State of independence

Verification of product information is needed to ensure equipment delivers on makers’ performance claims, says Geyser Thermal Energy’s Lolli Olafsson

As the recent emission scandal from a major car manufacturer demonstrated, fuel-consumption data from the car industry is highly questionable. No matter what the conditions, or how I drive, I can’t achieve even 50% of the mileage my car is supposed to do. But what about the products and equipment we buy for our heating and hot-water systems? How much can we trust the makers and their claims that appear so attractive and supposedly ‘great for the environment’?

Unfortunately, this information can vary tremendously. It is not always easy for experienced engineers – let alone homeowners – to verify the data. Take limescale, for example; it is one of the worst offenders when it comes to energy, water and resource waste. Limescale destroys equipment such as pumps, valves, shower mixers and heat exchangers; it increases the risk of legionella by providing insulation and food for the bacteria – and it wastes energy by insulating heat exchangers and temperature sensors. These facts are well documented – yet the legislation around limescale protection is almost non-existent. Manufacturers can more or less claim whatever they want, without having to provide a shred of evidence to back up their claims. 

Independent tests have shown that devices claiming to be 95-100% effective in limescale protection were, in fact, as low as 45% effective. How are customers supposed to know who to believe when there is no official verification of the equipment they are buying? In the end, most people buy the cheapest option, even if it tends to be the worst offender, which will cost them and the environment the most.

‘Genuinely independent testing’

Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety states in Recommendation 7.1 that ‘a clearer, more transparent and more effective specification and testing regime of construction products must be developed. This should include products as they are put together as part of a system’.

True – because unlike in countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Germany, where gaining approval for product capability is much tougher, equipment manufacturers and salespeople in the UK can claim almost anything they want, and refer to approvals and ‘research’ that are not worth the paper they are written on. Without a truly independent body, the chaos will continue.

If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you simply won’t be able to tell the difference. What’s worse is that less effective and fake equipment can give the whole industry a bad name. The vast majority of people don’t understand the operation of their heating at home, let alone the equipment itself – but if they want to learn, where do they go?

Manufacturers can more or less claim whatever they want without having to provide a shred of evidence to back up their claims

Even if you are keen to spend time on researching products to improve energy efficiency, there are too few independent sources. If you don’t know who to trust, you might abandon your plans to make those purchases and do nothing at all.

Sadly, and frustratingly, the current status hinders innovation. Inventors working out of their ‘garden shed’ have much more difficulty getting their products to market, unless they have substantial funds to pay for their ‘independent’ verification.

This could easily be rectified; there are research centres in the UK – such as BRE and BSRIA – that could verify products and equipment and their efficiencies. They have the skills and facilities to provide the support end customers need.

However, instead of being financed and supported by the government, so that they can be 100% independent and focus on research, development, education and verification of products, they are commercially driven, having to spend valuable resources on funding themselves.

If we go back to the limescale example, a standard could be established where manufacturers have to achieve a minimum efficiency and/or have an efficiency label (such as the current scheme for electrical equipment) – and research institutions such as BRE and BSRIA could verify their claims. This would enable customers to at least make an informed decision before buying the products.

In the meantime, despite all the hype and all the claims, energy continues to get wasted. So long as the UK does not have a government-funded and supported, genuinely independent testing regime, this will continue to be the case, sadly.

Lolli Olafsson founder and CEO of Geyser Thermal Energy