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Why it pays to pay attention to regulation

The old saying that death and taxes are the only certainties in life could easily be extended to “red tape for anyone running their own business”.

For anyone operating within the HVAC sector, compliance with certain rules and regulations is compulsory - and rightly so where health and safety are concerned. But are these sufficiently monitored and enforced?

David Frise (pictured), head of sustainability at the HVCA, told H&V News that it is absurd so much time and money has been spent on regulations that can be ignored, but that is the reality. To date, no one has been prosecuted for non-compliance with Parts L and F of the Building Regulations.

The coalition government has made positive noises about compliance. Shortly after taking office, communities and local government minister Andrew Stunnell said the key to delivering a low-carbon built environment was “enforcement, enforcement, enforcement”. He has also suggested that the 2013 revisions to the Building Regulations could be brought forward by a year.

But we cannot rely on the government to sort this out for us. Contractors that have taken the trouble to ensure their work is compliant have a vested interest in making sure that everyone else plays by the same set of rules.

We must be vocal about non-compliance. We must also point it out where it is prevalent and explain to clients why it is in their financial interests to comply. The coalition government is more likely to support a self-help approach and is unlikely to respond if we simply whinge about non-compliance and do nothing ourselves.

New regulations

There is a mass of new regulation coming from Brussels, including the re-casting of the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). Planned changes include the removal of the size threshold so that energy efficiency improvements will now apply to all buildings; the requirement for all public buildings to prominently display building energy labels; and a mandatory requirement for landlords to inform tenants about what improvements should be carried out.

There is a point behind all this: it is in clients’ own interests to comply because the measures required have a direct link with energy and running cost savings. Building owners are required by law to comply and we should hold the government to its promise to deliver better enforcement, but we will also have a much more positive impact if we can persuade our clients to embrace these changes, Mr Frise concluded.

NICEIC highlighted the Microgeneration Certificate Scheme (MCS), designed to protect the consumer by ensuring independent evaluation of microgeneration products and installers. It currently covers solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal hot water, heat pumps (including ground source, air source and exhaust source), micro hydro, biomass, combined heat and power (CHP) and micro wind turbines.

Although many gas and electrical engineers already use most of the skills needed to install these renewable technologies, MCS accreditation demonstrates an installer’s quality and competence to carry out the work.

It is likely to be seen as the preferred option in the marketplace because homeowners and landlords looking to install renewable technologies cannot claim the Feed-in-Tariff or Renewable Heat Incentive unless MCS-certified products are installed by an MCS-registered contractor. Aspiring MCS certificated installers must apply to an accredited certification body.

NICEIC says it is at the forefront of promoting microgeneration and in the past year more electrical, gas and heating and plumbing contractors have joined MCS and enrolled on its related training courses.

Professionals who want to be MCS-accredited need first to nominate a qualified supervisor as the technically competent person. He or she will be expected to make adequate arrangements for access to one installation per technology, submitted with the MCS application. The assessment visit normally lasts a day and the qualified supervisor must be present throughout the assessment visit.

Currently there are more than 100,000 microgeneration installations in the UK, generating heat, electricity or both, says NICEIC. This number is expected to rise sharply in 2011 as more homeowners learn about the benefits of FITs and RHIs, and take advantage of the incentives on offer.

Water regulations

Continuing the compliance focus, Danny Davis, principal technical officer of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, told H&V News it is important that heating and plumbing professionals are aware of the regulations that apply to their work.

The Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations (for England and Wales) and the Water Byelaws in Scotland make provision for the prevention of contamination, waste, misuse, undue consumption and erroneous measurement of water supplied by a water undertaker.

Heating and plumbing professionals must be aware of the requirements of the Water Regulations. However, new technologies and practices related to sustainability, particularly water conservation, pose risks associated with contamination of wholesome water.

Rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse systems provide a sustainable alternative for WC flushing, irrigation and, in some instances, clothes washing, but these systems also require a back-up supply of wholesome water in case the stored rainwater or greywater is depleted. Both greywater and rainwater are classified by the Water Regulations as Fluid Category 5 and require appropriate backflow protection, which is usually achieved by a physical air-gap.

In practice, this means that the wholesome water supply is used to top up the storage cistern containing the rainwater/greywater via an appropriate air-gap/weir overflow. There have, however, been instances of systems being cross connected and attempts made to protect the water undertaker’s main via ‘double check valves’. These installations contravene the Water Regulations and can have public health implications.

The regulations set specific requirements for identifying pipework conveying greywater/rainwater (including colour coding) and for any outlets/points of use to be clearly labelled. It is also a requirement for the installation of these systems to be notified to the local water undertaker. Further information can be found in the British Standards BS8515: 2009 Rainwater Harvesting Systems code of practice and BS8525-1: 2010 Greywater Systems code of practice. Excellent guidance is available on the Anglian Water website (bit.ly/eA2qFl).

Pension planning

On a more general compliance note, Plumbing Pensions says employers need to realise that from October 2012, all employees aged between 22 and state pension age who are earning between £5,035 and £33,540 a year will need to be automatically enrolled in a qualifying pension arrangement. The arrangement can be a workplace pension scheme, if staff are not automatically enrolled into the government’s National Employment Savings Trust.

Although employees can opt out of the government arrangement and, in effect, not contribute, they must be reintroduced into the scheme at least once every three years by their employer.

The mechanical services and plumbing industry already has a qualifying pension scheme that is open to all in the industry (not only plumbers), says Plumbing Pensions. If you are an employer that currently operates the scheme this is an opportunity to enrol all remaining staff members and meet legislative requirements. If you are not operating the scheme, this would now be an opportune time to investigate joining.

The scheme offers benefits based on career average earnings. This works in favour of the industry as the physical nature of the work means that for many participants, their earnings peak in earlier years and tail off towards the end of their working lives. It is exactly this type of approach that is becoming popular in the UK, although the scheme has been available for over 35 years.

The basic level of gross contributions payable is 3.75 per cent of all earnings for an employee and 7.5 per cent for an employer. As the scheme is contracted out of the State Second Pension Scheme lower National Insurance contributions are payable.

Together with tax relief, this means that the rate payable in real terms is nearer to 2 per cent for an employee and 3.5 per cent for an employer. There are also comprehensive benefits payable on death, so members have secure financial provisions in place for their families.