Housing Association Reduces Heating Maintenance Costs to Zero

By Admin

Sentinel Performance Solutions

30th Mar 2015

1004 Sentinel - Melvyn Thompson and Tony LaCrouts
1004 Sentinel - Melvyn Thompson and Tony LaCrouts

Plymouth Community Homes (PCH) has eliminated maintenance costs for heating systems at 13,000 homes by using SystemCare from water treatment specialist, Sentinel. Deploying a treatment plan based on Sentinel’s high quality cleaning chemicals, inhibitors, and test kits, as well as a bespoke training programme, this forward-thinking housing association has subsequently managed to negotiate a 10-year warranty with its preferred boiler supplier, Worcester, Bosch Group.

PCH is a not-for-profit housing association created to take over the ownership and management of council homes in Plymouth. In 2008, it put in place an initiative that would see the adoption of energy-efficient boiler, radiator and control technologies for heating and hot water systems. However, the team at PCH, led by Gas Installation Contract Manager, Melvyn Thompson, knew there was more to the initiative than hardware solutions alone.

“My team and I are all registered engineers and we are well aware of the requirement for water treatment in any successful heating installation,” says Mr Thompson. “We had some disagreements with our first water treatment company so we turned to Sentinel, who were both approachable and willing to work closely with PCH and the contractors we use to offer an optimised solution.”

SystemCare is Sentinel’s failsafe, added-value service that combines best quality products with free audit, training and support packages tailored to suit requirements. This innovative service helps to ensure the reliable and efficient long-term operation of boilers and heating system components, thus reducing maintenance, repair and associated labour costs significantly.

PCH is proving a beacon of excellence among housing associations thanks to its appreciation of the benefits afforded by good water treatment. After all, if a boiler manufacturer is called out to examine a broken boiler, the investigations always start by checking the system water. If it’s found that the system has lacked correct cleaning and treatment as specified in the installation instructions, the boiler warranty may become void. In addition, there is the cost associated with repairing the boiler, as well as disruption to the tenant. With this in mind, it makes sense to ensure any problems associated with circulating water quality are avoided by meeting the requirements of Building Regulations Part L1. Using high quality water treatment products, such as those supplied by Sentinel to clean and inhibit a new heating system, is therefore vital.

When first engaged by PCH, Sentinel performed an audit of the heating programme. This included a close look at system design, programme type, historical water treatment performance, current water quality, and other factors. Sentinel was then able to make a proposal that included tailored product specifications, method statements, training programmes (including a timeframe for delivery), and customised QA models supported by Sentinel’s gas audit partners.

SystemCare training at PCH provided everything that engineers and quality assurance officers needed to know about water treatment, delivered using both theory and practical training sessions. Furthermore, after each boiler was commissioned in the field, a SystemCare check of the water condition was taken, with sample analysis and results provided by an independent laboratory. 

Sentinel also helped administer the whole process, ensuring the chemicals and test kits arrived at the right site at the right time, and informing contractors about pass/fail rates resulting from the chemical analysis of samples. Crucially, PCH took the decision not to pay its contractors until the system water met the required standard.

Initially, PCH used three contractors. However, in terms of water conditioning, two were proving little more than average and one was underperforming, failing about half of the sample analysis tests after commissioning. As a result, Sentinel embarked on a training regime to get the contractors up to speed. The contractor with the worst record soon became the best, achieving a first time pass rate of 98-99%, with the other two averaging 96-97%.

“Sure, not getting paid is a huge incentive to get things right, however, it’s about more than that,” explains Mr Thompson. “It’s about educating installers on the need for quality water treatment and the long-term benefits it can offer, not just to PCH and the tenants, but to the reputation of their own businesses and any future growth plans they may have.”

Today, PCH retains its two top-performing contractors who between them now subcontract to around 20 installation companies. All are trained in SystemCare and the products supplied by Sentinel, which include cleaning agents, corrosion and scale inhibitors and testing kits.

Many boiler manufacturers acknowledge the benefits of working with Sentinel by recommending the use of the company’s products in their boiler installation instructions. They know that systems treated correctly rarely give rise to problems. With this in mind, PCH was able to negotiate extended warranty periods on its heating system hardware.

“On the basis that all heating installations had to be flushed and treated using SystemCare, with 100% post-commissioning analysis, we were able to agree a 10-year boiler warranty with Worcester, Bosch Group,” says Mr Thompson. “What’s more, we’ve negotiated an extended warranty with our radiator supplier, Ideal Stelrad, while Drayton Controls have also supported us. In effect, we now have zero maintenance costs while the warranties are in place. Rewind to before the commencement of this project in 2008 and it was a very different story.”

Indeed, the use of SystemCare has also revealed some interesting post-installation issues. Approximately one year after passing initial test analyses, routine services showed a significant number of systems did not have sufficient inhibitor. This was because the heating contractors/installers were not co-ordinating with the kitchen and bathroom contractors, who would often make modifications to the system and not top up the inhibitor. Now PCH and Sentinel have made sure that all departments communicate, which has led to this issue being eradicated.

In the past six years, PCH has completed around 13,000 heating system installations at its 16,000 properties, all with SystemCare. According to Mr Thompson, “SystemCare now plays an important role in the best value package we offer the taxpayer”. In fact, this entire project contributes to what PCH describes as its “three pillars of sustainability”, namely its community, financial and environmental impacts, which combine to produce its outcomes.

Like all Sentinel products, SystemCare is designed to offer peace of mind, ultimately allowing housing associations to address the problem that most affects their heating systems – the quality of circulating water. 

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