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Why Your MCS-Certified Installer Might Not Be As Competent As You Think

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Mars
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When it comes to selecting an MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) certified installer for your heat pump installation, the certification might seem like a hallmark of competence and quality. However, a deeper dive into the actual training and qualification process reveals a less promising picture, one that homeowners should be aware of before making a decision.

The MCS certification process for heat pump installers encompasses a range of criteria, including obtaining recognised qualifications (more on that in a moment), implementing a Quality Management System (QMS) and membership in consumer codes and certification bodies. While these requirements aim to ensure a standard level of service and expertise, the effectiveness and depth of the training component have come into question in light of countless subpar heat pump installations across the UK.

To be eligible for MCS certification, installers must obtain qualifications from recognised bodies, such as BPEC or LCL Awards. These courses are intended to equip installers with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet MCS standards. The BPEC course (you can buy the manual for the course from Waterstones for £62.50) covers the basics:

  • Heat pumps in context
  • How a heat pump works – principles and components
  • Insulation, heat losses and the effect of heating system design
  • Domestic hot water, buffer tanks and solar coils
  • Ground heat exchangers
  • Health and safety
  • Heat pump installation
  • Maintenance and fault finding

The course offering on the BPEC website appears to be light, and feedback from attendees of these courses has not been glowing.

We spoke to one installer who completed a BPEC course on heat pump installation. His experience was disheartening, to say the least: "It’s rubbish. It’s so, so bad. It cost me £800 and three days of work. I came out knowing less than when I went in, and I didn’t even know about heat pumps then. I in no way think I’m better than any other installer, but there were people on the course who had no idea. One asked where the analyser goes. One asked where you put the anti-legionella fluid. These guys failed the exams but then got through on the vocal question where you can’t fail. They are then able to go for MCS. It’s a complete joke. Just a money spinner."

This firsthand account raises serious concerns about the efficacy of the training provided. If courses recognised by MCS fail to impart essential knowledge and skills, the value of the certification itself becomes questionable, and begs the question why MCS exists at all.

Another installer shared their journey to becoming ‘confidently competent’ in installing heat pumps, contrasting sharply with the current MCS-endorsed training pathways: "It took me at least ten years to be confidently competent… the current courses can be a few days, in total probably 3 x 6hr sessions over 3 x 8hr days. Whether the content has much relevance is another matter. It's not difficult to see why the market is a mess. Those who are competent won’t engage with schemes. The poor work we see is the outcome from schemes accepting unskilled inexperienced people trying to establish themselves and often just don’t understand or realise they’ve made a mistake."

This perspective highlights a critical gap between the time and experience required to master heat pump installations and the duration of MCS-recognised courses. The discrepancy raises questions about the depth and applicability of the content delivered within these training programs.

The MCS certification process, while comprehensive on paper, involves significant financial and time investment from installers. From course fees to application costs and annual subscriptions, the process is not only lengthy but also expensive, and a lot of these costs are passed onto homeowners. This has led to criticisms that MCS certification is more about generating revenue than ensuring installer competence and quality installations.

For homeowners considering an MCS certified installer for their heat pump, this information serves as a cautionary tale. The MCS certification, though suggestive of a basic compliance with industry norms, falls markedly short of assuring an installer’s hands-on expertise or mastery in heat pump technology. Critically, the training provided under this certification is insufficient for the complex realities of low temperature heating system installations, such as those required for heat pumps. Installers, with limited training, are often applying methods suitable for traditional boilers to heat pump installations—an approach that is fundamentally flawed and could significantly undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of these renewable energy systems.

Considering these insights, it becomes clear that homeowners must look beyond mere certification when choosing an installer for heat pump systems. It is critical to inquire about the installer's direct experience with heat pump installations, consult customer feedback, and consider advice from trusted sources. Recommendations based on personal experience often provide the most reliable guidance. This highlights a pressing issue within the industry: the current certification process may not adequately reflect an installer's proficiency and quality of work. This situation prompts a necessary and potentially controversial reevaluation of the effectiveness of existing certification standards in the heat pump installation sector.

This topic was modified 1 month ago by Mars

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Totally agree, the industry as a whole is making red tape jumps and hoops, that should not be there. The practical theory ratio is way out of balance, an engineer wants to be an engineer. 

Any course that is online, 3 days at a training center proves that you can pass a course.

In my day the term was "I've served an apprenticeship" not "last Friday I attended a course and passed".

Now, you have all your shiny new badges and certifications, how many heat pump systems have you actually installed. ???? 

Unfortunately I feel it will never change, myself and others have been going on about this for decades.

Like many things, the industry needs scraping and starting again. 

This post was modified 1 month ago by Mars

Technical Manager & Professional Installer: Ultimate Renewables


   
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Mars
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@kenbone What I've found particularly troubling is that behind the facade of numerous impressive looking certifications with gold and platinum logos, there's often nothing substantial at the core. This has made choosing a heat pump installer feel like a ridiculous gamble.

Sadly, it's not new information that the traditional apprenticeship path has diminished, giving way to online or brief overview courses which is undoubtedly contributing to the increase in shoddy installations.

Given your status as one of the most experienced and respected installers in the UK, could you share any advice for homeowners on what to consider regarding credentials, qualifications and experience when selecting an installer?

Buy Bodge Buster – Homeowner Air Source Heat Pump Installation Guide: https://amzn.to/3NVndlU

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(@misterb)
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Dont get me started on Gas Safe ...... not in terms of competent standards but in terms of it holding very competent people to ransom - its just an extortion racket in my opinion ....


   
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(@jamespa)
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Its, sadly, clear to me that the over-regulation simply doesn't work.  It provides a get out clause for poor installers, who have done what the rules say but nevertheless supplied something that isn't fit for purpose (a very prominent UK defence contractor once had a reputation (probably apocryphal) for delivering projects that were contractually compliant but unfit for purpose - its the same syndrome).  Worse still the current regime excludes the very people we need to be involved, namely local plumbers and electricians who value their reputations and exist in sufficient numbers to do the massive task that is needed.  Instead the market is populated to a large extent by pop up grant harvesters who employ rookie plumbers and designers, shielded by the glossy certificates.  Regulation also frustrates the innovation we need to deal with the wide variety of retrofit situations that exist.

So personally I think that the regulation should be reduced to the absolute minimum necessary to ensure (a) safety and (b) reasonable preservation of neighbour amenity (ie noise in most cases).  The market will then take over. 

There will still be some poor installs of course, but the reputations of the organisations who do the poor installs will suffer and they will be forced out of the market.  Furthermore they wont be able to hide behind the 'rules' when defending their position, the defence will be solely on the quality of the work.   Those who value their established reputation will do good installs, because they know that reputation matters, and will progressively take over the market from the grant harvesters.

I realise that this wont be a popular view (although I sense it is may be becoming more popular) but personally id much prefer to trust my local plumber whose reputation depends on satisfaction, than the special purpose companies that we are currently forced, in most cases, to use.


   
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Transparent
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Posted by: @editor

It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn't it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?
See this announcement.

image

DESNZ believe that's the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.
It implies the low uptake is due to too few 'approved installers' rather than a low level of competence.

Save energy... recycle electrons!


   
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Toodles
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@transparent Education, Education, Education! Toodles.

Toodles, 76 years young and hoping to see 100 and make some ROI on my renewable energy investment!


   
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Posted by: @transparent

Posted by: @editor

It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn't it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?
See this announcement.

image

DESNZ believe that's the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.
It implies the low uptake is due to too few 'approved installers' rather than a low level of competence.

Should it not be an 'incompetent person scheme'? 😋 

 


   
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Transparent
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Ah....

Should I point out that the Competent Person Scheme isn't anything to do with MCS.
It's actually a long-standing provision within Building Regulations.

The Building Act allows for untrained/unqualified people to undertake certain skilled operations which would normally be the preserve of certified professionals (usually members of recognised trade organisation).

When I was doing extensive plumbing/heating and electrical work on my renovation project in 2004, a surveyor within the Building Control Dept of the Local Authority suggested that they would prefer me to operate within the Competent Person Scheme. That provision negates the requirement on me to employ a qualified electrician or a heating-engineer to undertake work for which I was deemed competent. Furthermore the work would no longer require inspection by a Building Control Surveyor.

The scheme's rules change over the years, but it still exists.

It remains a possible route through which genuinely competent installers of heat pumps could be recognised to continue doing that work, but without first needing to receive training in all other types of heating (gas boilers/fires/cookers, solid-fuel Aga stoves etc).

If that's of interest, then perhaps someone with more spare time on their hands than I, could research it further.
Since the provision is already recognised in law, it could be modified if 'we' proposed a particular derivative of it to tackle the issue of Heat Pump installation.

Save energy... recycle electrons!


   
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(@jamespa)
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Posted by: @derek-m

Posted by: @transparent

Posted by: @editor

It cost me £800 and three days of work.

Isn't it now the case that the government offers to pay £500 of those MCS fees?
See this announcement.

-- Attachment is not available --

DESNZ believe that's the solution to overcoming the low uptake of heat-pumps.
It implies the low uptake is due to too few 'approved installers' rather than a low level of competence.

Should it not be an 'incompetent person scheme'? 😋 

 

This is where lax terminology fails us big time.  Three days training, if you have basic plumbing skills, is almost certainly more than enough time to learn to install a heat pump.

However mostly its not the physical installation that goes wrong, its either design or commissioning.  These are very different skills (particularly in a retrofit scenario) and no way can you learn those in 3 days.  Furthermore you can only expect to learn those skills (in my view) if you have either a degree level education or equivalent experience, plus specific experience in problem solving.  Also design/commissioning keeps changing as the technology and understanding of the technology evolves, so CPD is essential.

The industry and these forums keeps talking about 'installation' (including by implication system design and commissioning) as a monolithic skill, but it certainly is not.

In other fields the separation between physical installation (requiring principally a high level of craft skill) and system design/commissioning (requiring principally a high level of intellectual skill) is explicitly recognised, but not in this area for some strange reason.

 

This post was modified 1 month ago 2 times by JamesPa

   
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Toodles
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@jamespa I rather feel that a successful installation is best achieved through team effort rather than a one man band job. Just imagine just one training scheme that everyone had to attend to be part of the NASA workforce! Surely a team effort where various parties each carry out their own specialism with very good liaison with all co-team members is the way to go. Yes, the Project Manager will have to have a good grounding in all aspects - but not as in-depth as the individuals within the team upon whom they would rely? Remember, the saying is: ‘There is no I in Team!’ Regards, Toodles.

Toodles, 76 years young and hoping to see 100 and make some ROI on my renewable energy investment!


   
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(@jamespa)
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Ideally you are right.  But we don't live in an ideal world.  Our existing workforce is our existing workforce and expecting to transform its skill set overnight is not realistic.  Furthermore most of the time taken to design, install and commission a heat pump is the installation, so we want to engage the big existing workforce for this.  Better surely to play to people's strengths. 

What I would hope might happen is that plumbers, electricians and system designers would create informal teams (just like every plumber knows and electrician that 'they work with' and vice versa).  This creates the team without having to create a formal structure.

This post was modified 1 month ago by JamesPa
This post was modified 1 month ago by Mars

   
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