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How to future-proof your heating and plumbing business

With the government committing to being ‘net zero’ by 2050, the utility of old heating systems is rapidly running out. Find out what this means for your heating and plumbing business so you can stay profitable.

Heading for ‘net zero’

According to the National Grid, heating systems are responsible for as much as 20% of UK carbon emissions.

This means, to reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050, we need to change how we heat homes and businesses.

But what does this mean for those in the heating and plumbing trade? Just how is the industry changing, and what new heating systems should you be aware of to stay profitable?

To find out, we’ll look at how you can future-proof your heating and plumbing business. That way, you can keep up with incoming industry changes and remain competitive in a fast-moving market.

Plumber fixing a boiler

Challenges in the heating and plumbing industry

The world is going green (or at least trying to), which is great in many ways.

However, it is causing some challenges in the heating and plumbing industry. Namely complicating what services and products you can provide your customers.

Unfortunately, UK heating systems contribute to as much as 20% of the UK’s carbon emissions.

This means the heating and plumbing industry needs to make major changes for the UK to hit ‘net zero’ on time.

So far, the government has stopped short of imposing a ban on natural gas boilers. But from 2050, new build homes will no longer be able to install them.

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What are the options?

Instead, they’ll have to opt for low-carbon options – options that you’ll need to be familiar with in order to operate.

But this doesn’t take into account the roughly 27.5 million existing homes in the UK currently heated with natural gas. What about them?

Well, retrofitting greener heating is often expensive and impractical. In fact, the Committee on Climate Change has estimated that it would cost around £26,000 per home conversion.

However, there’s still likely going to be a move towards these low-carbon options under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS).

This offers one-off payments to homeowners who want to make the switch.

Gas boiler ban

What is a low-carbon heating system?

So, you know you’re going to have to become familiar with low-carbon heating systems. But what exactly defines a LCH system?

Well, a low-carbon heating system is any way of heating a home that releases little or no carbon. Basically, it’s the opposite of traditional gas and oil boilers, which release carbon in order to heat the home.

Low-carbon heating systems are also known as renewable heating systems.

Instead of burning fossil fuels, they generally extract heat from sustainable sources, like the sun, the ground, plants, or air.

The most common types of LCH systems often include the following:

1. Heat pumps

There are two main types of heat pumps. Air-source heat pumps extract heat from the air and ground-source heat pumps harness heat under the ground.

Both of these systems then use this heat to provide homes with functional heating and hot water.

These renewable heating systems will probably be the go-to for builders of new homes in the near future. However, you should be aware that they can be more complex to retrofit in older properties.

To supply and install an air source heat pump, you could currently charge on average £2,500 to £13,000.

However, this will depend on whether the homeowner opts for an air-to-air or air-to-water system. You can learn more about the difference in our guide on air source heat pumps.

Alternatively, you could charge in the region of £8,000 to supply and install a ground source heat pump. Again, we do a full breakdown of these in our ground source heat pump guide.

heatworks boiler installation

2. Hydrogen fuel

As we’ve mentioned, retrofitting low-carbon heating systems can be expensive and impractical.

So, another solution would be to replace the fuel rather than the heating systems. In this case, hydrogen is likely the best fit.

The UK has an extensive gas network, with 80% of homes receiving natural gas. However, by replacing natural gas with hydrogen, we can use the UK’s existing infrastructure with a lower-carbon fuel.

And the good news is that installing a hydrogen boiler is a fairly similar process to that of current boilers.

And better still, hydrogen produces water when it’s burnt, rather than carbon dioxide!

At the moment, it’s not yet possible to buy or install a hydrogen boiler. And nobody knows exactly what the cost of a hydrogen boiler would be.

However, by the time they’re rolled out, they could cost a similar amount to a natural gas boiler.

3. Biomass boilers

A biomass boiler does the same thing as gas and oil boilers. However, it burns fuels like wooden pellets, chips, or logs to provide central heating and hot water.

Biomass boilers are classed as carbon-neutral heating systems because they release carbon previously stored in trees when they burn.

However, biomass boilers can only truly be carbon neutral if new trees are planted to replace those used for fuel. Plus, new trees take a long time to grow.

Biomass boilers also emit fine particle pollution and other contaminants. So, they’re certainly not as environmentally friendly as heat pumps or hydrogen. But they’re still a great deal better than gas or oil.

The typical biomass boiler cost starts at £5,000, for both installation and supply.

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What do you need to do to future-proof your plumbing and heating business?

So, now you know the LCH systems are coming down the pipeline, how can you make use of this knowledge to generate more boiler leads?

Here are 3 key actions you could consider taking:

1. Gain accreditation from the Microgeneration Accreditation Scheme (MCS)

First things first, it’s important to get accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).

The MCS is an organisation that verifies the competence of installers when it comes to small-scale renewable electricity technologies.

Getting accredited will help you to assure clients that your work will meet industry standards.

But even more importantly, it allows you to gain business from customers using the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS).

Only MSC-certified installers are able to carry out work that’s supported by the scheme.

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2. Familiarise yourself with the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS)

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has now closed to new applicants. Instead, the government replaced it with the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) launched in April 2022.

The BUS is a government scheme that was created to help the UK meet its 2050 ‘net zero’ emissions target.

Homeowners can get up to £6,000 to fund replacing their traditional heating with either heat pumps or biomass boilers.

Homeowners can’t apply for the scheme directly – instead, you’ll need to apply to Ofgem on behalf of your clients.

Just be aware that only heating system installers who are registered with the scheme can apply.

3. Invest in training to enhance your skills

It’s important to be familiar with the low-carbon heating systems that are likely to be commonplace in the future. Especially those that are currently covered by the BUS.

This is because they require special knowledge.

For instance, you’ll need to be able to advise customers on the right radiator sizes for use with heat pumps. If not, the system won’t be able to perform properly.

For help on this, check out our blog on getting the right fit with boilers.

There are also lots of courses and training opportunities that will help you to upskill both yourself and your employees.

CIBSE and CIPHE provide low-carbon training courses, while the MCS has a low-carbon apprenticeship on the basics of LCH technologies.

Common boiler problems and solutions

Stay ahead of the game with Checkatrade

These are just some of the ways you can keep up to date with future plumber and heating industry changes.

However, if you want to make sure you know all the changes coming, you should consider signing up with Checkatrade.

With Checkatrade, you’ll get informed of any industry changes and regulation updates coming into practice.

As well as access to free marketing material and a personalised business profile.

Speak with our team today to learn more about the sign-up process. And don’t forget to look at our blog for more plumber and heating advice. Such as our pieces on starting an HVAC business, growing your plumbing business, and marketing for plumbers.

Get in front of the right customers

Homeowners using Checkatrade are eco-savvy

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Low-carbon heating FAQs

What’s new in the plumbing industry?

Sustainability is becoming more important to both the government and consumers, and the plumbing industry is beginning to follow suit.

Research shows people are now more conscious of their purchasing habits, looking for cost-effective, and environmentally friendly products.

This means that your business must adapt quickly to capitalise on the demand.

When are new gas boilers being banned?

New gas boiler installations aren’t expected to be banned outright before 2035.

So, you can still fit them in a customer’s home if they request a replacement unit. However, this may change in the future so keep an eye on the news.

That said, gas boilers are set to be phased out from all newly built homes from 2025.

What new heating technologies do I need to be aware of?

The government plans to install 600,000 heat pumps every year up to 2028. So, expect to see more demand for this technology from your customers, especially with the BUS providing financial support.

While not quite ready to roll out, hydrogen fuel is fast becoming an alternative to traditional gas. There are already trials taking place and most manufacturers now have a model that can run solely on hydrogen or blended with natural gas.

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