Increases in domestic gas prices mean we will all be feeling the pinch on household budgets more than ever this winter. Alister Maclachlan, product director at Vokèra, looks at how the latest advanced controls can significantly improve the efficiency of a heating system and reduce utility bills – without requiring too much of a financial outlay.
Following the announcement that energy prices are set to rise even further, many homeowners will be looking to reduce their energy usage to combat the price hikes. The Government’s RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) and Green Deal schemes are designed to help homeowners afford energy saving measures – but aren’t going to provide immediate assistance.
Though the RHI Renewable Heat Premium Payments are now available, providing a one-off payment if a homeowner has a renewable technology installed (depending on the technology and if certain criteria is met), the ongoing tariffs will not be available until late 2012.
Similarly, the Green Deal will not be up and running until the end of 2012 at the earliest. This new scheme will see major energy suppliers offering loans to homeowners who want to install energy efficient measures and technologies.
So, with help from the RHI and Green Deal being some way off, how can installers help homeowners to find a cost-effective way to be more efficient? There is clearly a need for an immediate, affordable solution – and this is where the latest intelligent heating and hot water controls really come into their own.
Thermostats and controls have been on the market for many years and are an essential part of a modern central heating system; however, more recently manufacturers have invested heavily in further advancing boiler control technology to improve the efficiency of the boiler. In fact, the latest generation of controls offer homeowners even greater command over their heating and fuel usage, and when teamed with a high efficiency boiler, can dramatically reduce fuel bills for the end user.
The very latest innovation to hit the market is built-in OpenTherm technology. It’s estimated that up to 10 per cent of the energy consumed for space heating can be saved by using this type of control with an appropriate HE boiler. Fuel efficiency can be maximised by specifying these controls alongside boilers with higher modulation ratios, for example ratios of 5:1 and higher. For customers looking to reduce their fuel consumption immediately, OpenTherm could be an ideal solution, and is suitable for retrofit as well as new installations (depending on the boilers compatibility with OpenTherm protocol).
The benefit of OpenTherm technology lies in its ability to regulate the temperature of the room more effectively than a standard room thermostat. When a standard ON/OFF room temperature/programmable room thermostat is used, the boiler will usually provide a flow temperature that’s much higher than required for the room to reach the temperature set by the thermostat. This causes the boiler to ‘overshoot’, and as a result the home will actually become too hot. To compensate, the boiler switches off, and the temperature drops again. When the temperature goes below the set-point (the nature of traditional thermostatic controls means a boiler will ‘undershoot’), the boiler turns back on – and so this pattern continues. This frequent ON/OFF cycling results in an inefficient use of fuel and unnecessary wear and tear on boiler parts.
OpenTherm protocol controls are also available as wireless (RF) units, making them particularly suitable for retrofit applications. Vokèra is one of the few manufacturers to offer this type of control in a wireless format. Wireless OpenTherm controls provide a neat installation, something that is particularly ideal for house-proud customers who are concerned about the aesthetics of their home, and are easy to fit. With a 30 metre wireless transmitter, both new and retrofit installations are quick, simple and tidy.
Another recent development in controls has been weather compensation technology, which regulates the output of the boiler in line with the outside temperature, and is particularly effective when unseasonal weather occurs. Using weather compensation will almost always ensure that the boiler is fully condensing and this maximises fuel efficiency. In fact, under the proposed SAP 2009, the installation of a weather compensation control can increase the efficiency of a condensing boiler by up to 3%, enabling efficiencies in excess of 93 per cent. A weather compensation control not only saves energy, it can also ensure a more comfortable environment inside the home too.
While a selection of boilers are being supplied with weather compensation controls included, a key benefit is that existing boilers can be upgraded to include this technology. If fitting an external weather sensor, it is advisable to fit the controls to a north or north-west facing wall to achieve optimum results.
Both OpenTherm and weather compensation controls offer an affordable, cost-effective way to improve energy efficiency – and could provide a useful stop-gap until other measures, such as a more efficient boiler or a renewable technology, can be fitted.
When specifying controls it’s worthwhile looking for any additional features that will add to the usability of the control, ensuring the homeowner can make the most of their heating system, manage their energy efficiently and maximise comfort. For example, the OpenTherm protocol RF control from Vokèra includes a handy holiday function. This allows the end-user to set the control for the duration of the holiday, and the temperature at which the boiler should operate at during this period and for when they return.
If a control boasts an optimisation function, this means it will start the boiler working before the programmed ‘ON’ time, so the desired temperature is reached for when the homeowner wants it. Some controls also give homeowners access to useful information too, such as the current and target room temperatures.
When specifying controls with advanced user functions, it is important to ensure the homeowner is properly briefed when the unit is installed. This will ensure the customer knows how to operate the controls and that the maximum energy savings can be achieved.
With fuel prices rising dramatically and the effects of the economic downturn still being felt, there has never been a more important time to ensure a home’s central heating system runs as effectively and efficiently as possible. Installers can provide valuable information to homeowners about the advantages of intelligent controls to help them reduce their energy usage now, so they are better prepared to manage the cost of their utility bills in the future.
Renewable Heat Premium Payment Grant finally announced
If you are installing renewables, then you need to read on, the Government Renewable Heat Premium Payments (RHPP) have finally been announced and will be availale from 1st August 2011.
What is great about the RHPP is that so far the scheme seems to be very simple. This will help its success – something we saw with the boiler scrappage scheme, which was kept very clear and subsequently worked very well.
The premium payments demonstrate that the Government is backing renewable technologies and recognising their importance in meeting our carbon reduction commitments
The announcement from the DECC on 21st July 2011 has confirmed the scheme will start on 1 August. Installers who have not started need to get prepared. Vokèra’s advice to installers is to get MCS accredited, finish off any necessary training so they can offer these additional services to their customers alongside their core business.
The RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) tariffs which are expected to launch in October 2012, will further encourage their uptake. We are expecting announcements regarding the criteria and amount of ongoing tariffs for households who invest in the eligible renewable heating technologies later this year.
Vokèra is urging the Government to announce the RHI tariff criteria as soon as possible. The ideal situation would be that the criteria is the same for the tariff as it is for the RHI Premium Payment, so people are assured of this continued support. Alternatively, the Government should allow homeowners who do not meet the criteria a chance to implement any necessary changes and reapply.
What is the RHPP?
The Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme is a Government scheme that gives householders a one-off payment to help them buy renewable heating technologies – solar thermal panels, heat pumps and biomass boilers. It will run between 1 August 2011 and 31 March 2012. It only runs for eight months – because from October 2012, the Renewable Heat Incentive tariffs will be launched for the domestic sector and the Green Deal will come into force.
What is the criteria?
Where practical, loft insulation to a minimum of 250mm and cavity wall insulation needs to be in place. The products installed and the installer must be MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) approved.
Following installation the homeowner will complete two surveys and could have the opportunity to have a free meter installed to monitor the energy performance.
How much is it worth?
£300 – Solar thermal -voucher valid for 3 months
HOUSES NOT HEATED BY GAS FROM THE GRID
£850 – Air source heat pump – voucher valid for 5 months
£950 – Biomass boiler -voucher valid for 6 months
£1250 – Ground source heat pump -voucher valid for 6 months
How do you apply?
Apply online at the Energy Saving Trust website. If the criteria is met, a voucher will be issued, which must be returned before its expiry date with a copy of the invoice and certificate from the MCS.
The Scheme will end on the 31 March 2012, or when the allocated funding has been issued.
So, how do we access the RHI tariffs?
Installations that have received the RHPP will be eligible for the RHI tariffs, providing you meet the RHI criteria, which has not yet been finalised. Full details of the scheme and eligibility can be found on the EST website: www.est.org.uk
Vokèra has announced the launch of the new Linea One, a SEDBUK A rated combi boiler, with high output of 38kW and excellent domestic hot water performance of 15.6 litres per minute.
Linea One is our flagship combi boiler, boasting an array of exceptional features, benefits and efficiency for maximum end user comfort as well as offering a 5 year parts and labour guarantee as standard for total peace of mind.
The Linea One has one of the lowest NOx emissions in its class, with just 29mg/kWh and has an outside weather sensor included in the box, enabling it to be up to 93% efficient*
Alister Maclachlan, technical director, for Vokèra, said: “We’re really excited about the new Linea One, as we believe it offers customers a high quality, high performance, modern boiler which features some of the latest technology in energy efficiency.”
A snapshot of Linea One’s functions:
Intelligent ‘Pre Heat Memory’ function
The Linea One incorporates an intelligent domestic hot water ‘Pre Heat Memory’ function that, when selected, adapts the appliance pre-heat function to match your typical daily hot water usage pattern. Over a 1-week period, the boiler monitors at what times and how much hot water your household uses, thereafter the pre-heat function of the boiler is automatically adapted to suit your lifestyle, ensuring that there is always an immediate supply of hot water when you need it.
The ‘Comfort’ function allows you to set a fixed outlet temperature for DHW within the range 35°C to 45°C (factory set at 40°C). By choosing to operate this function you ensure that your DHW is of a comfortable and safe temperature which is especially useful if there are young children or elderly relatives in the home.
To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Based on SAP 2009
INDUSTRY GUIDANCE FOR HOUSEHOLDERS ON FROZEN CONDENSATE DRAINAGE PIPES
During recent winters the UK has experienced prolonged spells of extremely cold weather – down to minus 20oC and below in many areas. This resulted in a significant increase in the number of calls to boiler manufacturers and heating engineers from householders with condensing (high efficiency) boilers where the condensate drainage pipe had frozen and become blocked with ice, causing the boiler to shut down. In the vast majority of cases such problems occur where the condensate drainage pipe is located externally to the building for some part of its length.
British Standards, Building Regulations and boiler manufacturers’ installation instructions currently allow condensate drainage pipes to be located either internally or externally, or a combination of these. These documents give guidance on how to install the condensate drainage pipes in order to reduce the possibility of freezing. However this guidance may not be sufficient to prevent freezing in extreme conditions of the type recently experienced in the UK – with widespread and prolonged very low temperatures.
|Note 1This document gives guidance for householders on what to do if a boiler condensate drainage pipe has frozen – provided they feel competent to take the actions described. If you do not feel competent to follow this guidance then you should contact your local Gas Safe registered engineer, explain the situation and arrange for them to resolve the problem. They will also be able to advise on ways to reduce the likelihood of freezing in future. Registered gas engineers in your area can be found using the postcode search facility on the Gas Safe Register website at www.gassaferegister.co.uk|
There are a number of measures, detailed below, which householders can take in order to thaw a frozen condensate drainage pipe, free the blockage and re-start the boiler themselves provided they feel competent to do so (see Note 1) –
1. Confirm that a frozen condensate drain pipe is the cause of shutdown.
It is important to confirm that a frozen condensate drainage pipe is the likely cause of the problem before taking any of the remedial actions suggested below. The condensate drainage pipe is a plastic pipe (grey in colour) connected to the bottom of your boiler.
If the following circumstances apply then it is probable that a frozen condensate drainage pipe is the cause –
- outside temperatures have been below freezing for some time.
- the condensate drainage pipe runs through the wall and outside the property for part of its length, without any increased pipe diameter, any insulation on it, or other measures to prevent freezing. There may also be a problem if the pipe runs through an enclosed but unheated area, such as a garage or loft.
- the boiler has previously been working satisfactorily.
Shutdown due to freezing and blockage of the condensate drainage pipe will usually be indicated by a “fault code” on the boiler’s digital display, although this may not specifically indicate freezing as the fault. Indication may also be given by some other alarm such as a flashing light, or by a symptom such as “gurgling” noises coming from the boiler.
Note 2 – please refer to the boiler manual for guidance on fault codes/alarms and their meaning – call us if you are unsure.
2. Locate the blockage.
It is likely that the pipe is frozen at the most exposed point external to the building or where there is some obstruction to flow. This could be at the open end of the pipe, at a bend or elbow, or where there is a dip in the pipe in which condensate can collect. The location of the blockage should be identified as closely as possible before taking further action.
3. Thaw the frozen pipe.
The pipe can be thawed by applying a hot water bottle, a microwaveable heating pack (the sort used for muscular aches and pains) or cloths soaked in warm water to the exterior of the pipe, close to the likely point of blockage. Warm water can also be poured onto the pipe from a watering can or similar container. Do not use boiling water.
Note 3: You should not attempt to thaw a condensate drain pipe if you cannot easily reach it from ground level. Be aware that any water used can quickly freeze if it falls onto pathways – causing a possible slip hazard.
4. Reset/re-start the boiler.
Once the blockage has been thawed and cleared, consult the your boiler manual (if you do not have a copy you can download it from our website by clicking here) for guidance on any action needed to “reset” the fault code/alarm and re-start the boiler.
In most cases, once the condensate drain pipe is cleared and a reset has been carried out, the boiler will re-ignite using an automatic operating sequence.
If this reset/restart does not succeed you should call in a competent engineer to assess the situation and take further action if required. Registered gas engineers in your area can be found using the postcode search facility on the Gas Safe Register website at www.gassaferegister.co.uk
5. Temporary remedial actions:
If the pipe is successfully thawed and the boiler can be re-started then the following temporary remedial actions may help prevent re-freezing if the severe weather continues.
(a) If the external pipe is not insulated as recommended, you should try to rectify this by attaching suitable water-proof and weather-proof insulation over the outside of the pipe to prevent re-freezing. “Class O” pipe insulation is suitable for external use and should be available from DIY outlets and plumbing/heating suppliers.
(b) During the cold spell it may help to temporarily run the heating system with the boiler thermostat (as distinct from the room thermostat) set to maximum. Turn back to the normal setting used once the cold spell is over.
(c) It may also help to temporarily set the central heating timer/programmer to “continuous” (24hr) mode, setting the room thermostat overnight to around 15oC. Again, return to the normal settings once the cold spell is over.
6. Longer term actions:
As previously stated, British Standards, Building Regulations etc. currently allow condensate drainage pipes to run either internally or externally, or a combination of these. These documents give recommendations on how to run the pipe and use insulation, if required, in order to reduce the possibility of freezing, This guidance was based on prevailing UK winter conditions, however it may not be sufficient to prevent freezing in extreme conditions of the type experienced over recent years.
Should you wish to take action in order to reduce the risk of freezing in future, either by relocating the condensate drainage pipe or by taking other measures, then more detailed guidance is available from your heating installer, service engineer, or on-line here
What is condensate and what does the condensate drain do?
High efficiency (condensing) boilers remove more heat from the combustion gases, resulting in additional water vapour which is collected within the boiler as condensate, and taken to a suitable drain via the condensate drainage pipe.
Why has my condensate drain only frozen recently?
Recently the UK has suffered from unusually cold weather, over prolonged periods. Existing recommendations for condensate pipe installation, such as pipe insulation, were based on prevailing UK weather conditions and may not be sufficient in the extreme conditions recently experienced across much of the UK.
Shouldn’t my condensate drainage pipe have been installed correctly in the first place?
British Standards, Building Regulations etc. currently allow condensate drainage pipes to be run internally, externally or a combination of these. These documents give recommendations on how to run the pipe and use insulation in order to reduce the possibility of freezing. This guidance was based on the UK winter conditions prevailing until very recently, however it may not have been sufficient to prevent freezing in extreme weather conditions.
Can I improve the pipe installation to prevent freezing?
It would be advisable to examine the condensate drainage pipework and upgrade the installation if required, in order to reduce the risk of freezing in future. This should be done by a competent person and in accordance with relevant British Standards and industry guidance.
A heating engineer cut the condensate pipe to get my boiler working and left the pipe discharging to a bucket as an “emergency measure”. Is this acceptable?
It is recognised that in some instances (e.g. where an elderly person’s heating needs to be reinstated as an emergency measure) frozen condensate drainage pipes may have been cut in order to bypass the blockage. This has been done to allow re-ignition of the boiler, with condensate being collected in a suitable container as a temporary solution.
While not unsafe, this is not recommended practice and if such action has been taken then the condensate drainage pipe must be reinstated as soon as possible, using the appropriate industry guidance (see above) to reduce risk of freezing in future.
Following the success of Vokèra’s Compact HE range, the new Compact A is a cost effective combi, offering low NOx and is available in two outputs of 25kW and 29kW.
The name Compact describes the boiler perfectly as it is 40 per cent smaller and 22 per cent lighter than the previous model, while the standard Vokèra layout enables quick and easy equipment replacement or upgrade if required.
Alister Maclachlan, technical director, for Vokèra, said: “We’re really excited about the Compact A, as we believe it offers installers a quality, modern boiler which meets all latest legislation requirements, but at a cost effective price for domestic customers.
“The exclusion of Band B boilers from Part L of the Building Regulations, which came into force in October 2010, means the Compact A is the perfect choice as a cost conscious solution that satisfies the legislative change and meet the needs of installers and customers alike.”
Compact A offers a number of key benefits including pre-mix combustion and a combined parallel and in-series hydraulic circuit. The expansion vessel is side-mounted and a cyclonic separator is fitted as standard. The interface is simple to use and a clock kit and wireless programme kit are available as additional options.
To find out more click here