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Renewable technology is being used more and more in social housing but new tenants are not always given the knowledge they need to get the best out of their systems as HA’s Joe Bradbury explains.

A fuel poor household is roughly defined as one which needs to spend more than 10% of its income on heating itself to an adequate standard of warmth (21°C in the living room and 18°C in other occupied rooms).

There are 21 million UK households suffering with poor energy efficiency - below B and C on an Energy Performance Certificate. The human cost of this is astronomical; 9,000 people died last winter in England and Wales alone as a result of living in a cold home - the highest number for 15 years.

Needless to say, tackling fuel poverty is understandably high on the agenda of housing associations and local authority landlords. The pressure mounting on manufacturers across the sector to create better, more energy efficient and eco-friendly products coupled with initiatives such as the ErP Directive has led to a gradual phasing out of poorly performing products and the adoption of new technologies in replacement.

Landlords across the country have been tirelessly replacing outdated carbon-intensive systems with sustainable alternatives, such as heat pumps. Now, to ensure their efforts aren’t in vain, they need to make sure that new residents moving in, understand these technologies and how to get the best out of them.

It is imperative that landlords and manufacturers do everything they can to better educate tenants on how to get the most from their heat pump

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Assistant editor, Housing Association magazine

Learning curve

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat from a one area to another. They are sustainable, because the heat energy they extract from the air is constantly being renewed naturally and being reused at a low cost to the environment and have been proven to lower fuel bills and maintenance costs.

This is why the government is fully behind heat pumps – particularly air source, as a key part of way we will all heat our homes in the future.

However, when new tenants enter a home that features a heating technology that is unfamiliar to them and have not been given a proper handover, they often fail to benefit from the technology. Heat pumps aren’t complicated, but using one for the first time will mean becoming familiar with the controls - because unless they are used correctly, the resident won’t be able to get the best out of it.

A recent report on the BBC website gives a real life example of this with the chief executive of the HA in question accepting that improvements to new tenant handovers need to be improved.

Taking full control

The standard system controls for a heat pump are an adjustable controller and a room thermostat. These can either be separate units or a single combined unit. If your heat pump provides hot water as well as space heating it is likely to have a two-channel controller which will allow different temperatures and times to be programmed for each.

Installers should programme a new heat pump using the controller as part of the commissioning process. They will do this in accordance with their calculation of the heating requirements of the household, taking into account a number of factors including the times of the day you require heat and hot water. If they do this correctly the tenant is unlikely to need to touch the controller, particularly if it has been designed to automatically adjust to outside temperature changes.

Because heat pumps usually work at lower water flow temperatures than 'traditional' heating systems it is normal for certain makes of heat pump to be set so that they are on continually or for longer periods than anyone used to traditional gas or oil heating will be used to.

The room thermostat is used to monitor temperatures to ensure that they do not go too low and communicate with the heat pump – turning it on if the temperature in the room is below the desired level.

It’s easy when somebody shows you how

It is imperative that landlords and manufacturers do everything they can to better educate tenants on how to get the most from their heat pump so they can relax and thrive in a warm, safe and comfortable home. Thankfully, this is starting to happen. A notable example of this is Mitsubishi Electric, who feature a host of useful online videos and information - available for free - which seek to help people understand their system.

Happiness is a warm home!

Joe Bradbury is Assistant Editor of Housing Association Magazine.