BEAMA calls for higher heating control standards in the 2016 building regulations

02 Jul 2015

The removal of the requirement in Part L of the building regulations that thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) should be installed when boilers are replaced represents a huge missed opportunity to ensure that one of the most effective energy saving measures is installed in UK homes. The next version of Part L is due in 2016 and so, a decade later, it is time to reverse this error and make sure that all upgraded heating systems will deliver comfortable homes with low energy bills.

It is now firmly ingrained that we need to reduce our energy use. Climate change is taken seriously enough by our Government for the UK to take on a legal requirement to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and on a more prosaic level the UK currently needs nearly half of its energy demand to be met by imports; most of which comes from increasingly unstable parts of the world. At the same time, individual households are worried about their escalating energy bills with recent research showing nearly a quarter of families having to choose between heating and eating.    

Quite rightly, there was a Parliamentary event last year to celebrate the success of the 10 year anniversary of the introduction of the requirement in building regulations that all boilers installed should be efficient condensing boilers. This celebrated one of the occasions when policy makers have recognised just how significant the central heating system is to the energy efficiency of a home and taken positive steps to ensure that the right decisions are made so that the energy use of the system is reduced.

It’s ironic then, that over the same timeframe Government has quietly dropped a requirement in the building regulations that individual room temperature controls, such as TRVs, should be installed for new systems or when the boiler is replaced. This was a requirement up until the 2006 revision to the regulations when it simply became noted as something that it would be ‘good practice’ to do.

So why was this changed? The reason given is that TRVs are seen as a system control rather than a control of the boiler and, in a situation where only the boiler is being changed, the primary legislation prohibits the introduction of requirements for elements that aren’t being changed. Of course this makes a jump of logic that the boiler and the heating system it powers are somehow separate, but it is clear that proof of this will be needed if anything is to change.

Anecdotally we know that many installers continued to install TRVs after the regulation changed as they firmly believe that this is the best way to deliver an effective heating system to their customers. But over the course of time, and particularly with the difficult economic circumstances of the last few years, there have been increasing numbers of installers realising that they are being undercut by others who are quoting for systems which meet the minimum requirements and no more. The obvious reaction in such circumstances is to make sure you get the job by following suit and this means that less homes are having TRVs installed than there were, even where the installer recognises that this may not be the best approach.

One of the reasons why this is such an obvious missed opportunity is that the system has to be drained down when the boiler is replaced and hence TRVs can be installed at a much lower cost than if done as a separate measure. In addition, the absence of TRVs will lead to overheating, particularly in bedrooms and spare rooms, and a subsequent unnecessary wastage of energy. This measure could be readily undertaken by the heating installer as part of the boiler replacement work for little additional cost. Tests undertaken for BEAMA at the University of Salford showed a huge difference in energy costs for a well-controlled system, with the addition of a room thermostat and TRVs meaning that a conventional heating system had 40% lower running costs – around three quarters of which was down to the TRVs.

It also seems increasingly incongruous that this element of the heating system should be excluded from the regulations. Underfloor heating systems are already required to have individual room temperature control, as are new radiator systems. In addition the aforementioned move to condensing boilers means that the appliance installed will be of a high efficient type, so why allow it to be installed in a sub-optimal system where the running costs of that boiler will actually be higher than they need to be?

We recognise that Government need evidence to change the regulations and BEAMA are looking at commissioning further tests at Salford University to quantify the direct efficiency improvement when a boiler is installed in a system with TRVs. This should overcome the rationale for not making them a requirement. But ultimately this change will need a political commitment to introduce a requirement that is in the best long term interests of householders, and will be a valuable tool for any Government that wants to tackle the problems of climate change, energy security and fuel poverty.

For further information contact Les Woolner; les.woolner@beama.org.uk