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90% of solar heating jobs fail Part L

Nine out of 10 solar thermal installations passing through the Government’s official accreditation processes are in contravention of Part L of the Building Regulations.

The startlingly high figure was revealed by Chris Roberts, the associate director with BRE Global, who said: “Ninety per cent of the solar installations we inspect don’t come up to scratch or comply with Building Regulations.

“I’ve assessed in excess of 100 solar installations over four or five years both for the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and for the Clear Skies programme, and found that even those companies which provide solar training for their staff make mistakes with regards to Part L.”

Mr Roberts said the most common error concerned the insulation of the associated pipework. “Very often firms think they must just insulate the solar circuit when the requirement is to insulate all connected pipework a metre from the cylinder tank.

“There are a variety of reasons why people would act contrary to their training,” Mr Roberts continued. “Lack of awareness of Building Regulations, lack of attention to detail, and the fact that there are always people out there who are willing to cut corners on occasion.”

Keith Marshall, OBE, SummitSkills chief executive, said: “We were aware that there are issues with poor solar installations, which is one of the reasons we developed national occupational standards for environmental technologies. But I’m surprised that the figure is quite so large.

“It is difficult to see how this is going to be addressed without regulation, although this is anathema to the industry. At the moment anybody can claim to be qualified to install solar heating – there’s nothing to stop the poorly trained solar installer from operating at all.

“What you have here is a market which has not yet settled down and you have all sorts of people trying to get on the bandwagon – and this applies just as much to training providers as it does to installers.”

Blane Judd, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, agreed: “There are a lot of manufacturers running solar thermal training courses which do not
require attendees to possess a particular skillset,” he said.

“We believe that engineers wishing to move into this market should belong to the relevant competent person scheme before being eligible to sit a solar training course.

“Without proper training and regulation, irreparable damage will be done to the reputation of this important environmental solution. The institute, together with industry bodies, manufacturers and reputable trainers, needs to work to help to direct installers to programmes linked to the minimum technical competence for solar thermal installation aligned with competent person schemes.”

Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, said: “We support Part L and Part G and all the standards in the Domestic Heating Compliance Guide. Building regs are constantly changing and everyone has trouble achieving full compliance, not just those working with solar.”