Controlling energy

Controlling energy

The importance of controls is an area that is all too often ignored by homeowners. Darran Smith discusses the significant contribution that they can make to both saving energy and improving comfort levels.
It is often the case that only the most basic controls, such as a simple plug-in clock, are installed as part of a new boiler installation. While this is a cheap option and allows homeowners to set timings for turning their heating on and off, it doesn’t offer any more functionality. For example, many installers and customers are not seeing the bigger picture – basically that investing a little more in an intelligent control will not only save money in the long term but will also improve comfort levels.

This was investigated by TACMA where members of the association supplied a range of controls to a research project conducted by Salford University into home energy consumption.
Independent tests carried out in the University’s Energy House showed that energy consumption in a typical UK house can be reduced by up to 40% by installing a room thermostat and a full set of thermostatic radiator valves, which is far more than previously assumed, and payback is typically 9 to 18 months.
It is clear that installers and their customers should consider all the control types available because there could be a more suitable option for the users to program their heating systems, suiting their lifestyle and desired comfort level as well as controlling energy bills by optimising efficiency. Alpha offers a wide range of solutions for combination boilers, system boilers and open vent boilers, from the plug-in mechanical clock to versatile remote timers.
The Alpha Climatic RF, for example, is a multi-channel time and temperature programmer with an integrated thermostat and BUS system to transfer data between the boiler and control. This allows the measurement and maintenance of the temperature inside the building by modulating and limiting the boiler flow temperature. Through the use of a control such as this, end users could see additional savings of £50 per year over a normal programmable room thermostat.
Although the number of controls available in the market is vast, the stumbling block is often due to a lack of full understanding of these options and their benefits – not helped by often complicated and unfriendly instructions.  In many cases, this results in the simple plug-in mechanical clock being the preferred and most popular choice.
To help ensure that customers get the most out of their heating system for the long-term, installers need to give more consideration to this element of the installation. This is also a good opportunity to further enhance profit.
For this, it is important to firstly gain an understanding of the end-user’s lifestyle and what they have been using previously, if anything. Once this has been established, an installer – with the help of the relevant manufacturer if required – can carefully determine the best option for the individual project and that customer’s needs.
It is also important to remember that the installation of controls should not just be considered at the time of the boiler being installed, they can also be retro-fitted if there are no controls in place at all or the existing ones are out of date. Older products simply won’t be able to achieve the same energy efficiency and reliability as modern versions and with a number of wireless options available, retrofit has also never been so easy.
Once the best solution is installed, it is then about ensuring that the end user has a comprehensive understanding of how to use the controls to get the best use out of them.  The control is only as good as the user. As such, time should be spent to ensure not only that the installer understands the controls and how they work but also that they are able to relay this information to the users operating them.
With a thorough understanding, the entire heating system will not only ensure that the very best climate is created within the building but will also ensure the very best efficiency will be achieved.
It is good to see that energy efficiency continues to be at the forefront of the heating industry with innovations continually being introduced. However, smaller elements such as how the system will be controlled should not be forgotten; they really do make a big difference.
Installers need to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of all the options available including the benefits of the products and what systems they are best suited to.
In addition, an excellent understanding of how the controls actually work is key so this can then be clearly explained to the homeowner. This will perfectly position the installers to ensure that their customers are provided with the very best advice on what option will best suit their individual needs.