Peter Thom criticises enforcement of Building Regulations

Published:  20 April, 2017

Energy efficiency campaigner and founder of Green Heat Peter Thom is becoming increasingly concerned that Building Regulations are being regularly flouted in the growing market for replacing gas boilers with electric heating appliances.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, Mr Thom points out that this trend is blatantly disregarding the increase in carbon emissions and lowering of energy ratings, which will be critical in meeting the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for conserving fuel and power.

He wrote: “I used to sit on the Industry Advisory Panels for Parts L and J of the Building Regulations and helped to produce the first Domestic Heating Compliance Guide, which is now the Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide. This guide provides the procedures to be followed when replacing a heating appliance, which must be within 2% points of efficiency or the carbon equivalent. I believe this procedure is not widely known and is being ignored. This will have a considerable impact on the claimed carbon savings via Building Regulations and the consequence of non-compliance.

“Although there is a defined procedure for installing a non-condensing boiler, there is no such procedure for replacing a gas boiler with an electric flow boiler; only a comment in Section 1.8 of the guide referring to ‘no possible alternative’ would provide ‘reasonable provision’.

“I would suggest that this lack of proper procedure is allowing a growing number of these electric boilers to be installed without any consideration for the increase in carbon emissions and currently no requirement to produce a new Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

“More alarming is the blatant marketing of electric panel heaters as a replacement for gas heating – which is clearly not even permissible. This is again a growing market. I’ve seen an increasing number of advertisements for such in the national press and even on televised football matches. Installing these panels will not only contravene Building Regulations, but this non-compliance should also prevent any property being rented out under the MEES regulations. I believe action is required by the DCLG to highlight this to building inspectors, property agents, solicitors and homeowners as a matter of urgency.”

“We replaced an old G rated gas boiler with a new, high efficiency A-rated gas condensing combination boiler with a smart controller in a 1930s semi-detached house. The SAP rating before work was started was 42 (E) and the carbon dioxide emissions were 5.95 tonnes per year. After the replacements were installed, the SAP rating was 61 (D) and the reduced carbon dioxide emissions are 4.14 tonnes per year – a reduction of 30%.

“However, using approved SAP software, I also calculated the impact of installing an electric boiler or electric panel heaters in the same house. The results are frightening. The SAP rating with an electric boiler would be 12 (G) and the carbon dioxide emissions 8.56 tonnes per year. The SAP rating with an electric panel heater would be 17 (G) and the carbon dioxide emissions 7.8 tonnes per year. As from 1 April next year, there will be a requirement for any properties rented out in the private rented sector to normally have a minimum energy performance rating of E on an EPC.

“This situation needs to be addressed now, otherwise it makes a nonsense of having a carbon compliance calculation in the Building Regulations which can then be ignored when heating appliances are replaced.

“It seems there’s a clear lack of joined-up thinking on energy efficiency policy. The aim of the recent Bonfield Review was to provide more consumer protection, but the report’s recommendations for further registration and accreditation processes will put yet more red tape on installers. And by continuing to allow this blatant abuse of Building Regulations by less scrupulous manufacturers and installers who are undermining and undercutting the bona fide installer, the government is failing to protect professional heating engineers who do follow all the rules and regulations.

“Consumers are also left unprotected with the MEES scheme preventing them from renting out any property which has an F or G rating. Furthermore, non-compliance with the Building Regulations may prevent them from being able to sell their properties with an illegal heating system.

“The government needs to act now by ensuring that a new or updated EPC is provided with these installations and that the public is informed of the consequences of non-compliance. Otherwise what is the point of having these regulations in the first place?”

In a reply to Mr Thom’s concerns, the DCLG has agreed to look into the guidance for Building Control when inspecting gas-fired boiler replacements under Part L of Building Regulations when it is next reviewed.

“The letter from the DCLG does not really address my concerns,” said Mr Thom. “There is a serious issue regarding non-compliance of Building Regulations and it is a shame that the government department responsible for this is unable to take any immediate action.

“I welcome any initiative that will improve the energy efficiency of homes in this country, but regulations designed to do this must close up any loopholes and have to be enforced if we are to reduce fuel poverty and meet our commitment to reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050.”

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