Since the Government changed the guidelines to measure fuel poverty earlier this year figures are showing that the number of people living in fuel poverty has now fallen. However, campaigners maintain the new figures hide the fact that it's actually still on the rise. Here, Francine Wickham Global Marketing Director for Fernox explains the small steps that can make a big difference when it comes to reducing fuel usage and keeping central heating systems working efficiently.
Some local authorities might already be aware that the Government has now changed its definition of fuel poverty. Previously, any household that spent more than 10 percent of its annual income on energy was classified as living in fuel poverty. However, while this definition might have been easy to calculate, it was not altogether accurate.
Under the new definition, to be considered fuel poor, a household must spend more than the UK median on its energy bill - and that expenditure must push it below the poverty line. Secondly, if the household pays beyond the UK median they must be left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
This measure is a step in the right direction - as crucially – tenants need to become more ‘energy aware’ if they want to start reducing their fuel consumption, and thus, reduce their monthly fuel bills. However it has to be said that by changing the definition to identify better those households most vulnerable to fuel price hikes - there is also a real danger of overlooking those households already feeling the financial strain of higher heating costs.
Even if a household is using energy effectively (for example turning heating off when there is no-one in the house) and doing all they can to reduce energy consumption – they could still be suffering from their central heating system being inherently inefficient, due to a general lack of maintenance.
The fact is over time all central heating systems will become less efficient if not properly protected and maintained. This is because in traditional central heating systems, electrolytic corrosion occurs as a result of water coming into contact with the metals found in central heating systems, which results in the formation of magnetite and sludge.
Boilers and radiators that are blocked with sludge and debris cause the boiler having to work harder and for longer, as the circulating water will be unable to transfer the heat efficiently throughout the system. This means that the radiators take longer to reach the required temperature to warm the house – producing higher CO2 emissions and increasing fuel bills. It is not good for the household purse or the environment.
If a system becomes blocked and sluggish, powerflushing is the most effective way of thoroughly cleaning. The process can remove up to 30% of system debris and when used in combination with a cleaner such as Fernox Cleaner F3 or Powerflushing Cleaner F5, this figure can be significantly increased.
In today’s economic climate, long-term efficiencies have to be the aim of the game, and this is where the use of protectors comes in. Once cleaned, the use of a BuildCert, ESTR approved inhibitor such as Fernox Protector F1 will prevent any further build-up of limescale and corrosion, to help maintain boiler efficiency and extend the life of the system.
The impact of cleaning and protecting a previously sludged system can be quite significant. According to independent testing verified by the Carbon Trust, cleaning and protecting a system using Fernox Cleaner F3 and Fernox Protector F1 500ml can provide up to a 15% gas saving every time you heat up a room, resulting in a carbon emission saving of 110kg per annum.
Local authorities looking to do as much as possible to safeguard central heating systems should also consider the installation of central heating system filters as part of routine service and maintenance programmes. Filters are increasingly being used to capture any circulating contaminants within a system, helping to provide long-term protection for the boiler.
For example, the Fernox TF1 Total Filter uses hydrocyclonic and magnetic action to remove and contain magnetic and non-magnetic contaminants from central heating systems. If a property doesn’t have enough space for a standard filter – then there is still a filter solution available. The TF1 Compact is 30% shorter than its counterpart and is ideal for social housing properties where lack of space and difficult access may previously have prevented the use of a standard sized filter.
However it is worth remembering that no matter how well a filter performs, or whatever the make, model or size, filters are not a substitute for chemical water treatment and cannot combat the root of the cause of poor system heat transfer – by preventing corrosion from taking place in the first instance. It is only by combining chemical water treatments and filters that local authorities can truly maintain system longevity and efficiency.
Crucially, with fuel poverty remaining an on-going issue there’s never been a better time for local authorities to ensure the efficiency of their tenants’ central heating systems. As ultimately, this will not only lower fuel bills for tenants but will enable local authorities to minimise carbon emissions and prevent boiler breakdowns in the future.
For further information about chemical water treatment and the use of filters visit: www.fernox.com