The home heating revolution

July 13, 2022

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By Jon Mainwaring, client director, home emergency, UK

From 2025, gas boilers will be vetoed from new homes in the United Kingdom and replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as air source heat pumps (ASHP) or hydrogen systems.

It’s reported that around 47,000 heat pumps were installed in private and social housing in the UK over the last decade. And in a drive to meet its green ambitions, the government aims to see 600,000 heat pumps installed every year by 2028. This initiative is currently supported by substantial grants available to many homeowners through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS).

We all want to do our part to live more sustainably, but is the infrastructure in place to support the ASHP revolution? And what does this mean for home emergency policies?

Winter surge

We usually see an upturn in home emergency claims from 1 October through 1 March. Unsurprisingly, much of this work is for heating system breakdowns and usually peaks at around three times the summer volumes. From Sedgwick’s perspective, our clients’ home emergency claims work is managed through an established engineering network. This was expanded earlier this year when we acquired UK Assistance247, an in-house, around-the-clock resource of over 3,000 emergency repair contractors.

Our network engineers are Gas Safe Accredited, but not all are qualified to service and repair ASHPs. That’s why we surveyed more than 100 of our contractors for their perspective on potential pitfalls with the proposed change to more sustainable energy heating systems.

Hybrid hydrogen boilers

Most contractors that we interviewed believe hydrogen is the cost-effective solution of choice for the majority of households, certainly for those on an existing gas mains supply. One of the UK’s biggest boiler manufacturers, Worcester, has a zero-carbon hydrogen boiler ready to go, and the majority of gas appliances used today including boilers, can run on a blend of 20% natural gas and 80% hydrogen using the same bore pipework. From a repairs perspective, the engineering is the same.

When asked about ASHPs, most contractors said that while these units work well in new builds, customers could be disappointed when they try to find an engineer to carry out repairs. Reported feedback has been that many customers found ASHPs ineffective, with one respondent commenting that he’d priced to remove an ASHP and replace it with a traditional boiler as the system didn’t provide enough heat in winter. Houses need to be properly insulated for ASHPs to work correctly, and there was some concern that this isn’t always accurately specified at the building design stage. Overall, the view of most contractors was that heat pumps are still a ‘work in progress’, and that right now, it’s not worth investing in full ASHP training and certification for their engineers.

Home emergency cover

While the technology is constantly improving and there’s no denying the excellent green credentials of ASHPs, currently, apart from a few forward-thinking insurers, these systems are generally not covered under home emergency insurance policies. As installations are expected to increase exponentially over the next few years, will more insurers and underwriters adapt their products and cover in line with this new, environmentally-friendly home heating market trend?

Even with a government grant, ASHPs are very costly to buy and install, and when they go wrong, spare parts can be extremely expensive. But then, the life expectancy of an ASHP is around twice that of a conventional fossil fuel boiler. These are all important home emergency cover considerations. Customer expectations are that when there’s a complete failure of the heating system, a qualified tradesperson will be sent out within a few hours to put things right. And that might be the main future ASHP challenge.

Skills shortage

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy claims there are around 3,000 to 4,000 heat pump installers in the UK, but a report published by the Independent Networks Association last year suggested the figure to be more like 1,200. So when we inevitably hit any future seasonal surge in home emergency demand, will there be enough qualified and experienced engineers to support ASHP repairs and servicing? Right now, the infrastructure isn’t in place – that’s because currently, the demand just isn’t there.

Ultimately, as ASHP installations escalate, it’s important to ensure we can fulfil the promised home emergency service efficiently, and our network contractors are currently monitoring market changes and keeping a close eye on developments. There’s little doubt that a revolution in home heating systems is coming, and our repair network will be ASHP-ready when it does.

For more on Sedgwick’s solutions in the UK, visit our website.

Tags: ASHP, Claims, contractors, Engineering, Engineers, heating, home emergency, Home Repair, homes, house, Infrastructure, Insurers, international, Property, Property claims, repair, sustainability, sustainable, UK, United Kingdom, View on property