Here is a situation that is all too common in social housing and to which all of us can relate. You go to turn on your heating at the start of Autumn and then immediately realise there is an issue. At some point over the last 4 months, some part of your heating system developed an issue and now it won’t function. As one of the most visible parts of a heating system, we get the calls all the time. If you work in resident support you’ll know the issues can range from user error to massive system failures.
There are four main complaints when you deal with heating systems. The first is that the heating is coming on but it isn’t staying on or it’s never reaching the temperature the thermostat is set to. Second is that some of the radiators in the house are working but none of them are getting really hot. The third is that none of the radiators are coming on - usually, this means that the heating actually isn’t working. Fourth, and by far the worst, there’s a leak!
Heating systems don’t last forever. The reason every housing provider in the country has a heating replacement program in one form or another is that the older they get the less reliable they become. The real issue that housing providers can solve, however, is sorting issues as fast as possible. This is where the benefits of a remote heating system test can really shine through.
The Challenge of Heating Maintenance
No matter when the heating failure happens in the year, there are requirements to fix it. At a minimum, they require a call with an expert who is capable of guiding a resident through various diagnostic steps. That might be rebalancing the system, bleeding the radiators or even defrosting the condensation pipe. In most cases, however, a virtual walkthrough of some diagnostic steps is not feasible - leaving only a visit by an engineer. Engineer callouts are expensive and time-consuming but they are a necessary part of heating maintenance.
What is unnecessary is the deluge of heating maintenance requests that happens during the first few cold days after summer. Every year since Switchee has been founded, we’ve heard the horror stories about the first cold-snap that results in an avalanche of calls to housing providers requiring maintenance visits. These then have to occur out of hours, into the evenings and on weekends because it has moved from an inconvenience during summer when the system wasn’t in use to an emergency situation as winter without heating is now a health risk.
This is costly for housing providers but much worse for residents. They are put into one of two categories:
- If the resident is classed as vulnerable or they have an emergency policy in place they will get a priority appointment and hopefully, everything will be fixed in the next 24 hours. This assumes that there are parts available and the problem can be diagnosed immediately
- If a resident has access to a secondary heating system (for example an electric heater or gas fire) then suddenly their appointment is dropped in priority and is scheduled (hopefully) for the next 7-28 days.
The result of this is that residents either get an acceptable customer experience, or they get one in which they feel neglected and under-serviced. Customer surveys rarely show a positive impact from this experience as it remains neutral or negative. Time during this period becomes the only factor that matters in regards to resident satisfaction, and in social housing the faster a service, the more expensive it is to deliver.
How Remote Heating Testing Helps
A remote heating test is a series of different checks conducted on a heating system to identify its efficiency and any failures that might have happened. The remote element is that the test can be initiated over the internet and the results gathered the same way. This means that a remote heating test over an entire fleet of units is now possible - giving a housing provider an exact list of systems that are either acting inefficiently or completely broken at any one time.
To give you a real-world example - our clients have used the Switchee remote heating test in the last few weeks of August to remotely test and identify heating systems with faults. The failed tests were then assigned heating engineers to go out and visit them - during regular hours - and the issues were dealt with. This kind of predictability is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds (sometimes even millions). It makes the lives of heating engineers better and reduces the stress of the winter on every organisation in the supply chain. These types of remote heating diagnostics can help to keep heating systems looking after themselves - using efficiency monitoring and open protocols like OpenTherm to monitor for fault codes.
As we move into winter, it is worth bearing in mind that organisations that have adopted a proactive approach to heating maintenance are already seeing the benefits. Their teams are less stretched, their expenditure is lessened and their resident satisfaction levels are increasing. Remote heating tests are not going away any time soon - but adopting them sooner rather than later will certainly save your organisation some money.