Net zero plans to slash carbon emissions from the nation’s homes are already controversial, as fitting new heat pumps could cost on average £13,000, against just £2,000 for a simple boiler replacement.
New oil boiler installations may be banned outright from 2026, with a ban on all new gas boiler installations from 2035 and possibly sooner.
This could leave homeowners facing huge bills when their existing gas boiler packs up, as they will be forced to replace it with expensive renewable technologies.
Now a new threat has emerged, as the government-backed Boiler Upgrade Scheme fails to set any minimum legal standard for all engineers installing heat pumps, in a move industry experts call “nonsensical.”
Under the scheme, households get £5,000 to encourage them to install air source heat pump or £6,000 for a ground source heat pump.
That will still leave them paying many thousands of pounds from their own pockets, but there is another risk as a rush of new recruits to the industry could make the whole process extremely dangerous.
The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) has launched a “crusade” for a focus on quality as it warns of the risks involved in the race to rip out 600,000 gas boilers a year and replace them with electric heat pumps.
It means that amateurs and scammers could put customers at risk with faulty installations.
Engineers removing fossil fuel heating systems and installing heat pumps under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme must be MCS certified.
However, there is no mandatory qualification on top of the minimum NVQ Level 2 qualification, for general heat pump installations completed outside the scheme.
The CIPHE is warning that without this, systems could be environmentally and financially inefficient and even dangerous for system users.
Chief executive Kevin Wellman said: “Competency is essential. So the idea there’s no minimum legal standard for all heat pump installations is nonsensical.”
He added: “With proficient installation, heat pumps can provide low-carbon heating which saves money and has a positive impact on the environment. In cases where poor installations are carried out, there could be disastrous ramifications.”
Wellman warned of an influx of legal claims years down the line. “We are all vulnerable if plumbing and heating work is poorly executed. If plumbing and heating professionals are not appropriately trained and a legal standard put in place, the consequences could be severe.”
In November 2022, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a £9.2million energy efficiency training scheme.
However, the Heat in Buildings Strategy document states: there are no specific statutory minimum qualifications required to install zero direct emissions heating systems, or carry out energy efficiency works.
READ MORE: Four checks you should make before installing a heat pump
Wellman is calling for a legal qualification requirement for all installers, underpinned by a mandatory minimum standards, including those installed outside of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.
“Given that many boiler replacements are distress purchases, there will be a percentage of the population who cannot wait for government grants to come through. In these incidents consumers may be vulnerable to poor installations.”
Currently, there are around 1,300 companies certified to install heat pumps, putting the approximate number of qualified heat pump installers at a mere 4,000.
According to innovation agency Nesta, the industry must add roughly 5,000 to 7,000 engineers every year from 2025 until 2035 to meet the target of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028.
Wellman agreed more installers are needed as fitters will need to work 25-hour days, eight times a week to hit net zero targets, which he called “simply absurd”.
He added: “Quantity must be balanced with quality.”
Mike Foster, chief executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, said the switch from fossil fuel fuel boilers is due to start in 2026 and households are not really aware of the consequences. “The Government is not going to foot the bill, homeowners are.”