With impeccable timing, at the onset of cold weather, our boiler has decided to pack up. As an advocate of green technology, I’m going to practice what I preach and replace it with a heat pump.

However, unlike the familiar process of choosing a new boiler, there are no Which? and Trustpilot reviews to pore over. There are plenty of views on social media though, which is a bit like asking your mate down the pub for advice! Instead, I’ve appointed Nick Irlam of Irlam UK, an award-winning heating engineer who can apply for funding through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) and then source the heat pump for us.

Householders don’t yet have the expertise or experience to compare heat pump models and are dependent on heating engineers to give them the best advice. Not only will these engineers decide what size heat pump is needed, but they’ll also choose the brand – and the resulting standard of after-sales service and technical support will depend on this. Ideally, a heating engineer will be impartial but will doubtless be loyal to a particular brand or indeed may get a commission on a sale. That won’t matter to most people, who will simply want their new kit to work and keep them warm, without breaking the bank. Heating engineers need to be qualified and accredited with the Micro Certification Scheme (MCS) and in order for the house to be eligible for the BUS grant, it needs a valid EPC which does not recommend cavity wall or loft insulation.

Irlam UK will be supplying and fitting our new addition, whose great advice and service I trust and appreciate. Clients have said the same to me about Murton & Co; our expertise, problem-solving ability and wraparound, bespoke service is incredibly valuable. My personal experience with the company provides a good illustration of this in practice, particularly following my recent experience on a heat loss calculation course.

We have a system boiler and before Nick visited, I ran some heat loss calculations on our property, following the guidance from the heat loss assessor course using their software which suggested a 16kW heat pump would be required. From what I already knew about building physics, this surprised me. The results also suggested replacing all the radiators. However, Nick’s subsequent calculations suggested only one radiator needed changing and that an 8kW heat pump would suffice. Assuming a cost difference of £500 for each size of heat pump and £500 per radiator, my calculations amounted to an overspend of £6,000, not least for an oversized heat pump, but unnecessary costs for replacing radiators.

Obviously, there are MCS standards and an auditing process for engineers and fitters, but by the time you’ve gone through the audit you might have already had the installation done. And after a few rulings in homeowners’ favour, I wonder how many incorrectly fitted pumps a heating engineer would have to replace before they decided to call it a day or go out of business? Negative news stories and householders’ social media posts about poor experiences would also knock confidence in the sector.

A lot of heating engineers’ expertise is down to the training – sometimes worryingly brief. It’s a similar situation for Energy Assessors. Murton & Co used to provide a 10-day training course for Non-Domestic Energy Assessors, but the industry began to demand the courses be delivered in four days to reduce cost and time spent away from the office. These shorter courses put the emphasis on candidates doing their own research – but human nature dictates that’s not always going to happen. The variation in heft and quality of heating engineers’ reports are similar to the variety seen in energy assessments, including domestic retrofit reports. While householders don’t want to be overloaded with information, they do want a comprehensive report that gives them confidence in a professional’s abilities and recommendations.

In the same way that householders might reasonably ask when they would be likely to see any payback on their investment in a heat pump, some clients have asked me the same question when considering a retrofit report. One, faced with a total cost of £35,000 for a range of improvements and a saving of £500 a year – felt their proposed retrofit would not pay back within their lifetime and was surprised by how low the annual savings were compared with the required capital. They opted to buy a motorhome instead – a depreciating asset – without considering the improved comfort and air quality the project would deliver to their forever home.

I question the merits of their decision; while the total price might seem on the high side and the savings very low, those works could have been phased over time and in instalments, based on their budget. While cost is key, any decision should consider the service you get from an experienced professional and their ability to give you honest, accurate advice that will save you money in the long run – and that’s true of both Energy Assessors and heating engineers. Value and confidence might be hard to quantify but they’re invaluable. I’m confident that Irlam UK will deliver the best heat pump to see us through the coming winter and beyond, save us a considerable amount of money on fuel bills and improve comfort. No pressure Nick!

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