Commercial sense

Commercial sense

Heat engineers with a current Gas Safe qualification can install boilers up to 70kW, so there is potential to tap into a whole new revenue stream in light commercial work to diversify their client base. Gavin Davies explains what’s in store for installers who think big.
Research suggests that the commercial sector contributes to 38% of the UK’s carbon emissions, so there is considerable appetite in non-domestic applications for high efficiency heating solutions. In recent years, this demand has been accelerated by rising energy prices – which are encouraging organisations to seek more affordable heating options – and legislation, such as the CRC Energy
Efficiency Scheme, which is forcing energy intensive businesses to assess their usage and pay for a carbon allowance based on their figures.
For installers looking to expand their business and diversify their revenue, light commercial work is a lucrative opportunity not to be missed. The term ‘light commercial’ covers a range of installations from retail outlets, leisure centres, offices, pubs and restaurants to medical centres, churches, schools and community centres. With such a vast array of applications under the light commercial umbrella, installers should have no problems in establishing a customer base in their area.
It is, of course, worth noting that if a client needs a boiler bigger than 70kW, a domestic installer will require additional training and an ACS qualification in non-domestic installations to ensure they are able to carry out the job safely. Bear this in mind before approaching new customers or advertising a light commercial service in order to not disappoint potential clients or get stuck with jobs you are unable to complete.
The step from domestic to light commercial heating is not as big as it sounds – in essence, the technologies are the same and both markets are driven by a common desire for improved energy efficiency and reduced fuel bills. Like the domestic sector, despite growing interest in renewables, relatively low-cost high efficiency commercial boilers are still the product of choice for heat and hot water – particularly when they are eligible for Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) under the Energy Technology List to make it more affordable.
As with domestic boilers, commercial heat and hot water appliances are most efficient when they closely meet the needs of the end user. This is where controls are important. Zone controls, for example, are ideal for commercial applications as they understand that different areas within a building do not always need to be heated in the same way; some areas may need less heating as they benefit from solar gain – e.g. a south-facing glass fronted shop – and other spaces may require more heating as they are naturally cooler, such as a community centre hall with high ceilings.
Some newer commercial boilers also come fitted with weather compensation controls as standard. This helps to maximise efficiencies as the boiler is able to regulate its output in line with the temperature outside. This is particularly important when unseasonal weather occurs. By using weather compensation, a commercial user will benefit from better fuel efficiency as the boiler will be fully condensing more often than not.
Unlike a domestic installation, one boiler does not always provide sufficient heat and hot water for a commercial user. This is when it may be appropriate to recommend multiple boilers working together to meet demand. By using a number of small commercial boilers in a cascade formation, rather than one larger output boiler, efficiencies can actually be improved and carbon emissions lowered.
There is also less wear and tear on boiler parts as cascaded appliances are not required to work flat out all the time, but instead can work in sequence and modulate down when demand is low. There are also advantages when it comes to maintenance and servicing because boilers can be taken off line to be checked while the remaining units take the load. This means that there is no disruption to the client or their activities.
The majority of commercial enquiries will be for new high efficiency boilers for the foreseeable future, but renewables are becoming a more popular choice. While low and carbon zero technologies are not suitable for every application, and the financial outlay and paybacks are much higher compared to a commercial boiler, there are Government initiatives – such as the Renewable Heat Incentive tariff – that will help drive demand.
Under the RHI, businesses, public sector and non-profit organisations can access funds to help meet the cost of installing renewable heat technologies such as biomass boilers, heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal systems. Installers may be familiar in part with the RHI scheme as the domestic element was recently launched.
The potential market for light commercial work is vast – whether traditional boiler installations or renewable solutions – and represents a great opportunity for installers who want to expand their business. By spreading their options across consumer and commercial interests, installers can better position themselves to capitalise on upturns in each respective sector and ride out the downturns.