BOILER PLUS – ONE YEAR ON

As the first anniversary of Boiler Plus approaches, Alister Maclachlan of Vokèra by Riello assesses the impact of this initiative and how the Government’s proposed policy review in April 2019 will be an opportunity to clarify some aspects of the legislation for installers and their customers.

Greater choice
Introduced in England by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in April 2018, Boiler Plus set new minimum performance standards for domestic gas boilers and made fitting timers and room thermostats a requirement to reduce energy costs for consumers. With the consumer at the heart of the legislation, Boiler Plus was designed to give people greater choice and more information about the products that are available to help them achieve optimum comfort and energy savings. But what’s the reality nearly one year on?

Although Gas Safe registered installers haven’t had to undertake any additional training to comply with Boiler Plus, it is obviously important that they understand the different options within the legislation in order to be able to advise their customers on the best solution for their particular needs. In this respect, Boiler Plus has placed greater responsibility on installers’ shoulders and so it is essential that they have the information they need regarding the benefits of each solution and the knowledge and skills to ensure best practice is followed.

Clearing the confusion
Going by the number of queries to our Technical Helpline since the new standards were introduced, there is some confusion surrounding certain aspects of the legislation. For example, an installer in the process of fitting one of our water heaters was asked by the householder if the unit complied with Boiler Plus. Unsure of the answer, the installer called our helpline and a member of our team was able to confirm that water heaters are outside the scope of Boiler Plus. Whilst it is unlikely that the legislation will be extended to cover water heaters, DHW demand does appear to be on the increase in many modern households. Delivering instantaneous hot water to multiple outlets at high flow rates, the latest high efficiency water heaters, such as Vokèra by Riello’s new AquaNova LE, can offer a reliable, energy saving domestic hot water supply for showers and other domestic applications.

Affordable option
Under Boiler Plus a new combination boiler must incorporate one of the following measures within the system:

  • Flue Gas Heat Recovery (FGHRS).
  • Weather Compensation.
  • Load Compensation.
  • Smart Controls featuring automation and optimisation functions.

I suppose it is inevitable that end-users and installers will be attracted to the measure that combines compliance with affordability, yet which still provides additional efficiencies without compromising comfort. Since Boiler Plus was introduced in April 2018 Vokèra has seen sales of external weather compensation sensors rise by approximately 60% compared with the same period in 2017. Clearly, this measure is regarded as a relatively low cost means of complying and the easiest to install compared with, say, smart controls or FGHRS. Perhaps it is not surprising that the FGHRS option is not proving particularly popular. These usually large, rather bulky units aren’t very attractive and there isn’t always enough space above the boiler to fit them.

Not so smart
Smart controls (complete with automation and optimisation) can provide an effective additional efficiency measure. However, some areas of the industry are calling for the definition of a smart thermostat within the context of Boiler Plus to be stipulated as an internet-connected device offering remote control of the heating system using a smartphone app, for example. Clarifying this in the forthcoming policy review would certainly distinguish a Boiler Plus compliant control from cheaper so-called ‘smart’ thermostats that are non-connected and which don’t offer consumers the same level of efficiency or convenience.

Whilst there are a number of compliant smart control solutions, it is worth 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.  The OpenTherm protocol RF control from Vokèra, for example, enables energy saving modularity and includes a handy ‘holiday’ function. Our BeSMART Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostat also offers full compliance and is very easy to install and intuitive to use. As an internet-connected device it allows homeowners to manage up to 8 different heating zones from anywhere in the world through the BeSMART App. In addition, a weather compensation function can be added that adjusts boiler output to reflect ambient temperature with no need to fit an external sensor. As a further benefit, BeSMART can alert customers (who have subscribed to remote monitoring) and the Vokèra Service Centre if something goes wrong, minimising disruption.

Positive change
We know change can be daunting and it can take time for industry to adjust, but we believe Boiler Plus should be seen as a positive change that will help tackle climate change and keep household energy costs down. At Vokèra we also welcome any initiative that steers installers towards fitting more advanced controls, thereby increasing their technical skills and bringing energy saving benefits to their customers. Nearly one year on, there are clearly some areas of Boiler Plus that could be improved – let’s just hope the distraction of Brexit doesn’t prevent the Government from addressing these issues and keeping its pledge to review this important legislation in April.