
Generally, our industry has a lot of reasons to be feeling positive at present. In recent months, the heating industry has been the focus of numerous policy changes and amendments, meaning that raising standards and ambitions for positive change is only gaining momentum.
Both Boiler Plus and the consultation on a Future Framework for Heat demonstrate that the government recognises the need to not only reduce emissions from domestic heating systems, but also to ensure comfort to householders. While commendable, there is still further to go if householders are to truly harness the potential of their heating systems.
The extreme weather conditions we faced earlier this year highlighted just how important it is to have heating systems which are properly maintained and in good working order. Many homes faced heating troubles during the cold snap and, with temperature fluctuations expected to continue in the years to come, information to protect the consumer, building on policy designed to help raise standards, need to remain paramount.
System balancing is a simple process yet, if omitted, can significantly undermine the effectiveness of a heating system. Unbalanced systems can cause the emergence of hot and cold spots within a house, leading the consumer to feel that their system is not functioning as expected or promised. Consequently, they then turn up the temperature to negate the impact of cold spots, meaning they are not utilising their heating systems effectively.
Despite the importance of balancing, there is no mandate in place to ensure that it is standard practice. Combine this with low consumer awareness and there is an element of ‘pot luck’ at play. In fact, the Boiler Plus consultation, which over 750 installers responded to, revealed that “some installers do not have a common understanding of system balancing”, with only 18% claiming to undertake it as a standard practice. While Boiler Plus mentioned that it should be part of a standard installation, there is no actual requirement for installers to balance heating systems as part of an installation or service nor consumer understanding that this would be a beneficial practice.
Within all of this, we must not forget that consumer satisfaction is vital to maintain the reputation of our industry. Boiler manufacturers recently faced national media criticism, with The Times publishing research this year questioning whether boilers are performing as expected in accordance with their EPC ratings. In the report, a whistleblower claimed that energy performance labels are typically overstating the efficiency of boilers by 10%, as testing procedures did not reflect consumer usage behaviour.
Press coverage like the aforementioned demonstrates the importance of ensuring that multiple mechanisms are in place to ensure household heating systems are working as well as possible, and that homeowners are supported and know how to use them to the fullest potential.
At the CIPHE, supporting both consumers and the trade is paramount. Only by consulting can both the balance between raising workmanship standards, and empowering consumers to only seek professional plumbing and heating engineers to complete works, be achieved.
Overall, the general cultural evolution we are seeing in the supply chain off the back of policies such as Boiler Plus, means that now is the perfect time to push for more, and to take the opportunity to raise industry standards even higher. The inclusion of hydraulic balancing as an expected practice in policy would, arguably serve as an ‘easy win’ for industry and we should seek its inclusion in the upcoming Boiler Plus review.