Made in the UK: challenges facing heat pump installers

So I did it – I supplied fitted and commissioned my first heat pump. It was just my luck that I had to commission it on the coldest day of the year so far when temperatures dropped to 1C. But I knew it would work because the technology is proven and the manufacturer I opted for was competent with a good track record and name behind them. With over 60 years training experience and qualifications from Spain and the UK, coupled with an advanced understanding of heating, I knew it would be a good experience and it was… mostly.

In 1985, Germany mandated the use of weather compensation on all heat generating sources, and since 2002 all the boilers I have installed have had this feature enabled. Weather compensation is a simple concept. The colder the weather, the hotter the radiators need to be to compensate for the heat loss through the building fabric. So it was a no-brainer to use the same controller for boilers that I am familiar with.

The heat pump I opted for was from a manufacturer that produces boilers, and this simplified the installation as the manufacturers produce hydraulic stations that simply replace boilers, with pipes to the outside unit instead of the flue, two pipes for heating, and two for the hot water cylinder.

To facilitate installation and reduce space I selected one of these, and asked for the schematic of pipes and electrical connections. Manufactures produce a wealth of schematics for every eventuality so they give a degree of predictability to outcomes and a sort of guarantee that things will work. They also list components required for the install.

Upon studying the list I realised that two of the recommended components added up to £900 and were not strictly necessary. Space was at a premium and high efficiency was the goal so I dropped these and this simplified the installation, electrical connections and freed up space. No doubt higher efficiencies are being achieved too.

So far so good. Although the outcome has been a success, the journey to it was far from plain sailing.

The major issue I encountered was the supply chain. My merchant ordered the heat pump the day the client gave me the deposit. We all knew about the supply chain issues and had planned around that. But what followed was a masterclass in big company indifference to small traders and small players.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I went to my merchants about 40 times to see if the heat pump had come in. The merchant even recommended a competing merchant which theoretically holds stock as he was so frustrated with the big company forever promising things, but never actioning them. The rep who I have direct access to wasn’t prepared to help me or my merchant find another heat pump to supply me for my installation. The rep merely blamed the merchant and told me to chase the merchant not the manufacturer, and said they couldn’t help.

And so that continued for four weeks.

But things got worse. The wall mounting brackets had not arrived with the heat pump. The client and I agreed that we needed the brackets from the same manufacturer as the heat pump. There are technical reasons for this. One set had been ordered eight weeks ago, but still had not arrived. I ordered another set from another supplier, who couldn’t fulfil the order in its entirety.

So the client and I sourced the three different components from other manufacturers. Everything appeared to be fine until we lifted the 160kg heat pump onto the wall and I realised that one of the minimum distances was compromised, which would not have been the case with the manufacturer’s own kit.

It then dawned on me that the measurements of the brackets weren’t even on the manufacturer’s own data sheets, so it would be impossible to actually get exact alternatives. Whether this is intentional is a moot point… an excuse for a manufacture to walk away from a guarantee claim always appears welcome it seems to many installers.

Once on the wall, the system was commissioned. During commissioning, parameters are checked for performance, and there was an anomaly. The underfloor heating was demanding a flow temperature of 25C, the radiators 30C, but the heat pump was targeting 59C. Three calls later and a long wait on the phone, the helpful technician couldn’t explain why and suggested a call out from the manufacturer.

I knew this couldn’t be attended to immediately due to the cold weather, so I turned to online sources where one helpful engineer suggested that I remove one of the sensors monitoring flow temperature to the heating circuits. The effect was immediate – demanded flow temperature at the heat pump fell from 59C to 39C. Happy days.

So there you have it. Heat pumps work and perform well, but the problems around them are typically “made in the UK”, not by the installers. Middle management has a huge part to play in your dissatisfaction – they need to tidy up stock backlogs and offer far better support to installers.

For the record, I will remain loyal to this manufacturer.

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Mars
Admin
15862 kWhs
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing your experiences and challenges as an installer Alec. While we understand that you want to protect your relationship with the manufacturer, from a homeowner’s perspective it would be good know who the brand is so that they can potentially identify delays with an installation if they use a “small” installer for their heat pump installation that has opted for this brand.

Patrick Sinclair
Patrick Sinclair
1 year ago

Wait until you get your electric bill

Mitch
Mitch
Reply to  Patrick Sinclair
1 year ago

I’ve been a refrigeration engineer for 35yrs…..air source heat pumps do have a place within the world……scrap yard……they’ll possibly air your property when the back up heaters are running and condensing unit is running at full capacity then the time will come when inverter PCB or compressor will fail (which is not uncommon the day after your warranty expires ) for your local refrigeration engineer to attend your property and inform you that ……unfortunately they don’t manufacture that model any longer due to the inherent problems since production 🙄

Ian Barry
Ian Barry
1 year ago

How does anyone safely lift and secure a160kg, 350lb package to a wall, that’s sole job is only to provide heating, heat pump technology,is not the future! there are better more efficient alternatives, but government seems hellbent on greenlighting this impractical, non sensical alternative.

Mars
Admin
15862 kWhs
Reply to  Ian Barry
1 year ago

What are the more efficient solutions Ian?

william1066
1333 kWhs
Reply to  Ian Barry
1 year ago

Ian, I am very interested in the more efficient solutions alluded to in your post.

I have an old 170sqm house with a mixture of solid walls and 1940’s cavity walls, and just replaced my 15yr old oil 21kw boiler with a 16kw heat pump of similar weight to the boiler.

We have never been warmer, and are now without the obvious fumes and small particulate pollution coming out the boiler. We will also be able to get rid of the 2500 liter tank taking up space in the garden.

The future prospect of being able to turn 3kw of solar energy into 9kw+ of heat for our house is also very enticing and seems pretty efficient to me, but I am all ears to more efficient options.

Andrew Hodchild
10 kWhs
1 year ago

I think that the grid in the UK will not support everyone having a heat pump and car charger especially in rural. I also don’t think anyone has added up energy required to do cars + houses + businesses + trains +++? Then before we actually hit the buffers the price of electricity will go high.

Andrew Hodchild
10 kWhs
1 year ago

I agree completely about indifference of large companies to the small installer. I was a key installer for big German brand and I had a gas boiler with faulty gas valve, my customer had a home birth booked with midwife. I could not get them to send out the gas valve despite tonnes of calls and emails. I complained to Germany and they closed my account!
I just had another warranty issue with German inverter manufacturer that sent out 3 wrong replacement inverters, I mean seriously wrong. They also took ages to send each one out so that it took more than 6 months right through the summer. They refused to simply provide a new inverter rather than replacement. I have become so fed up with this omnipotent attitude I took them to court, as soon as I filed they paid all including my customers generation losses. I had been installing the manufacturer for 10 years even when a Chinese equivalent is half the price.

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