Friday, 19 August 2016

Solar thermal hot water systems

When it comes to heating water for use around the home, most properties rely on a boiler to heat water as needed, or use a hot water cylinder. Alternatively, water can be heated using electricity, for example, in an electric shower or emersion heater. One type of system you may not know as much about is solar water heating systems, which use the energy from the sun to heat hot water in a hot water cylinder.

Using solar energy from the sun to "pre heat" stored water has several benefits, helping us to use less gas, oil and electricity, saving us money and reducing the amount of carbon we produce. In the UK, a solar thermal hot water system will work all year round, although the clear, sunny days we (normally!) enjoy in summer are likely to result in more heat generated during these months and enough hot water produced to meet demand without further topping up. Where there hasn't been quite enough solar energy produced to heat water fully, especially in the autumn and winter months, a boiler or electric emersion heater can often be used to heat stored water further ready for use.

The solar thermal system

Solar thermal systems use solar panels, also called "collectors", which are mounted on the roof of a property and "collect" heat energy from the sun. These systems generally use two types of collector, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. While flat plate collectors are around 30% efficient, evacuated tube collectors are around 40-60% efficient but can be more expensive to install.

How do solar heating systems work?

The solar panels, or "collectors" in solar thermal heating systems house a network of tubes containing a mixture of glycol and water which absorbs the heat from the sun, warming the fluid up. The fluid is then sent through a coil in a hot water cylinder, warming its contents ready for you to use in a similar way as a boiler would warm up water in a cylinder. The temperature of hot water in the cylinder can be topped up from the boiler or using an electric emersion heater.

The two main configurations of systems within the UK are the drainback system and the fully filled system:

  • Drainback system - This system pumps heat transfer fluid from a reservoir through the solar collector and then through a coil in the cylinder. Once the fluid stops pumping around the system, water from the solar collector drains back down into the reservoir, leaving the solar collector empty of fluid.
  • Fully filled system - This system simply gets filled with heat transfer fluid at the testing and commissioning stage, then remains fully filled for the duration of operation or routine servicing.
Costs, savings and earnings

On average, a Solar Thermal Hot Water System costs around £3000 - 5000, but this will change significantly depending on the type of property, existing system installed and your property's heating demands. Most systems will generate moderate savings of £60-120 a year, however, the total savings to be made will depend on the type of fuel used previously to heat hot water.


One of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to install a solar thermal system is whether there is suitable space on your roof for a solar collector. Collectors should ideally be positioned on a roof that faces east to west and gets a lot of sun all day. An alternative to mounting a solar collector on the roof is to fit them to a frame and have them fixed to a south-facing wall.

It's also necessary to think about whether your existing plumbing system is compatible with a solar thermal hot water system, and whether there's room in your home for an increased size cylinder. In addition, your boiler will have to be checked to see if it's compatible with the system, for example, combination boilers do not provide hot water to a cylinder and so cannot be used.

If you decide a solar thermal heating system is right for you, find a quality installer in your local area by searching on our website at

Friday, 12 August 2016

Understanding heat pumps

Looking for an efficient way of providing heat and energy to your home? If so, it's worth considering heat pumps, which have become increasingly popular with the introduction of the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) - a scheme designed to financially reward those who use renewable energy to heat their buildings in England, Scotland and Wales. With tariff payments available to those using certain technologies to heat their homes, the overall aim of the RHI scheme is to help the UK achieve its aim of producing 12% of its heat from renewable sources by 2020.

Read our handy APHCOnTap guide to find out everything you need to know about heat pumps and whether they're right for you.

What are heat pumps?

To find an example of a heat pump working, look no further than your household fridge or freezer! In both appliances, the main compartment is kept cold using refrigerant gases, which extract heat energy from the food compartment before releasing it back into the atmosphere via pipework and grills at the back of the appliance. In the same way as fridges and freezers, heat pumps use refrigeration gases to extract heat energy from cool sources such as the ground, outside air or even water.

In the UK, the main types of domestic heat pumps are ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps, although water source heat pumps are now entering the market.

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps work by tapping into heat energy absorbed by the earth from the sun all year round. While the surface of the earth is susceptible to heat losses due to the weather, for example, rainfall, the temperature becomes more stable the deeper we dig, at around 8-10 degrees Celsius.

The heat collector element of a heat pump can be in one of the below forms, which must all be accurately sized for the heat pump being installed:

  • Horizontal collectors - These are used when there is a lot of land, with the pipe generally laid out in long straight runs.
  • Vertical collectors - These are now the preferred choice as they are more efficient, and run inside a bore hole of 75 - 100m deep.
  • Slinky collectors - These are used instead of horizontal collectors when space is limited, taking up to a third less space. The size of the loop or collector must be accurately sized, done as part of the overall design.
Air source heat pumps

This type of heat pump uses outside air to absorb heat and transfer it to the building. One big advantage over ground source heat pumps is their lower installation cost due to air source heat pumps not needing ground loops and trenches or bore holes.

There are some considerable advantages to installing air source heat pumps, which can save you a large amount of money and reduce the overall emissions produced and released into the atmosphere by a boiler. However, before planning to have one installed it's important to consider the following factors:

1. Availability of outside room/space - Ground source heat pumps using pipework laid in the ground will require a considerable amount of space to be effective. Consider whether drilling a bore hole is possible, however, you may only be able to decide this after a survey has been conducted. An air source heat pump will have to be mounted on a wall or be free standing on the ground, with sufficient clean air around it.

2. It's important to make sure your property is well insulated before fitting any renewable technology for heating your home. This will include installing cavity wall insulation and double or triple glazing windows and doors along with draft excluders.

3. The heating system you want to use and the fuel currently available will have a bearing on the effectiveness and suitability of a heat pump. For example, heat pumps work extremely well and save more money when replacing a solid fuel boiler in a property with underfloor heating. It therefore may not actually be advantageous to install one if you already have a highly efficient mains gas boiler with a traditional wet central heating system. A qualified installer will be able to advise you after conducting a survey.

Heat pumps are a very efficient way to heat a home, however, while they could save you money on heating and hot water running costs they should not be considered a straight alternative to a boiler. Careful design and survey work should be undertaken to decide if a heat pump is the right piece of equipment to install in your home. Find a Quality Plumber in your local area on our website at

Friday, 5 August 2016

Biomass appliances and you

Biomass appliances are becoming more popular as a fuel-burning heating appliance that is both efficient and environmentally friendly, but what exactly is biomass and what are the pros and cons of using it compared to options such as gas or oil appliances?

Biomass is a solid fuel which is derived from recently living organisms such as plants or trees and can be used within our homes.

The difference between biomass and fossil fuels

The most important characteristic of biomass is that it is carbon neutral - a state which can only be achieved if the wood or fuel crop is managed on a sustainable basis. In this way, the biomass fuel is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop with new growth absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by the combustion of the previous harvest. This maintains a closed - carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Types of biomass appliances

Originally, the majority of biomass appliances were stoves or room heaters or boilers, with domestic biomass heaters ranging greatly in specification and cost. The most commonly installed type was a small wood burning stove with a small back boiler. While there are some biomass boilers on the market, these are less common. However, with the introduction of Renewable Heat Incentive for domestic appliances, boilers replacing traditional gas or oil fired central heating boilers more and more common.

Does it pay to go biomass?

While it does cost more on average to install a biomass appliance than a fossil fuel based alternative, the difference in installation price can be made up from future cost savings in fuel.

Advantages of biomass
  • Biomass is a sustainable fuel source if managed correctly i.e. trees need to be planted to replace those used.
  • Virtually carbon neutral, although there is a carbon cost involved in cutting down the trees, transporting wood and processing it into logs/chips/pellets.
  • Biomass fuels are less susceptible to price increases than traditional fuels such as oil and gas.
  • Will produce very little smoke if maintained and run well.
  • If you replace your coal/electric heating system with biomass you can reduce carbon dioxide by about 9.5 tonnes per annum.
  • Highly efficient
Disadvantages of biomass
  • Biomass boilers are normally larger than a gas/oil boiler.
  • Some stove systems require an additional heat leak radiator to 'bleed off' excess heat when you have no demand for it.
  • Only a small number of biomass systems can be used in smokeless zones - if you live in such an area you will have to do careful research into the various manufacturers to ensure their system is suitable. You will also have to use a good quality fuel with very low levels of contaminants such as bark, grit etc.
  • Biomass fuel costs are currently similar to mains natural gas, however, gas is likely to become more expensive in the long term, making biomass more attractive.
  • Initial costs can be very high compared with traditional gas or oil installations.
  • Biomass systems require a lot of space to store the fuel e.g. hopper/wood store and fuel needs to be kept dry to burn cleanly and efficiently.
  • More labour intensive than traditional gas or oil installations as you need to keep the hopper full, plus greater cleaning and maintenance required.
  • You will need a reliable supply of fuel as all various types of biomass fuel are not always readily available. The further they have to be transported the greater the carbon footprint and the greater the cost.
Although biomass boilers do reduce the carbon footprint of domestic heating systems, they are certainly not the perfect solution for everyone. As they become more popular, fuel costs may increase and in the long term, the UK may not physically be able to produce enough timber/biomass crops to fuel them if we all installed biomass systems. To find a local professional who specialises in biomass, search on the APHC website at

Friday, 29 July 2016

Corrosion in Central Heating Systems

Because you can't see it, you may not even be aware that the inside of your central heating system can be prone to corrosion. However, ensuring you have a good understanding of and take sufficient steps to prevent this issue will help to guard against serious damage to equipment in your system as well as protecting your property from potentially expensive and bothersome leaks.

What is corrosion in central heating systems?

When it comes to your central heating system, you may think that it's simply a case of installing and commissioning, however, as the water in your system reacts with the steel in your radiators, corrosion occurs - something which can cause serious damage if steps are not taken to prevent it. In a newly installed central heating system, your plumber can reduce the rate of corrosion by flushing out the system, removing any debris or substances which are likely to increase the risk or rate of corrosion.

What are the symptoms of corrosion?

Probably the most common symptom of corrosion is sludge, a black mud-like deposit resulting from the reaction between the water in your system and the steel in your radiators. Over time, sludge can build up in an untreated central heating system and cause:
  • Damage to the boiler
  • Damage to radiators by causing pinholing and leaks
  • Damage to the pump
  • Damage to the thermostatic radiator valves
  • Blocked pipework
  • Blocked and damaged hot water heat exchanger on a combination boiler
If a system has been well designed and installed by a professional plumber and flushed out correctly as part of the commissioning process, the water in the system will stay clean provided a corrosion inhibitor was added after the flush and that no maintenance or leaks have been carried out on the system.

If the system has been drained for any maintenance and repair and a corrosion inhibitor was not added when refilling the system, it can again be liable to corrosion.

How to protect your central heating

The best way to protect your central heating system is by using a chemical treatment and/or a physical filtration system using a magnetic filter, as described below:

Chemical treatment - This works by interfering with the process that forms the magnetite in the first place through stabilising the water. It should be noted that chemical treatments are not a complete cure and only slow down the magnetite formation. Chemicals do break down over time, so it's important to add them to central heating circuits on a regular basis.

Magnetic filter - Magnetic filters work by using the magnetic properties of the iron oxide to "capture" the crystals as they form. The filter is placed in the central heating system and water is allowed to flow through the filter constantly, meaning that any crystals in the water are collected slowly by the filter.

Getting your central heating system regularly checked to ensure the correct level of corrosion inhibitor is used will help to prolong the life of your system and its components. An APHC registered plumbing and heating engineer will be able to check the level of system corrosion inhibitor active in your home's system and recommend topping out or undertaking further work to reduce corrosion if required. Search for a quality installer in your local area at

Friday, 22 July 2016

Dealing with a gas leak

If you've read last week's blog post you'll know what to do in the event of a leaking tap or burst pipe, but would you be as confident if you discovered a gas leak? Natural gas, which is both explosive and highly flammable is the most dangerous substance piped into your home, therefore it's essential to be aware of what steps to take should you come across a potentially fatal leak.

Like water, natural gas is piped from the mains into your home however the pipes used for this process are made from different materials - mild steel, low carbon steel or newer yellow polyethylene plastic. Just as every household plumbing system has a stoptap, allowing the flow of water around the home to be shut off, every gas meter has an emergency control valve which allows your gas supply to be turned off in the event of a leak.

How to prepare for a gas emergency

Ensure you're prepared for a potential gas emergency by locating your gas meter and its emergency control valve and by learning how to turn off the gas supply. The below pictures show the correct method of operation for your gas meter's emergency control valve:

What to do if there is a gas leak

If you suspect there has been a gas leak in your home, you should take the following steps:
  • Turn gas off at the meter using the emergency control valve unless the meter is located in the cellar/basement.
  • Open doors and windows and ventilate the area as much as possible.
  • Do not smoke or use naked flames.
  • Do not operate any electrical switches or appliances (turning them on/off can cause a spark).
  • For properties with natural gas, call emergency services and report the leak on 0800 111 999 (24 hours per day).
For properties with LPG, call the supplier emergency number, provided by the supplier.

Where gas is concerned, it's always better to be safe than sorry so if you're unsure, treat is as a gas leak. Find a quality Gas Installer in your local area on our website at

Friday, 15 July 2016

Dealing with plumbing emergencies

Many of us tend to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to anything technical around the house, but when it comes to your household plumbing system, knowing what to do in the event of an emergency can prevent severe damage occurring to your property or even save a life. Luckily we've made the task a little easier with our easily guide to dealing with plumbing emergencies.

Major leaks and floods

The first step to take in the event of a flood is to turn off the water supply to your property using the stoptap. Every property has two of these, the first of which is located within the property and the second of which is the water company boundary stop tap. The main stop tap is usually located in the kitchen but can be anywhere on the ground floor or the entry floor to a flat. As they are sometimes boxed in or hidden in cupboards, stop taps can be hard to find. Controlling the supply of water to the whole home, this tap will stop all water when turned off.

Boundary stop taps are usually located at the boundary of a property by the water company, and cut off the entire supply of water to the property including the outside pipes. Some older taps can turn water off in up to 4 properties at once, so be sure to inform the neighbours before turning this off!

Isolation valves

If you experience a small leak within your property e.g. in sanitary ware or kitchen appliances, these can be controlled using isolation valves. Small in line valves installed next to the appliance or ware can quickly stop a problem without stopping the entire water supply.

Hot water systems

If you experience a leak in your hot water system you need to stop hot water entering the system. If you have a hot water cylinder you need to find the gate valve (usually in your airing cupboard). Turn this off and turn on any hot taps to empty the cylinder of all water. If you have a combi boiler the valve will be located under the boiler and will be a lever operated isolation valve.

How do I prepare for a water emergency?

To ensure you're ready in case of a water emergency, look in your home for valves and taps to see which ones turn off which appliance. It's important to know the location and way to stop water to the following:

  • Whole house (main stop tap)
  • Toilets(s)
  • Basin(s)
  • Washing machine
  • Dishwasher
  • Cold water storage tanks(s)
  • Hot water system
  • The whole property (boundary stop tap)
What to do if you have a water leak

If you find a water leak, the first thing you should do is to turn off water to the whole house at the mains stop tap. Next, open the cold tap to drain water from the pipes and stop water leaking further and if the leak is from an appliance, find the isolation valve to turn its water supply off. If water is collecting in the ceiling and dripping through, puncture the ceiling with a small screwdriver or hand drill and catch the water in a bucket. This will reduce the risk of the ceiling collapsing and causing even more damage to the property.

To find a local quality plumber to come to your aid in the event of a plumbing emergency, search via our website at

Friday, 8 July 2016

Date for your diary: Quality Plumber Week 2016

With our increasingly busy lifestyles, it can be all too easy to take for granted the safe clean water and instant heat that are delivered to our homes and workplaces each day. However, it's often during the autumn when our thoughts turn to switching the heating on that we really appreciate the services of the UK's skilled plumbing and heating engineers.

Now in it's third year and organised by the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC), Quality Plumber Week (3rd - 9th October) will be building on the success of previous years to shine a spotlight on the vital role plumbers play in our communities. As well as coming to the rescue when we have a burst pipe or broken boiler, plumbers also provide consumers with the latest advice on heating technologies, energy saving tips and water safety.

A key aim of the week, which coincides with the busiest time of the year for plumbers, is to promote the importance of using a quality installer in order to reduce numbers of rogue traders operating in the industry. In order to reduce the number of homeowners who become the victim of "botch jobs", members of the public are being encouraged to ensure their installers have professional qualifications and accreditation to a professional body such as APHC.

Another focus of Quality Plumber Week 2016 is encouraging more school leavers to consider undertaking a plumbing apprenticeship as a route into a respected profession and an alternative to university. Recent research from APHC shows that attitudes towards apprenticeships appear to have shifted in recent years - 86% of people polled agree that school leavers should be encouraged to consider an apprenticeship rather than being pushed into the Higher Education route, with only 2% disagreeing.

Finally, the campaign will be highlighting ongoing work within the industry to improve procedures around the enforcement of Building Regulations, to protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for the UK's truly professional tradesmen.

To raise awareness of the week, APHC will be running competitions in the Sun Online and Your Home magazine, so look out for the opportunity to win a weekend break in Bath - linked to history's first master plumbers - the Romans!

Keep an eye on the blog for further #QPW16 updates or to find a Quality Plumber in your area today, simply search on the APHC website at