Ever since we started writing and posting about air source heat pumps on My Home Farm, I’ve been amazed by how many comments and emails we’ve received from homeowners that have had heat pumps incorrectly sized or poorly installed by MCS-accredited installers.
Prior to us even knowing what a heat pump was, we came across countless references to MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) and the general perception at the time was that if you got a MCS-accredited installer, this was a gold standard and that you were assured of getting a professional, hitch-free installation.
With this thinking in mind, three years ago we invited six MCS-accredited installers to quote for installing a heat pump, and it was surprising to me that half of them seemed like cowboy operations. Fast forward to 2021, and hundreds of comments later on the My Home Farm blog and YouTube channel, and it seems that the heat pump installation industry is still a game of pot luck on whether you’ll get a decent, competent installer or not.
Part of the problem in our case (which took two years to resolve) is that it’s sales guys that are selling systems to homeowners, and they may not be as clued up or trained on retrofit project solutions. This is concerning, because if you get a highly likeable, personable salesperson that comes across as competent, you’re very likely to sign the deal and hire them. The problem is they might not know what problems lurk behind walls, and may not advise you on simple (yet critical) things like getting radiators upsized or distribution pumps upgraded, and this is where many dramas start.
The other issue we identified is that even though companies are MCS-accredited this does not guarantee that the people on site fitting your pump will be trained. Before hiring Global Energy Systems to install our heat pump, we appointed a different company, whose managing director and sales team came across as professional and competent.
When the installation day came, a one-man team arrived to install the heat pump. The installer was barely out of high school and did not have a brief on what he was coming to install. He had never fitted a heat pump before and wasn’t sure where to start. Needless to say, this company was sacked within 30 minutes of this kid arriving at our house. To this day, I wonder how he would have pulled the 150kg+ heat pump from his white van.
And therein lies the problem. The company and managers had all the MCS certificates and paperwork, but there is simply no way that the pump would have been correctly installed. And we know this, because they never put up a fight when we cancelled the deal.
In light of the emails and messages we have received, we conducted a poll on social media that we put forward to homeowners and installers alike, asking: “Do you think that MCS provides homeowners with guarantees that heat pumps will be correctly designed & installed by certified installers?”
We received 64 response: 13.5% said yes, 14% said they were unsure and 72.5% said no. Quite honestly, the overriding ‘no’ sentiment did not surprise me at all. Based on what we’ve learnt over the past three years from personal experience and from hundreds of messages and emails, it is becoming evident that MCS-accreditation does not translate into competence.
I think that many people have gone down the MCS-accredited installer path for two reasons: they need to qualify for RHI payments, and there’s an underlying belief that they will get a professionally fitted and installed heat pump to heat their property.
While the first point of getting RHI payments is not disputed, I do not think that you will get a competent, well-installed heat pump just because the installer has an MCS certificate. The best advice we can offer is that you get word of mouth recommendations from friends and family (and hopefully our forums) – don’t simply rely on the installer being accredited, because sadly I don’t think the accreditation amounts or correlates to real-world installation competence.