Friday, 24 February 2017

Is it a smart decision to upgrade our gas and electricity meter?

Smart meters aren’t compulsory and people can choose not to have one, but the government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland by 2020.

So, just what are smart meters?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters and are designed to put us in control of our energy use through the provision of near real time information showing how much energy we are using and how much it is costing us in pounds and pence.  This means we can be confident that we're only paying for what we have actually used and we'll always know what to expect in our next bill, so no more nasty surprises.




The move towards installing smart meters came from the European Union who asked all member governments to look at smart meters as part of measures to upgrade our energy supply and tackle climate change.  After an initial study, the British government decided to adopt smart meters as part of their plan to update our ageing energy system which hadn't kept up to speed with improvements across almost every other area of our lives. 

As part of a smart meter installation, each household will receive an in home display which will show:
  • How much energy we’re using in near real time for electricity and every half hour for gas
  • How much energy was used in the last hour, week, and month (and what it cost)
  • Whether our electricity use is high, medium or low



If you have a prepay meter, it will also show:
  • How much credit you have left
  • How much you have on your emergency credit balance
  • Your debt balance (if you have one)
  • If your credit’s getting low


So, should you upgrade?

Ultimately it is an individual decision, but if you are going to analyse the information and are able to make changes to your energy use then smart meters can save you money and reduce your household emissions. They remove the need for estimated billing so we will only be billed for the energy we actually use, which could help with our household budgeting. They also make it easier for us to switch energy supplier.  The only possible negative is around data privacy as energy suppliers will be able to access our energy consumption data.  We will have a choice about how our energy consumption data is used and we can opt-out of certain options such as using our data for marketing purposes, but we won’t be able to opt out of data sharing where it is required for billing and other regulated purposes.

There are no charges for installation or for the actual smart meter and in-home display. Under current arrangements we pay for the cost of our meter and its maintenance through our energy bills, and this will be the same for smart meters.

Ultimately the introduction of smart meters will enable a more efficient, greener, smarter energy system and lay the foundations for smart grids, which are a whole new way of running our energy networks. Smart grids are reportedly going to be much better at integrating green technologies, from electric cars to home rooftop solar panels and heat pumps. They will help us get the most from variable power sources like wind and solar.

Currently, nearly five million smart meters have been installed across Great Britain, but how soon you can get one depends on your energy supplier's plans. You should contact your energy supplier for more information on timeframes.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

You could beat rising gas and electricity prices by using renewable heat sources

Turning your home into a mini-power station using renewable heat technologies could help you cut bills and carbon emissions by generating a significant proportion of your heating and hot water needs yourself.  Plus it means you’re less dependent on sources of energy that are increasingly subject to global demand, so you're more protected from future price rises.



The government launched the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) to pay households to generate renewable heat through low or zero carbon microgeneration technology.   However, since its launch in 2013, payments have been reduced. You can find out more about the Renewable Heat Incentive here.

You can apply to get payments from your energy supplier if you generate your own electricity using renewable technologies such as solar panels. This is called a ‘feed-in tariff’.  You find out more about this at https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/fit

If you're considering installing a microgeneration technology in your home, it’s important to take a long-term view.

Let’s look at the three main renewable technology options available for your home – heat pumps, solar panels and biomass boilers.

 

Ground Source and Air Source Heat Pumps


A ground source heat pump system harnesses natural heat from underground by pumping water through it.   Ground source heat pump systems are made up of a network of water pipes buried underground (generally in a garden) and a heat pump at ground level.

An air source heat pump takes heat from the air and is usually placed outdoors at the side or back of a property. 

In both systems the heat pump increases the temperature, and the heat is used to provide home heating or hot water. They require electricity to work, but should cost less to run than a traditional heating system.

For more information read our guide on Understanding Heat Pumps.

Solar Panels


Solar panels harness the power of sunlight to provide heat and hot water. Solar thermal panels generate heat and solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity and any extra electricity that you generate but don't use will be sent to the National Grid, which you'll get paid for. You will need to consider whether your home is in the best position to harness the power of sunlight.

For more information read our guide on Solar Thermal Hot Water.

Wood-burning Stoves


Wood-burning stoves generate heat meaning that you won't have to turn on your central heating. You can use a stove to heat just one room, such as the room you use most. Alternatively, you can get one installed with a 'back boiler', which means the heat it creates will heat your whole home. If you source discarded wood and dry it out yourself, instead of buying logs especially for your stove, heating your home could cost nothing. But you'll need to be sure you can get a regular supply and that you have room to store wood.

For more information read our guide on Understanding Biomass Appliances.

Sourcing the right installer


You can use APHC’s search facility at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk to find a qualified installer who is registered under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which will allow you to claim the financial incentives from the Feed-in Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Friday, 3 February 2017

How to set your heating controls to keep you warm for less this winter

Your heating system may include a range of controls which can be used to help you run your heating system efficiently.  If your heating system doesn’t include any of these controls, you may be able to have them installed by a qualified heating engineer.

According to the Energy Savings Trust, heating your home and hot water accounts for around 60% of your total energy bill and installing heating controls could save you between £80 and £165 a year.

This blogpost details the main heating controls associated with a heating system and advises on how best to use them.

Programmer/Timer. You use this to manage when your heating and hot water turn on and off.  You should use the programmer to only heat your home and hot water when you need them.  Leaving your heating constantly on low will generally result in your home being heated when you are not there and being not warm enough when you are there.  Timing the heating and hot water to come on half an hour before entering your home or using the hot water should provide enough time to warm your home and water to a comfortable temperature.

Room Thermostat. This regulates the temperature of your home by turning off the boiler when the room where the thermostat is situated exceeds a set temperature.  This saves energy as the boiler won’t be working when your home is warm enough.  You should set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature (normally around 21 degrees Celsius) whatever the weather.

Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs).  These are fitted to the radiator and are used to control the temperature in individual rooms.  They allow you to control the temperature of a room by changing the flow of hot water to the radiator.  If you do not use a room where a TRV is fitted you can turn the radiator off or down which will help to reduce your heating bill.



Boiler Thermostat. This controls the temperature of the water which is sent through the radiators.  Generally, this should be set to a high level to ensure that you can effectively control the temperature of your home using a thermostat and TRVs.

Hot Water Thermostat. This controls the temperature of the hot water you receive from taps and shower heads.  If you have a hot water tank the thermostat will normally be located on it.  If you have a combi boiler, which heats water as you need it and therefore doesn’t require a water tank, the thermostat will look like a dial and be situated on the front of the boiler.  Please note, to prevent the build-up of legionella bacteria the hot water temperature should be set to a minimum of 60 Celsius.

You can use our search facility at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk to find a local qualified and reputable heating engineer able to advise and install heating controls. Our online database allows you to search via a number of criteria including postcode, town or by specific business name.

You can learn about Smart Heating Controls by reading our blogpost: How smart are Smart Heating Controls?

Friday, 27 January 2017

Guard against a boiler breakdown this winter

You may have read in the press this week that a boiler breakdown at Wellington Barracks, which accommodates up to 600 soldiers whilst on ceremonial guard duty at Buckingham Palace, has left the base without central heating and hot water.

The breakdown has coincided with freezing weather and was initially caused by a gas leak.  A MOD spokesperson said: “Alternative arrangements have been made for all personnel affected, including the provision of temporary heaters, and we are exploring the feasibility of installing a temporary shower facility.”

Being without heating and hot water in your home is a major inconvenience particularly during winter.




So what can you do to help safeguard against a boiler breakdown?


The most effective way to protect against a boiler breakdown is to have it regularly serviced by a qualified engineer. When a heating engineer visits, they will be able to make sure that your boiler is running at peak performance whilst ensuring that the boiler isn’t incurring unnecessary stresses and strains that could cause damage and result in a boiler breakdown. 

During the boiler service the heating engineer will also check to make sure that the seals, gaskets and heat exchanger aren’t showing any signs of wear and tear, which again if not checked, could result in a breakdown.

It is also important to note that in rare cases, a boiler fault could cause it to release poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) gasses, which cannot be detected through taste, scent or sight and pose a deadly risk to people living in the home.  A regular service in line with the boiler manufacturer’s guidelines will help ensure everything is in top running order.

Please note that to have a Solid Fuel or Oil burning boiler serviced you will need to ensure you use a heating engineer registered with a relevant competent person scheme. For Gas boilers the engineer will need to be registered with Gas Safe.

You can read more about protecting your plumbing system from winter weather in a previous blog post “Baby it's cold outside” here.

If you are unfortunate enough to experience a boiler breakdown you can source a fully qualified heating engineer, backed-up by the APHC Customer Charter, at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk

Friday, 20 January 2017

As we wrap up warm this winter why not do the same to your home?

According to the Energy Savings Trust, 40 per cent of us worry about keeping our home warm in the winter. 

As we are currently experiencing a ‘cold-snap’ in the weather I’m sure even more of us have considered what cost effective measures are available to make our home warmer.

There are many upgrades to your home that can help improve energy efficiency including upgrading your heating, installing smart controls and installing new windows and doors, but have you considered insulating your home? 

Insulation is designed to keep your home warm and protect your property from cold weather, and did you know that insulation can alleviate many causes of damp and mould.  Insulation can also reduce noise pollution, making the inside of your home much quieter.

New homes are typically built with excellent insulation and generally it is homes built before 1990 that can benefit from insulation.

Insulation is important because on a cold day, heat can escape from your home in all directions - up, down and sideways. This means that you should consider insulating the walls, roof and floor.

On average, walls will lose the most heat, around 30% and up to 40%. The roof will be next at around 25%.

What forms of insulation are available?


Cavity wall insulation

If your home was built after 1920, it’s likely to have cavity walls. Cavity walls are constructed from two walls with a gap between. This is the cavity and it’s this space that’ll be filled with insulation.
Solid wall insulation

Solid walls can lose twice as much heat as cavity walls. Insulation for solid walls can be fitted either internally or externally.  Insulating internally is usually cheaper, but it will reduce internal floor space.

Loft and roof insulation

Insulating your loft is perhaps the easiest of all the energy-saving home improvements and will involve laying insulation between and over the wooden joists immediately above the ceiling.  Insulating your loft will mean the loft will become colder, so insulating tanks and pipes may also be required.

Insulating the roof involves installing insulation in the plane of the roof pitch that is immediately below the sloping roof.  This form of insulation means that the loft becomes a heated space. So if you only use your loft to store items it may not be a worthwhile project.


Floor insulation

According to the Building Materials website, floor insulation can help save up to £75 per year on heating bills and there’s the potential to reduce this even more by plugging the gaps around skirting boards. Sealing any gaps between skirting boards and floorboards can done using a sealant available from DIY sores.

In most cases it is only the downstairs that will need insulating unless there is a room above a garage. In older homes, floorboards can be lifted and insulation placed underneath. In new homes where floors are usually made from concrete, rigid insulation will need to be laid on top.
Other considerations

Generally, insulation work does not require planning permission from your local council. The exceptions may include external wall insulation and in areas where there are conservation schemes, however Building Regulations may still apply.

Building Regulations provide standards on how energy efficient any alterations to your home need to be. This means that there is a minimum amount of insulation which needs to be installed.

If you are the owner of the building, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the work complies with Building Regulations. If you are employing a tradesperson, you should confirm at the start that they will take responsibility for compliance.

You can source a plumbing and heating contractor who is a member of APHC Certification’s Competent Person scheme and is able to self certify again specified scopes of work under Building Regulations at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

From a hook on the wall the bathroom evolved, but the bathroom is the room in the house that has the shortest history

Today most new build houses have a main bathroom in addition to an ‘en suite’ to the master bedroom plus a downstairs WC.  So it is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago most houses didn’t have a bathroom or even an indoor WC.  Instead there was a shed at the bottom of the yard, often shared by multiple households, with a toilet seat over a deep hole.  There was a hook on the wall where the tin bath hung with the bath only being used once a week, with the bath water being shared by the whole family.

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, steps were taken to mechanise the bathroom. As more homes were plumbed for hot water and gas heaters became widely available, the middle class started to experience bathing inside the home. But lower classes still living in dense tenement buildings still shared bathtubs and toilets.

Only in the nineteenth century, with the improvements to the water supply forced by the fear of cholera, and with the building of underground sewers, did the flushing toilet finally take its place in most homes. Working class houses with bathrooms were first built around 1900, and in the 1920’s council houses were built with bathrooms.  However, in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s there were still many houses with outside toilets some with occupants refusing the authority’s grant to install an inside WC as they considered an indoor facility to be unhygienic.

 
Today, the bathroom combines stylish luxury with functionality. The bathroom is a place to get ready in the mornings and relax in with a warm bath in the evenings. Technology including underfloor heating, steam-free mirrors, televisions, clever lighting, chrome radiators and digital showers are contributing to making the bathroom far more than what could have been envisaged by the Victorians.



If you are looking to have a new bathroom installation or require plumbing and heating work to be done in your home you can source a local qualified and reputable plumber or heating engineer via our search facility at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk. The online database allows you to search via a number of criteria including postcode, town or by specific business name.
 
Fascinating Bathroom Facts
  • The use of baths date back as far as 3000 B.C, but they were used for religious rather than hygiene purposes. 
  • The flush toilet was invented in 1596, but didn’t become widespread until 1851, and in 1767
  • Englishman William Feetham invented the first modern shower.
  • It is rumored that toilet paper was first invented by the Chinese in the 6th century.
  • On average people visit the bathroom between six and eight times every day.
  • 7 million phones are broken every year as they fall into the toilet bowl.
  • George II and Elvis Presley both died on the toilet.
  • 85% of injuries that happen in the bathroom occur when someone falls into the toilet after the seat has been left up.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Make your New Year’s resolution to have all of your fuel burning appliances serviced

Think back to September to the time when you turned your heating on for the first time in a long while, you probably made a mental note to have your boiler, burner or stove serviced.  I’m sure quite a number of you reading this blog post had the good intention but never actually carried the intention through.

Although the cold winter weather is truly upon us, the good news is that it is not too late to get all of your fuel burning appliances serviced.  And if you burn solid fuel, don’t forget to get the chimneys swept too.

It is important to have your fuel burning appliances serviced to not only ensure that they are running cost efficiently, but to also rectify any problems which could be causing the appliances to be malfunctioning.  A malfunctioning gas, oil or solid fuel appliance can create extra problems over and above having a cold home.  There is the potential for pipes to become frozen and burst and of course the serious health problems and life threating implications associated with carbon monoxide leaks.

As a minimum, all fuel burning appliances require annual servicing and maintenance, however this is dependent on the manufacturer’s service and maintenance instructions, which should be adhered to in all circumstances.

 

The range of fuel burning appliances which you need to consider having regular servicing and checks include, Central Heating Boilers, Open Fires, Stoves, Room Heaters, Range Cookers, Instantaneous Water Heaters, along with, Micro Combined Heat and Power Units. Non-fuel burning appliances to also consider include, Air or Ground Source Heat Pumps and Solar Thermal Panels.

The Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps recommends that all non-gas appliances with a conventional flue be swept regularly to stop any problems or blockages occurring. Recommended sweeping frequencies include:
  • Smokeless coals - At least once a year
  • Wood - Up to four times a year
  • Bitumous coal - Twice a year
  • Oil burning - Once a year

Whilst you are thinking about having your fuel burning appliances serviced don’t forget to check your carbon monoxide alarm, and if you have a battery operated alarm, change the batteries.  If you don’t have a carbon monoxide alarm, then add buying one to your New Year’s resolution list.  Read this blog post on choosing the right carbon monoxide alarm.

Finally, only a competent and qualified engineer should service and maintain your fuel burning appliances. Check the engineer’s qualifications to ensure they are competent for the fuel and appliance they are servicing.

How to find a quality plumber


You can use APHC's Find a Quality Plumber search facility at www.FindAQualityPlumber.co.uk to find a qualified and reliable plumbing and heating engineer local to you.