Keeping up with the Quantum Leap in the heating industry

3rd Aug 2017


By Neil Macdonald, Technical Manager, HHIC

The heating industry, like many others, is a sector where best practice and standards are continually changing and evolving. Legislative changes come into force on an almost annual basis, and it can be a challenge to keep up.

Gas engineers follow many different paths into the industry, dependent on factors such as age and experience, for many this will involve a period of initial training (e.g. apprenticeship or college-based course), incorporating, or more generally, followed by ACS assessment. Experienced engineers will be familiar with the 5 yearly cycle of ACS reassessment.

With today's’ increased regulatory demands on engineers, a training course which covers the same basics a minimum of once every five years is not necessarily sufficient to protect you from the potential pitfalls of carrying out your job. Of course the basics should be covered for those that need them, but how, where and when can engineers learn what has changed and how it affects their day to day working practices?

This is where annual update training comes in. Ideally to be carried out each year or at least every couple of years to ensure you are abreast of all regulatory changes that affect you. It also offers an opportunity to refresh your knowledge and learn new skills so you can offer the very best service to your customers.

In addition to regulatory updates, training on the latest products and technology is more essential than ever. Whilst experience gained day to day in “the trenches” is invaluable, as the heating industry continues to advance at a rate of knots in line with modern technology, product-specific training on the latest appliances, controls and accessories can help keep you up to speed.

We have all seen the progress made within the industry in the last 20-30 years, moving away from open-flued appliances, first to room-sealed, and then to highly efficient condensing boilers.

To make the quantum leap in efficiency, appliances have become increasingly complex, often incorporating an array of electronics and components, and with a diverse range of installation options (e.g. in flueing – horizontal, vertical, twin-flue, plume-management kits!)

Manufacturers training can breed familiarity with new appliance models, and any specific requirements or functions they may have. As we all know, the manufacturers’ instructions are an indispensable guidance document, and should be available for reference, and to assist, whenever an installation or service is undertaken. However, Engineers will be familiar with the dreaded “what’s that?” sinking feeling, perhaps on a service visit, and when confronted with an unfamiliar appliance. It is in these circumstances that the customer will invariably decide to pitch up (often right behind you) and watch you try to dismantle said appliance – that’s if you can work out how to get the case off anytime soon! On a serious note, although many appliances on the market today are increasingly intuitive, the opportunity to familiarise yourself with new models in a supportive environment, and with no pressure (!) has great value, especially for newer, less experienced entrants to the industry.

Manufacturers’ product training also enables you to receive advice and support from the product experts. This training will often allow you to get hands-on, ensuring you get a “feel” for the product, its installation and any servicing requirements (e.g. gas boilers). Much more fun than watching a PowerPoint slide-show!

In the last 10 years or so, industry efforts to avert some of the issues seen with flues in voids have seen an increased focus on flue systems and their correct jointing and support. As well as manufacturer training and guidance on practical aspects such as the correct angle of fall for the flue (e.g. drop in height per metre), manufacturers also often provide training on aspects such as installing the flue safely from inside the building when no access to the external wall is possible (e.g. high-rise buildings), utilising a weatherproof sealing collar.

The heating industry has also seen the controls on the market change from the basic bi-metallic-strip room-thermostat, to increasingly high-tech “smart controls”, often being internet-enabled or using protocols such as open-therm. Manufacturers can provide training on correct installation, use and set-up, simplifying what can initially seem a daunting prospect. In addition, and much discussed in the recent “Heat in Buildings” consultation from BEIS, training on weather-compensation controls is available, helping educate installers to first make suitable specification decisions, and then optimise set-up for the individual consumer’s needs.

It is recognised that for most installers, time away from the tools means loss of earnings. Luckily, most manufacturers training courses, generally a pre-requisite for joining the approved installer schemes, are FREE! They often last between half a day to a day, and whilst time spent training can be seen as time “off the job” by some, others may choose to view it as an investment in their future. Either way, the skills and knowledge acquired should pay for themselves many times over in the coming years.