72 hours that stopped the UK working

// heating and ventilation

Analysts said the impact of the “beast from the east” sweeping in from Siberia and the arrival of Storm Emma hitting the south coast is likely to be the most costly weather event since 2010, when freezing temperatures and snow brought the economy to a standstill a week before Christmas. GDP growth, which indicates how much national income has expanded, could fall by up to 0.2% in the first quarter of this year, halving the expected 0.4% growth rate.

The extreme weather is likely to have the biggest impact on the construction industry, which experts say could lose up to £2bn over the three worst days, as sub-zero temperatures forced building workers to down tools. But there was chaos on road and rail, with a string of crashes on motorways and A roads, multiple rail cancellations and warnings that workers should stay at home, keeping them away from the high street.

For many of us, the misery was compounded by our boilers breaking down, leaving us with no heat or hot water as heating engineers were unable to get through the snow to get them up and running again. One of the main culprits?  Frozen condensate pipes. Condensing boilers improve efficiency by removing as much energy from the flues gases as possible, but as some of this waste gas cools and turns into a small amount of acidic water, which is expelled from the boiler through a slim condensate pipe running down an external wall, it freezes in very low temperatures. As the condensate can’t escape, the boiler shuts down.

But this shouldn’t really be news to many of us who remember the Christmas of 2010. That year the UK experienced the coldest December for a century, and frozen condensate pipes were one of main causes of boiler breakdown. The solution remains the same now, as then: thaw the pipe and restart the boiler. In the Netherlands, where Intergas boilers are made, no condensate pipes froze, despite temperatures reaching their lowest levels since 1947. There was only one reason: it’s compulsory for these pipes to be sited internally. While 2010 ‘encouraged’ housing associations and local authorities to do the same in the UK, it’s not compulsory here, which means there was widespread misery as condensate pipes froze on an industrial scale.
David Stanley, UK Technical Service Manager, Intergas Heating, says prevention is better than cure, and if going internal is not possible, there are steps contractors should take to protect residents when the temperatures fall. “First you must make sure the condensate pipe is 1 1/4" in diameter (32mm OD) before it passes through the wall and  1 1/2" if outside, and use suitable waterproof and weather insulation like Class O Armaflex pipe insulation. You also need to ensure you keep the run as short as possible, have a good fall on the pipework and minimize the horizontal sections. But when temperatures are consistently below minus, as we’ve just experienced, water will freeze and there’s very little you can do about it.”

But as truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, Southern-based Genesis Housing and BSW Heating, companies which have had to deal with their fair share of frozen condensate pipes over this period, haven’t had an Intergas one. On a smaller scale, Jeff Selby, of Selby Plumbing Services, based in Sussex, installed 30 Intergas HREs and Eco RFs last year and, while he had to attend to quite a few frozen condensate pipes, none were Intergas either. Why? Yes, some were sited internally, but many were external or in a vented loft, but Simon Bowles, Building Services Engineer at Genesis, has a theory: “Unlike other manufacturers’ condensing boilers, Intergas boilers condense 100% of the time in both heating and hot water modes; it’s possible that the temperature of the waste condensate may be a little higher, making the pipes more resilient in freezing conditions. The jury’s still out on why the pipes didn’t freeze when others in the same area did but, at the moment, the only conclusion I’ve reached is that it has something to do with the boiler’s efficiency when condensing. I want to get to the bottom of this, so I’ll keep you posted.”

Nevertheless, for 72 hours many of us experienced the hardship of trying to get from A to B, but at least we were safe and warm at home. That wasn’t the case for many others who had to suffer the misery of no heating or hot water for days. If we didn’t learn from the cold snap in December 2010, we can learn now, and prepare for the next one.

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Increased duty of care for the vulnerable

BSW Heating handles the service and maintenance for 92,000 properties in London and the South East and has recently installed 48 Intergas Eco RF boilers, with remote monitoring, in properties for vulnerable residents. The remote monitoring facility not only gives BSW updates on boiler performance, but will send an email alert if there’s a fault with a specific boiler. BSW can then deal with the fault, first time round, as they have the information they need without making an initial site visit.

Over the cold snap, they have been especially vigilant with the performance data of those 48 boilers, checking the heating and hot water was being put on regularly; if it looked like there might be an issue, the team could check this out, avoid a problem and, importantly, keep residents safe.


Genesis wins Energy Efficiency Award
… but bad weather meant no one from the team could collect it

Genesis Housing has won the Greater London Energy Efficiency Regional Awards 2018 in the category of Small Scale Project. The judges recognised Genesis for delivering a successful energy saving project, while protecting the architect’s vision.

By collaborating with Intergas Heating and installing HRE models, the problems with boiler failures and inefficiencies were sorted at its two apartment blocks in Hoxton. But there was another issue which could only be resolved by using a twin flue arrangement with a concentric flue terminal adaptor. This was important to the exterior appearance of the cladding as it would reduce two flue outlets to one, but none was available in the UK. In fact, Simon Bowles, Building Services Engineer at Genesis didn’t believe it was available anywhere.  But it was on a trip to Intergas’s Head office in the Netherlands to reassure himself that the boiler really did what it said on the tin, that he realised the answer was there all along.
“It was while I was talking to the technical team that I realised not only do all Intergas boilers accommodate twin flues, the company also supplies them and the all-important concentric flue
terminal,” said Bowles. “And theirs would fit exactly through the existing pre-cut hole in the cladding.”
Although this arrangement was only sold in Europe and Canada, Intergas agreed to make it available
to Genesis in the UK. Within a matter of weeks, the product catalogue and specification were being written and, 12 weeks later, Genesis received the first consignment of Intergas twin flues and terminals. The installations have been carried out by J O’Connor and the boilers are proving to be an extremely effective and reliable solution.
Genesis was also Highly Commended in the category of Regional Housing Association/Landlord, which recognises true commitment to energy efficiency and to serving its local community.


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