Sorry about the length of this article, but there's quite a few interesting points here. Particularly the part where a plumbing firms says "that the greenhouse gas emissions from its vans were probably greater than the savings made by the shift to eco-conscious boilers".
And the last paragraph stating from next year we'll all have to keep a log book for our boilers.
The new boiler that's causing a heated row
From yesterday, new rules mean that if your old gas boiler needs replacing you must install the modern condenser style. The government insists the move is environmentally-friendly, but some homeowners are unhappy with this. Phillip Inman reports
Saturday April 2, 2005
It's the government's latest plan to save the environment. From this weekend, every household in the country will have to switch over to a new-style "condensing" gas boiler when the old one needs replacing. The move is part of an environmental masterplan developed by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), which has rewritten the building regulations to force all homes to become more energy efficient.
Condensing boilers are much more energy efficient than older traditional models, says deputy prime minister John Prescott, and will cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. It will all help to meet our Kyoto targets and ease global warming. He points out that more than 80% of boilers in Holland and 50% in Germany are this condensing type.
Mr Prescott thinks the technology is now proven and has decided to go further than his European counterparts, requiring British households to buy A (90% or above efficient) or B (86%-90% efficient) rated condensing boilers.
It is a huge undertaking that is designed to switch the 1.4m boilers installed each year in the UK to greener versions. That adds up to a market worth £3.5bn next year alone and nearly £20bn by the year 2010. No wonder plumbing and installation firms are salivating at the prospect. British Gas has been forging ahead. Its engineers fitted 100,000 boilers last year and around 60% were A or B rated boilers.
Mr Prescott hopes the new regulations could result in more than 7.5m new condensing boilers being installed by 2010, reducing the carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3m tonnes a year.
But critics argue the switchover is unlikely to be plain sailing. The new systems cost upwards of £2,500 to buy and install - £500 more on average than conventional boilers. And if the many letters from Jobs & Money readers and heating engineers are anything to go by, the boilers come with a hidden surcharge, so high that it can wipe out all the gains for the homeowner and the environment.
Critics argue that condenser boilers malfunction easily and can cost hundreds of pounds a year to maintain. Many survive only half as long as their traditional counterparts. They are technically complex, with many more things that can go wrong than traditional boilers. It can add up to nightmarish bills.
One major independent firm of plumbers said that over the past three to four years it has made thousands of call-outs to mend condensing boilers, and that the greenhouse gas emissions from its vans were probably greater than the savings made by the shift to eco-conscious boilers.
British Gas, which maintains 4m boilers under its Homecare scheme, admits condensing boilers are a "relatively new technology" and says numerous improvements have been required in the past few years. A spokesman says: "Condensing boilers are by necessity more complex in design than the more traditional products." It adds that its own data shows condensing reliability is improving - although that could be read to mean it still has some way to go.
British Gas stresses that it would be counter-productive for the company to sell boilers with poor reliability when it is responsible for paying the costs of maintenance. This is a view echoed by other maintenance firms like Safegas in Leeds, which maintains 10,000 domestic boilers.
Yet most Jobs & Money readers who responded to our request for personal experiences of switching to condensing boilers say the experience was troublesome and expensive. Most feel the manufacturers have let them down, or blame the installation work carried out by clueless plumbing firms (in many cases sole traders) which have racked up huge bills.
Paul Webster of Leicestershire needed to pay £400 to fit a new valve after two previous problems with his Ideal condensing boiler were repaired at no extra cost under the warranty. Poor servicing has also left him with a machine that makes a loud noise every time it ignites.
Mary Sayers has been told she needs to keep all her radiators on maximum settings to enjoy the benefits of her energy-efficient boiler, making her sweat in the spring and autumn. She says she is saving little money and doing little to save the environment.
Nigel Mason told us: "We have had one for five years or so; when we had it fitted we had difficulty finding anyone willing to do the work. Since then there's been nothing but a catalogue of faults, and moaning from plumbers called out to fix them. Some plumbers won't even come out when they hear it's a condensing boiler.
"The plumber we did press into service sucked on a straw and claimed they were always going wrong. People visiting ask whether we are living near an airport as it is so noisy on start-up. The last plumber called out said he didn't know what was wrong and suggested we replaced it with a non-condensing boiler before April!
"Finally we called out British Gas on a fixed price visit (recently advertised) and they fixed it all. I have not even bothered to try and calculate if we are saving money by using less gas as we have spent so much on plumbers that it would be a Pyrrhic victory."
Debbie Ellen from Manchester said conservative plumbers have prevented her from switching to a condensing boiler. Ironically it is the British Gas plumbers who maintain her current conventional boiler that have put her off. "Each time BG come and check our boiler they suggest our current one is coming to the end of its life, but the engineers seem to dislike the newer technology. Every engineer we've asked has said they wouldn't recommend them."
That's not to say all readers have had a torrid time. David Louis of Sussex has nothing but praise for British Gas even though the staff who installed his boiler had all been on their condenser boiler training course only the day before.
However a resistance to the new boiler systems pervades the plumbing industry. The Heating and Hotwater Information Council admits many plumbers are cautious about condenser boilers, but argues that many of the early problems have been eliminated.
A spokeswoman says: "There is no question there were problems with corro sion in the early years and when you get a bad reputation it tends to stick. But you can't say a condensing boiler is any less reliable than a conventional one these days."
Martin Cooper of Leeds-based installer Safegas agrees. He says conventional boilers are equally complicated and condensing boilers are the way to go. "I have one in my house," he says.
But he says you must pick your condensing boiler carefully, and your plumber. "They are more sensitive and need more careful installation. That's why customers need to find a plumber who is experienced, and a reliable make." Ask plumbers if they have attended more than just the one-day City & Guilds course. If not, wave goodbye, he says.
Mr Cooper says his firm has avoided problems by limiting their list of recommended suppliers. His maintenance offshoot, which looks after 10,000 domestic boilers, limits itself to just one supplier - the German firm Worcester Bosch. He says he is considering including another German firm, Vaillant, on his list. "We are looking at it at the moment. I have to say the German brands are ahead of the British machines by a mile."
Billy Wilgar, who runs installer AC Wilgar in Orpington, Kent, has been ranked one of the top three installers in Heating and Ventilation News for the past eight years. He agrees that German machines are more reliable.
He says spending large sums of money on a new system is scary and customers should insist on plumbers handing over a completed log book before paying. "If you don't have one you won't have a leg to stand on when you want to take the plumber to court," he says.
A spokeswoman for the ODPM claims modern condensing boilers are as reliable as their traditional counterparts, but admits "they present new challenges to installers". That could be an understatement.
What are they?
The government likes condenser boilers for a number of reasons. A condensing boiler is more efficient because it has a second heat exchanger, or an extra large one, that scavenges the heat lost from the initial process of burning gas. A by-product is steam vapour and a highly acidic condensed liquid that needs to run away into a waste pipe.
The government claims they are 37% more efficient than traditional boilers. Critics say this is only when it it in its optimum mode - heating five or more radiators at full pelt. Like a modern car, it is more finely tuned than a traditional boiler and arguably more expensive to fix when it goes wrong. Many early versions have been plagued with problems.
A combination boiler, which is heating your home and hot water directly (rather than a hot water tank) has more moving parts that can break down. Condensing versions have also proved troublesome.
Trouble in the pipeline
There will be thousands of people seeking to save money and avoid the new rules, according to some of Britain's biggest firms of heating engineers. These consumers want to save up to £1,000 by paying cash for a traditional boiler and finding a plumber willing to break the rules (also avoiding VAT).
Are there legal ways around the rules?
Plumbers may point to the "exceptions" criteria in the legislation. If the installation of a condenser boiler is not "practical" or "uneconomic" then the plumber can go ahead with installing a traditional model.
Will only limited exceptions will be allowed?
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which designed the rules, says the exceptions will be just that and will be few in number. But Martin Cooper, who runs Leeds-based heating firm Safegas, says there is no budget to police the new regulations and cowboy plumbers will get away with "any old excuse" for making an exception for their customers.
So, no revolution then?
Mr Cooper believes plumbers' merchants will continue to sell huge numbers of traditional boilers over the counter for cash to plumbers who have either bent the rules or are ignoring them altogether. "The amount of people going to their local plumbers' merchants and buying for cash and installing for cash is huge and I don't believe any of that will change change whenthe new rules come into effect," he says.
Surely there is a risk of prosecution?
If the plumber is registered with Corgi, the gas installers' trade body, they can be stripped of their registration. But someone would need to report the plumber. The local council, from this weekend, must also be informed if a new boiler has been installed. But again some one needs to report the plumber and homeowner.
A more likely problem for the homeowner comes into effect next year when anyone selling a house will need to provide documentation for a boiler installed after this wekend. It is part of the Seller's Pack homeowners need to give prospective buyers from April 2006 showing the energy efficiency of their property. Log books for boilers will become as important as they are for cars.