Shooting ourselves in the carbon footprint?

News: Are we shooting ourselves in the carbon footprint

as published in H&V News November 2020

With the government marginalising oil and blaming it for all of the sins of unsustainability, it can often feel that the government is working against us rather than wanting to work with us, writes Andrew Hounsfield, inventor and owner of Hounsfield Boilers.

Don’t get me wrong, I passionately believe in sustainability and making boilers as energy efficient as possible. I also believe that working towards being carbon neutral by 2050 are great goals to aim for.

However, the government’s review of Part L of the Building Regulations seems totally focused on ensuring the heating for new homes is low carbon. They have a love affair with heat pumps, although the investment costs are incredibly high and the life cycle and financial returns are questionable.

For example, we often take orders from heating engineers looking to replace heat pumps for oil boilers as the system has either failed, or are retro-fitting as a back-up in case the heat pump fails; hardly a sustainable choice! Government also seems blind to what new bio fuels could offer the world and have no thought about what homeowners living off-grid, which account for circa 20% of all properties, should do as an alternative – apart from suggest solar for hot water systems etc.

However, all of this investment, even in new technologies does not look at the bigger picture. To be truly low carbon, we also have to look at the production methods, the materials and quality of the boilers that the whole heating industry manufacturers? Will the government somewhat undermine itself if it only looks at what fuels a boiler and the resulting emissions?

A look at quality

The oil boiler industry’s priority has been to lower carbon emission rates. However, this is not the only way for the oil boiler industry to lower its carbon production. To be truly sustainable and carbon neutral we must take a long, hard look at the quality of and how we produce our boilers. The whole heating industry, not just oil, is caught in an endless production cycle. Each manufacturer offers longer and longer warranty periods to seduce customers. However, for the boilers to be covered by the warranty, the homeowner has to buy-in to the complete service package, which often requires the homeowner to replace components, such as ‘long life’ hoses, which only last a couple of years, plus a long list of items that need to be replaced as a condition of warranty.

The component industry seems to be big business for many boiler manufacturers and to be quite honest, I think it’s a scandal and something needs to be done about it.

Frankly, if the goal is being sustainable and low carbon, then what is the point of making boilers highly energy-efficient – but made with low grade components that need replacing every few years? Are we not shooting ourselves in the (carbon) foot? High quality, lifelong components are out there, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just rethink what we use.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just rethink what we use

The oil industry body, OFTEC, gives us advice and information about the future of heating to the oil heating sector, in fact their website is full of reams of information on decarbonisation, discussions on heat pumps and fuel poverty, introduction of biofuels etc, but nothing on the sustainability of a boiler itself!

OFTEC state that they ‘represent liquid fuel heating equipment manufacturers, promoting high standards and supporting the development of sustainable low carbon heating,’ but where are their fresh new ideas to encourage manufacturers to develop sustainable products? Surely, it can’t be sensible to decarbonise the sector but not to worry about boilers and their components either ending up in landfill or recycling centres – this is not a true green policy.

Look, I’m not naive, I know that components experience wear and tear and some need to be replaced. However, the starting point should always be for manufacturers to use high quality parts at the very start of the design process. It may result in a small increase in the price of the boiler; but moving away from ‘designing to a price point’ is a good thing, especially when it benefits the customer and the environment in the long term. When customers know that a boiler may cost a few more pounds than it used to, but will have much lower life-time running costs, be more reliable, and last longer, customers will understand and be happy to invest in a better product.

So, instead of just focusing on heating being low carbon, I implore OFTEC and the government to look at the wider picture and address these issues. Higher quality boilers need less replacement parts, and that’s good for the environment and the customer’s pockets.

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