New regulations have just come into force for home heating systems, including the ubiquitous boiler. These systems will have to meet news standards and display their energy efficiency on a label. Our compliance expert Stewart Muir talks about what the new rules mean for homeowners, ‘sexy legislation’, and his inefficient mates.
What’s new about the regulations?
SM: Boilers will now have to display the energy label that we’re used to seeing on things like appliances and TVs. There are new minimum efficiency standards, and the regulations cover a range of different domestic heating system types. Products will now have to meet these regulations to be sold legally in the UK and EU. Though people are now quite familiar with product standards and labelling, in this area it’s quite a new development.
The new label and regulations mean the potential to improve heating efficiency and a person’s engagement with their system is now far greater.
How important is the labelling aspect of the directive?
SM: It’s really important because the energy label is widely recognised and accepted. It encourages healthy competition in the industry, and helps people compare products more easily. It’s always good to know what’s on the market and what can be done to push for the highest levels of efficiency.
Compliance with efficiency rules was recently in the news for the wrong reasons. What’s being done to ensure manufacturers comply with the Eco design Directive?
SM: Making sure companies comply with regulations is something being looked at closely, most definitely. The National Measurement and Regulation Office in the UK monitor products against their energy label claims, and EST has also been involved in this area of compliance through projects like MarketWatch.
It’s not always easy for regulators though, given the cost of testing and the sheer number of products on the market, which is why insisting on a strong culture of compliance from industry is essential. Boilers should generally be a safe bet since they’ve always needed third-party testing through the Seasonal Efficiency of Domestic Boilers in the UK (SEDBUK) list, which feeds into the SAP rating system. We’re also updating our boiler standard for the EST Endorsed product scheme in light of the new regulations so we’ll be taking a look at test reports ourselves as part of this.
If someone is thinking of getting a new boiler, what help can they expect?
SM: There’s a lot more information on offer that should feel more accessible to consumers. The regulations specify that installers need to provide a section of the new label for the user when fitting the system – this should lead to a better dialogue with installers and understanding of the full system. Boiler efficiency has improved a lot over the last 15 years, but the label enables this to be taken further in engaging the user on what extra additions could be made. These might be, for example, heating controls or solar thermal technology that could increase the system efficiency even further.
Isn’t this just unnecessary meddling?
SM: Energy labelling and Eco design is broadly welcomed these days, and I don’t think many people think setting limits for things like standby power consumption is a bad idea. It’s certainly not ‘sexy regulation’ but it is useful. It means consumers don’t have to think about certain aspects of product energy performance that are a no-brainer for saving energy and money. This ethos translates well to boilers – as a consumer, it’s important to have the assurance that your system is subject to a minimum level of efficiency. I’m not sure there is any negative side to that!
What else can be done to improve the energy efficiency of home heating?
SM: Mastery of your home heating system and making this simple is massively important, as is maintenance and knowing when it’s beneficial to upgrade. I have a mate who has lived in his home for 15 years with a very old boiler and complains about his consistently massive heating bills, but taking action to improve a heating system can be seen as a big, daunting step. There are a real mix of heating systems that people either buy or inherit when they move into to a new home, and householders need to be informed when it comes to upgrading. The more information available, the better.
It also needs to be easy for landlords to make energy efficient choices to help those in the rented sector who may not have a choice in their heating system. Many landlords just don’t quite get around to improving their tenant’s heating systems, when it’s sometimes beneficial all round. More accessible information on boilers should help trigger more action on this.
What’s next for the heating industry?
SM: EST will be endorsing boilers against our new standard straightaway and making sure this section of the website contains useful information for anyone thinking of upgrading. Legislation-wise, there will be future new minimum limits coming in on hot-water heating efficiency and NOx emissions.
What developments can we expect down the line in Eco design/Energy Labelling more generally?
SM: The EU Commission has proposed that the energy label will be going back to the basic A-G scale. It’s a big decision that requires consideration but developments for some products have seen a large section of the market now in higher categories for energy efficiency - if everything eventually is A++, it could be confusing for consumers
In terms of other products beyond boilers, the last year has seen new minimum limits on energy consumption for coffee machines, standby for products that are network-connected and new labelling for cookers. New requirements also came in for online retailers from January meaning they must display the label in listings for certain products which should lower their workload on this and make information more consistent for consumers. There’s a review of TV regulations ongoing, with a move towards more harmonisation of test methods; we’ve contributed to this as part of the ComplianTV project.
Stewart Muir is the Assistant Certification Manager at the Energy Saving Trust.