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Boiler Plus isn’t so smart after all

Viewpoint by Dean Jepson, European managing director at Salus

When Boiler Plus was rolled out in April 2018, it was warmly welcomed by the heating controls industry. After all, the new regulations not only set a new minimum performance standard of 92 per cent ErP for domestic gas boilers in England for both new and replacement installations, but, for the first time ever, timers and room thermostats were an explicit requirement.

The thinking behind Boiler Plus is to give people the power to achieve the greatest comfort and energy savings in their home. At the same time, it helps the government achieve its Clean Growth Strategy and brings the UK heating market in line with other EU countries – a win-win all round. However, due to the poorly worded first draft of Boiler Plus released in October 2017, the government (BEIS) issued a revised draft in January 2018, followed by two sets of FAQs, in an attempt to clear up the confusion.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding Boiler Plus remains: it lies in the simple – yet wholly misleading – definition of a ‘smart thermostat’ under Part L of the Building Regulations. A smart thermostat, complete with automisation and optimisation, is one of the four added efficiency measures that must be included when installing a combi boiler, under Boiler Plus.

However, Part L’s definition of a smart thermostat is one that does NOT require remote control or internet connectivity. This outright contradicts the definition by BEIS and HHIC – which clearly states that smart thermostats enable remote control of a central heating system via a tablet, smartphone or desktop.

This inaccurate definition has sparked a trade war in the heating controls industry: many manufacturers are exploiting this loophole and claiming that their smart thermostats are fully compliant with Boiler Plus. In reality, however, they are not connected thermostats but cheaper, non-connected, devices that offer minimal advantages to the consumer.

BEIS has pledged to review Boiler Plus in April 2019, exactly one year after the policy was unveiled; its prime aim is to ensure that consumers are not adversely affected being by the confusion. From a manufacturer’s perspective, a one-year period where this uncertainty is allowed to continue is wholly unacceptable. It is entirely incompatible with the supply chain and the product development period required to bring appropriate products to market.

Boiler Plus was rushed through in a mere six-month period, when a standard phase-in phase-out period for products following new regulations is normally two to three years minimum. If next year’s policy review rightfully concludes that smart thermostats are indeed internet-connected, who will compensate the homeowners and suppliers who have already installed non-connected solutions that were wrongly marketed as Boiler Plus-compliant?

Since Boiler Plus was first launched, Salus has invested significantly in bringing its portfolio of connected smart thermostats fully in line with requirements, within the scope of the policy’s definition and within the spirit with which the legislation was intended: namely, to ensure products yield energy savings and flexible control.

There is no way of policing what additional energy efficiency measures homeowners are taking when installing a combi boiler – which is why many manufacturers continue to flout the law. However, it’s only a matter of time before it will show up on a survey when a property is being sold.

Our hope is that the review in April 2019 will correct the inaccuracies of Boiler Plus and that consumers are given the correct guidance to help them achieve the greatest comfort and energy savings in their home while fully meeting this key legislation.

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