Winter warmers

News reports claim we could be in for a tough winter, which could mean good news for the shrewd business that is prepped and ready for action when customers call. Mark Krull offers a winter ‘tick-list’ for the professional installer.
Planning and preparation prevent poor performance – so goes the winter motto for heating engineers. No matter how often you remind your customer base, it’s a sure bet that they’ll leave their annual boiler service and the worries of freezing pipes to the last minute. So the key to successful business this winter is staying ahead of the game, ensuring you’re poised for action and up-to-date with the latest industry legislation. This advice will stand you in good stead, enabling you to advise your customers on energy and money-saving measures, helping to secure more return work.
Green means go
The first important step this winter is to ensure your customers are aware of the new Government flagship initiative – the Green Deal. A good place to start is the builders’ merchants that have become Green Deal providers, such as Wolseley and Travis Perkins. This scheme is designed to help businesses and homeowners to install green technologies and even condensing boilers in their properties, with no up-front costs. Like most new legislation to come to this industry, it has largely been left to the installer to impart the benefits and possibilities of this scheme. Do this correctly, and you can diversify your business and tap into a greener, potentially lucrative market.
If you have taken the appropriate steps to become a Green Deal installer, your customers can rest assured that you are trained to a specific level and are industry-certified (this is still in the pilot phase). It’s not too late to become a Green Deal installer but you do need to ensure that you meet the PAS2030: 2030 standard.
Installers must apply to a certification body, who will assess against Green Deal requirements. Successful businesses will then be assessed and inspected periodically. If you’re Gas Safe registered or compliant under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), you may already meet some of the standards criteria. All businesses must however meet the Green Deal Code of Practice,.
Top tips for cutting costs
These tips to lowering energy bills will go a long way to impressing your customers, especially at a time when we are all very aware of cutting costs. Top of the energy-saving winter warmers is ensuring your customer’s heating system is operating to the highest efficiency:

  • • Bleeding radiators – Do they have a sealed system, and does the air released need to be replaced with water using the filling loop? Do the radiators need attention regularly? If so, you’ll need to explain that there’s probably a water leak that needs further investigation.
  • Thermostat savvy? Most customers aren’t, so it’s worth taking the time to explain how to ensure optimum efficiency is achieved at all times. A huge misconception among homeowners is that turning the heating off at night will cost them less. However, simply turning the temperature down by one degree and keeping the heating ticking over all night could result in savings on heating bills of as much as 8%.
  • Chilly homes will also benefit from draught-proofing measures. Perhaps occupants are eligible for financial assistance with insulation through the various Government schemes across the country. As a Green Deal Installer, this could be a job you’re qualified for – more welcome business, and an extra bow to your string! Figures reveal that a massive 35% of heat is lost through walls and up to 25% through the roof, so homeowners would be wise to consider this.
  • Some older heating systems do not have Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs). This would be a wise upgrade for homeowners, incurring minimal cost.

Safe and not sorry
The best advice you can impart to your customers is to have their gas appliances serviced every year – not only to ensure they are not left cold when their boiler gives up, but also to help prevent the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
For a small price, homeowners can fit a monitor to detect the presence of carbon monoxide, but what’s more important is ensuring that any work that they have carried out throughout the home should be done by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Make sure you show your Gas Safe Register card and include the gas safety leaflets produced by the Gas Safe Register with every quote.
Frozen pipe-mares
The plumber and heating engineer’s predictable winter nightmares are frozen condensate pipes – ever more apparent with the hard winters the UK is experiencing. This is bad news for boilers that can break down as a result, particularly when the condensate pipe is located externally.
The Heating and Hot Water Industry Council (HHIC) has guidelines for the routing of condensate drainage pipework as follows:
‘Wherever possible, the condensate drainage pipe should be terminated at a suitable internal foul water discharge point – such as a soil and vent stack, kitchen or bathroom waste pipe, washing machine waste pipe, etc – and the condensate must drain away from the boiler under gravity.
‘Where internal termination under gravity flow is not possible, the installer must ensure that the customer is made aware of the risks of external pipes freezing. If this is the case, the following options should be given:

  • If very long runs of drainage pipe are required, or where the only internal discharge point is above the appliance location, one option is to remove the condensate using a proprietary condensate pump. This will allow the condensate drain to be terminated internally at a suitable foul water discharge point.
  • Where an external pipe run is the only practicable option, refer to British Standard BS 6978:2009 and the boiler manufacturer’s instructions. The external run should be short and as near vertical as possible, terminating at a suitable foul water discharge point or purpose-designed soak-away. The customer should be made aware that these measures alone may not completely prevent freezing.
  • The use of a proprietary trace heating kit should be considered. This will provide heat to the external pipe run, but only when the boiler is running and the outside temperature falls below a prescribed limit.’

Warn your customers that if freezing does occur, that they need to call you as soon as possible. Simple make-do measures you can advise to alleviate the problem are using a hot water bottle or heat wrap to hold round the pipe until thawed. To prevent the problem in the first place, suggest insulating pipes with waterproof, UV proof, external grade lagging.
Sound training and advice
Offer your advice to customers on the above issues and pitch yourself as the professional who is ahead of the game, as well as a savvy business person. To keep up-to-date with your knowledge and skills, Logic4training provides Gas ACS training and assessment as well as other building services courses for electricians, plumbers and air conditioning engineers, plus general safety and Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) recognised renewables training.