If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that almost anything can happen. Just as we were getting our heads around Brexit and what it meant for supplies, along came COVID. Next it was the turn of electricity, forcing up fuel bills and hitting us hard in the pocket. And looming over everything there’s climate change and the need to cut greenhouse gases. All of these have implications for the heating and plumbing industry.

Firstly, there’s going to be work, and lots of it. Quite apart from the government’s ambitious targets for building new homes, they’ve set aside over £100 bn for construction projects over the next 10 years. Then there’s the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which will generate work, and there’s always refurbishment and maintenance as people look to upgrade their homes to make them more efficient. And with rising energy costs, this is key.

Taking little steps towards big change

The main driver of this efficiency focus is climate change and the need to cut emissions and greenhouse gases, and this will continue to impact on our industry in the short, mid and long-term as we work towards net zero in 2050. Over the last year, there was a lot of talk about action plans and new regulations, but little in the way of real policy. From here on in, things are going to change dramatically, starting in June 2022 when the Part L uplift kicks in. This is essentially the first of many steps we’ll all be taking towards ‘The Future Homes Standard’ which will take effect in 2025 and require new homes to have 75% less CO2 emissions than at present. The 2022 uplift provides an interim target. What it means ultimately however, is the beginning of the end for gas and oil-fired boilers and a transition to new and more efficient heating solutions.

High hopes for hydrogen

Around 23 million homes in the UK have gas boilers, and sooner or later they must be replaced, with hydrogen mentioned as an alternative. There are high hopes for hydrogen, with the government aiming for 5 GW of low carbon production capacity by 2030, and it’s possible that we’ll soon get the nod about whether hydrogen only boilers can be installed from 2026 onwards.  But while it’s on the radar, hydrogen boilers aren’t on the production line yet, so this is definitely on for the mid-term.

More relevant in the short-term are heat pumps which have merged as favourites to lead the energy charge, and they figure large in the government’s 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy. As this sets a target of up to 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028, they’ll begin to appear increasingly on our work schedules. There are installation challengeshowever, especially for homes with combi boilers, and they’re up to four times more expensive to install than the £2,500 average for gas – and that’s without the high cost of extra insulation needed for a home that’s in EPC Band E or below. So even if the government meets its promise of cutting these costs by half over the next few years, heat pumps are unlikely to become dominant just yet.

The rise of home energy management

Other methods need to be in the mix, including IR radiators and underfloor heating, such as RWC’s JG Underfloorsystems which offer excellent performance as well as easy installation. These systems are also programmable to improve control and efficiency – a trend which will increase next year as homeowners, faced with higher bills, look to reduce energy costs. Installers will therefore see more interest in other programmable devices such as RWC’s JG Aura wireless TRV (thermostatic radiator valve), which enables homeowners to control individual rooms more efficiently.

Realistically however, until we see the emergence of an all-powerful heating system, we’re likely to see more ‘mixed’ solutions. This has led to the notion of ‘Home Energy Management’ which will become every bit as familiar a term as ‘Smart Heating’. A recent report by Delta-EE suggests that home energy management will grow by c 30% annually over the next five years as homeowners seek lower bills. This is already affecting the mix of workloads, and the moment energy suppliers start offering lower tariffs for more efficient homes, it’s likely to affect it even more. Expect to see the transition begin next year.

Home improvement – a UK passion

It’s not all about heating either. The UK loves home improvement, and lockdown sparked a major surge. Research by GoodMove showed that 48 per cent of households carried out home improvements last year, spending an average of £1,640 in the process. Along with loft extensions, this included kitchen and bathroom improvements. Products such as RWC’s JG Speedfit push-fit technologies helped here, as they’re easy to use without special tools, meaningeven DIY enthusiasts could quickly create professional finishes. As this trend for refurbishment and retrofit is set to continue next year, push-fit is an invaluable addition to the installers’ toolbox, making jobs easier and helping save time and money. Besides, there’s almost certain to be a fair amount of maintenance and remedial work to tackle for all those jobs that didn’t go quite to plan!

Tackling the skills shortage

Push-fit also has an important role to play in solving a growing problem for the plumbing and heating industry – a shortage of skills. Research by the Skills Training Group shows an alarming decline in the number of people entering the industry – down 4.19% over the last 16 years. If this continues, there could be as few as 132,614 installers by 2049, which isn’t many considering the burden of work as we movetowards that carbon zero target in 2050. While the industry is working hard to attract new talent and apprentices, there’s also a need for faster, simpler and more efficient technologies. Helping compensate for the lack of expertise, push-fit ticks all of these boxes so expect it to gain even more traction.

Changing regulations, new technologies, major building programmes… from 2022 onwards, there’s plenty to keep us all busy, so it’s important to keep learning and to keep on top of new ideas and innovations. As a major supplier to the sector, RWC and its family of brands is at the forefront of these developments and looks forward to supporting you going forward – not just next year, but long into the future.

For more about RWC, please visit www.rwc.com.