Show Accessibility Options

Hide Accessibility options
Podcast S14E05

In conversation with… Nathan Gambling

In conversation with… Nathan Gambling

In this episode, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of issues in the heating sector. Decarbonising heat is a complex part of the energy transition, and there are lots of elements that go towards ensuring this succeeds. One element that is often overlooked is the role of the installer or engineer. In this episode, Jon Slowe is joined by Nathan Gambling, who is an expert in the world of heating installers in the UK. Nathan is the host of The BetaTalk Renewable Energy Podcast, a plumbing and heating lecturer and consultant, and a training specialist.

Episode transcript

[00:00:02.470] - Jon

Hello and welcome to the episode. Today we're going to roll up our sleeves and get down into some of the nitty gritty issues in the heating sector. The energy transition is widely talked about. Some in the industry talk about the heating transition or the decarbonising heat, and there are lots of elements of that. But one element that is often overlooked is the role of the installer, and that in some ways, is one of the most important elements. So today I'm joined by Nathan Gambling, who very much lives and works and breathes the world of installers, heating installers in the UK. Nathan, hello. Welcome to the podcast.


[00:00:41.570] - Nathan

Hello. Thank you for inviting me.


[00:00:44.150] - Jon

You're very welcome. Nathan. Give our listeners a quick intro of what you do, a flavour of your day to day work.


[00:00:53.090] - Nathan

So basically, a simple sentence to say is, I facilitate learning. I help people understand the heating industry. So there's a wide spectrum of cohorts, whether it's the engineers, consumers, consultancies, like you guys. So I help people understand a little bit about the heating industry, because obviously, as you would know, everyone seems to be talking about it now. They never used to talk about this industry, but it's a big, big topic and a massive discourse now of all sorts of people talking about it. So I run a podcast. So I decided that I wanted to amplify and disseminate the voice of good engineers, because there is some very good engineers out there that are on the ground engineers, and their voices needed to be heard because they're the ones dealing with this technology day in, day out. I come from a heating background, so my grandfather brought oil pressure jet burner technology to this country, UK, 67, is from Sweden, so he was one of the leading combustion experts in Europe. My great uncle was the lead engineer and European energy manager for Unilever. And anyone that knows Unilever, probably the world's first corporation. They bought Birds Eye in 1930, so they've been around vapour compression technology, which is heat pumps, refrigerators for a long, long time, had some of the biggest plant on the planet.


[00:02:04.520] - Nathan

And my cousin, he's the leading UK expert on acoustic sensitive vapour compression technology. So things like BBC Studios, radio studios, I mean, when you get these guests go into these radio stations and say, heat pumps don't work, they don't realise they're being comfort cooled and comfort heated with VRF technology, which is vapour compression, its a heat pump. So they're everywhere. I thought my apprenticeship was with the MoD plumbing heating. Probably at some point wanted to get out of it and do other things, but I started lecturing in 2006. I was after teaching a prison. It was the first prison to teach plumbing and heating, and I've got a degree in behavioural psychology, so I did that, liked teaching. Teaching is hard. Then got into teaching in colleges. That's quite hard, because education is a business. I don't think it's fit for purpose a lot of the time. So I thought, well, I still want to facilitate learning. Let's use these disruptive technologies that now exist like you and I now use podcasts, for instance, where I can help people. Two of my main missions are to activate people as learning resources for each other because peer learning, peer to peer learning is fantastic and help people activate them as taking ownership of their own learning.


[00:03:14.310] - Nathan

Everyone thinks it's all about courses, but anyone can go on a course and anyone can generally pass a course in this industry. It's about getting in and inspiring people to become conscientious learners and really take learning and grasp it and really get to know what their industry is all about.


[00:03:32.690] - Jon

Nathan, you use the word heating engineers. I use the word installers. Is installers the wrong word? Is engineers the right word? Does it matter or is it important?


[00:03:44.990] - Nathan

This is a very good question. It comes up a lot of the time. So the word installer is relatively new. So if you look at the if you go back to the days of Corgi who had the register, so they had a magazine that they called Installer. Pre that I don't think people use that word. There's technician, operators, etc. Etc. Engineers. So if you look at my granddad, let's say one of the preeminent oil combustion engineers in Europe, he had his engineering degrees from the Navy. My dad hasn't got any qualifications, but he's been fixing oil boilers for a long, long time. There was no way my great uncle and my granddad would not call my dad an engineer. He was a heating engineer. So he found that whole world a little bit elitist where you have to have degrees before you can call yourself an engineer. Because like he said, people on the ground where they're in big ships or whatever they're doing, they're the ones that usually get the same problem solved. Yeah. There is this thing about what should they be called engineers? If you look at a very good engineer that I have on my podcast, yes, I will always call them engineers.


[00:04:48.530] - Nathan

They're not just installers, but there is this thing about what I think people don't realise. There's lots of niches within the plumbing and heating world. You can get a guy or a girl that are very good at fixing boilers. That's a good skill in its own right. Very good at fault finding and fixing. Then you get people are very good at installing them. So they know a little bit about design. They know how to do heat loss calculations or even measurement now, which I think everyone should do heat coefficients. So they know how to design systems and put them in probably wouldn't know as much as the people fixing them. You get good commissioning engineers that can set things up properly. So there is some variety within the whole installation. What people would call the installation world. I kind of tend to call it the engineering world, but when you've got good engineering ones, I have on my podcast, what they can do is phenomenal. So, yes, in my mind, they're not just installers.


[00:05:40.250] - Jon

So installers probably downplays the skills of a big part of heating engineers. Some will have more skills. Some will be, as you say, very adept at fixing things and carrying out heat loss calculations. Others may be very good at swapping out an old boiler for a new boiler. But there's quite a diverse range of skills within the industry.


[00:06:04.730] - Nathan

Oh, without a doubt. If you take my dad, for instance, my dad could repair any or boiler going, which is a great skill. But if you asked him what is a Watt, he wouldn't know as a joule per second. If you said that home here, that needs 8 kw when it's minus three, he wouldn't know it. That meant it needs seven when it's zero and only 3.6 kw when it's ten degrees outside, he wouldn't know that. So there's a lot of variation, which is quite important to consider when we do sort of consider that skill set that's out there. And what we'll probably talk about in a bit is I feel a little bit sorry for the engineers, because they've been in an industry or installers, whatever you want to call them, that was successful. So the UK had the biggest gas boiler industry in the world up until 2016. It's a very overcrowded market still. There's a lot of marketing tactics, PR tactics that go on and we've kind of lost our way a little bit. The engineers out there haven't been taught good practice about design, being taught how to safely install borders, basically.


[00:07:04.770] - Nathan

So there's a lack of knowledge out there, which is a shame. But there's definitely an impetus for people wanting to learn, and that's across the age range. It's not whether they're coming up to retirement or not, it's across the age range.


[00:07:17.990] - Jon

So the biggest if we try and break down this group of engineers, stroke installers today, Nathan, in a country like the UK, the UK is predominantly gas boiler market, Europe's biggest gas boiler market. Most engineers/installers, if we use both words are very good at coming into a home and installing and swapping out a gas boiler, one gas boiler for another one. Is that the biggest group? If you had to try and break down the different types of installers, engineers, is that the biggest group of people that will come in be very good at sizing the boiler, approximately swapping a boiler out and moving on to the next job. Could you characterise the typical day job of the most common installer?


[00:08:07.070] - Nathan

Yeah, that is the biggest cohort now. So unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, you've got boiler manufacturers. Obviously, they're competing with each other for their sales figures and they've incentivized, rightly or wrongly, or whether they wittingly or unknowingly, they've incentivized replacing boilers rather than repair. So there are companies, boiler companies, some of the big boiler companies in this country will fly you to Vegas, Miami, you put so many boilers on the wall, so they've incentive, an all paid for expensive holiday. So they've incentivised with their loyalty schemes. Putting boilers on the wall and with a gas combi boiler, that's quite easy. You can go in there. Some will do it in half a day, three quarters a day. You can do it quite quickly. So there's been a race to the bottom with prices. Now, that doesn't mean the person doing that can't do a good job. It's just depending on where they live geographically, if they really want to do a good job and size the system properly, clean the system properly, Commission it properly, put weather comp controls on it, they're competing with people, they just want to go in and plonk a boiler on the wall.


[00:09:05.980] - Nathan

So depending on who their customer base is, this is one of the reasons why the prices have been driven so low. I mean, people know about us being too expensive, but there are people out there paying more for their subscriptions on Netflix and Spotify on phones than they do for a boiler every ten years. But yes, to answer your question, they are the biggest cohort, I think. Yeah, without a doubt.


[00:09:30.650] - Jon

What's the difference in time from the two examples he gave? There someone that just goes out and swaps the boiler out, someone that goes in, cleans the system, does a heat loss calculation, weather compensation. Is that an extra hour, 2 hours of effort? Is it an extra day of effort?


[00:09:48.550] - Nathan

You can say its an extra day. Let's say a really good engineer wanted to go and assess a four bedroom property. It's winter. Most people buy things on distress purchase, but let's say they haven't. Let's say, oh, I want a new heating system. So a good engineer might go in, they might do some thermography on the radio. So they'll use their thermal imaging camera and they'll take images of the radar. You'll be able to pick up the sludge patterns. So that's something they can give to the customer. So the customer can now say, oh, yeah, I can understand that. So they then do a proper good flush. There's a fantastic thorough flush piece of equipment that will send water backwards and forwards backwards, because it's actually quite hard to get this sludge out of a radiator. Velocity drops when water flows through a radiator, so the sediment falls into the radiator. All these, the most hyped up product on our heating into it is a magnetic filter. Sludge doesn't automatically think, oh, there's a magnetic filter with the other system. Let's go and make our way to it. Sludge drops to the bottom, that's velocity drop. That's why we used to have dirt separators.


[00:10:49.190] - Nathan

It drops to the bottom. So you want to clean that system out, get that clean, then you could do a thermal imaging again. So the customer now can see, oh, yeah, our rads are now clean. Great. So we can now then sort of start to think about putting the boiler in the controls. What sort of controls you use? We've got a big problem with the wrong controls being used. So someone like British Gas, for instance, they've got Hive. Hive is just an on off themostat. It might be out of there. It's an Internet connected device, but it's just an on off thermostat can't modulate your boiler and you want boilers heat pumps to modulate, depending on the temperature outside. If it's cold outside, you need a high temperature flow into your rads. So, yeah, it's going to take a little bit more time, definitely a day. And obviously, most customers across the range, whether they're affluent or not, they kind of have this knowledge now that of a certain price ballpark price to have a boiler installation. So they don't tend to want to pay a little bit more to the engineer that wants to do a good job, for instance.


[00:11:46.650] - Nathan



[00:11:47.580] - Jon

Okay. So, yeah, that leads to a different area we probably won't get into now. But about how engineers can demonstrate the value to customers to show the difference between going for a cheap quote, that's a few hours work or more expensive quote, that might be a day's work and the value of that. So there's a step from simple gas boiler swap to a better approach, which takes more time, flushing, control. With all the things you just talked about, there's another step up now to say the customer says, oh, I'm interested in a heat pump, and what would be involved in that? So is there a step up in that? If we're going from hours of work to a day of work to then look at putting a heat pump in, is that an extra set of things that the engineer would need to do, or is that basically taking the good practice around boilers and applying that to a heat pump?


[00:12:44.090] - Nathan

Yeah. Ironically, homes should already be heat pump ready. So condensing boilers were mandated back in 2005. Now, I know these boilers when a domestic energy assessor goes to a home and they tick off a box and say, yeah, you got an A plus boiler great, it gives you a good EPC. They're coming out of the box set at 75 degrees still from the manufacturer. And most people aren't range rated them or like, say, weather complaints. A condensing border, when it was mandated in 2005, is a low temperature heating appliance. It was designed for…


[00:13:20.610] - Jon

For people that don't understand flow temperatures. That's 73 degrees. That will be the temperature that a boiler will typically push water at around the radiators.


[00:13:30.240] - Nathan

Yeah. Like people say, we've got these leaky homes. We don't need that high temp water. Historically, we used to have to have high temperature water for our thermosyphon systems, which were gravity systems, they didn't have pumps. We also then back in the days of TB, you'd have your hospitals with all the windows open in the winter, you had to have hot radiators. There was a variety. And of course, before condensing boilers, low temps would actually destroy your water jackets and heat exchangers because of condensate. But now that we've got condensing boilers, we can have these very low temps. And one problem is we think we have fixed temperatures. We're not supposed to have fixed temperatures going round and round. They're supposed to constantly change depending on what the weather is outside, second law of thermodynamics dictates. There's a greater temperature difference between our 21 degrees or 20 degrees inside and the outside, heat’s going to move quicker through the fabric so we can adjust our flow temp to the rads are constantly adjusting all they're supposed to do. So we don't need these high flow temps. Now, when condensing boilers were mandated in 2005, in reality, we should have been designed the system to be low temp.


[00:14:34.540] - Nathan

That might have meant you upsized a few of the rads, et cetera. So we're now in this bizarre position where we're getting heat pump ready and a lot of our housing stock could have already been heat pump ready. But the transition we know A is what we got. We know B is having more solar thermal and heat pumps and there's going to be transitional steps. So I think the good engineers are going to be the ones that can sort of convince customers. And obviously on the adoption curve, we've got the innovators that are the ones mainly adopting this technology. They're going to understand there might be some incremental steps, get your rads upsized, etc. Get some better control systems in place for when you get your heat pump in the future. Now, the good engineers - you said to come back to your question that with time, when people say, why do heat pumps cost a lot of money? The actual heat pump doesn't cost a lot of money. I mean, a six kilowatt heat pump you can get for 1800 quid or premium brand for about 3500. If you go in air to air, about 500 quid, it's the time of designing it, putting it in.


[00:15:38.550] - Nathan

I used to be able to lump the boiler on my shoulder. I can't put a heat pump on my shoulders. You need to employ labour to do that. Get it off the lorry. You've got to design it. I've got engineers that have got really keen customers that have emailed them over 100 times in the last month. So you've got this whole thing because these early adopters of the technology, they want to know all the answers. That's a lot of time for an engineer to be able to answer all these emails.


[00:16:08.650] - Jon

You don’t get that design time with a gas boiler. Show me the three options!


[00:16:12.410] - Nathan

Someone rings says my boiler’s broken. Yeah. Okay. We'll come around with a new one. Kit on the wall, job done. But now you've got this whole procurement because it's not just the you haven't just got to get the heat pump, you've got to procure the other equipment you might need. So that might be a special cylinder or plate heat exchanges, whatever people are choosing to use. So there's definitely a lot more time. Of course, the customer doesn't see that time away from site. They just see someone turn up.


[00:16:37.250] - Jon

The engineer has to price that time into the quote.


[00:16:40.320] - Nathan

Yeah. And don't get me wrong, the poor old customers, they're in an awkward position, because as you may have heard me say on my podcast, customers do not know who is competent. We train people to be qualified in this country, not competent. There's a big difference. So I'm not bothered. Whether people got qualifications or accreditations doesn't mean they're competent. So the customer doesn't really know who's competent and who to pay good money for, because arguably it's the most complex system in our home. We should be prepared to pay a little bit more money for it for a good system than what we do. Plumbers are kind of considered as tradespeople still - at the World Health Organisation rates us as the most important health worker on the planet, even before doctors, because we prevent more death and disease. Sanitation has always prevented more death and disease, than doctors can cure. And of course, now really good heating engineers, that's so important. Really so important. So, yeah, I mean, I've had customers argue, why am I more than their carpet fitter? I have to know a lot more. Bless them. That's a good job. I can't do it.


[00:17:47.030] - Nathan

But I do have to know a little bit more.


[00:17:50.250] - Jon

That's why I think this difference between installer an engineer is quite important because there's a perception from customers as to, firstly, the value of their heating system, and secondly, the value of the person who's advising them, specifying it, designing it. So if coming back to this installer, swaps out a gas boiler. That's a few hours. An engineer looks at radiators in the way described with a thermal imaging camera, flushes the system puts in weather compensation, proper controls. That's a day for a heat pump installation. What would you estimate all of that design time? Are we talking about a day or two days or five days? Can you give our listeners as a feel for that?


[00:18:44.760] - Nathan

Well, I was interviewed by Michael Liebreich on his excellent podcast Cleaning Up, and I sent you this. We call it, there's no pannacotta or there is no panacea. Every home is completely different. So even if they are exactly the same home, they can be completely different and they can have different occupancy. So I could go into one home, I could go into a living room, and it might be a couple that have got their little armchairs, tiny little TV. And I look at that room, I think, wow, I've got extra wall space. I can get two rads on this really well. Well, an upsize of the rads or the surface area. So I can emit these low temperatures. I might go into exactly the same house ten years later and it's got another family living it. They got these wall to wall sofas, the ones that go round and L, they got a massive, massive TV screen. I'm now limited with the rad space, even though it's the same property, the same living room, depending on how people live and interact with their homes, can change the whole system design. So it's very hard to put these times and prices on it.


[00:19:47.180] - Nathan

And I know everyone. I mean, I get contacted all the time, what's the average price? And it really is dependent on that first range and you can never tell anything until you survey it. So it's why a lot of us get engineers. We're not happy about some of the models, like boxed, that are just basically, the customer chooses the boiler online and it gets shipped out because that's just took all the design away from a heating system you can't really put a time or price on. You have to survey it right from the word go and see where you're going.


[00:20:24.770] - Jon

And to do the survey is quite - do you find engineers are charging for the survey typically, or they're doing that at risk because that's the number of hours. That's quite a cost of sale to someone if they're doing that at risk.


[00:20:40.370] - Nathan

Yeah, that's interesting. So you've got most of the industry in the UK, so over 80% are sole traders. Never used to be. So if you go back to the 70s, most people involved in plumbing and heating, which is a simpler thing back then, were employed. They're employed by the regional gas boards, local authorities, councils. So you would have this design team. If you look at my city in Norwich, where I grew up, by the way, John Sumner built the first ever river source heat pump in Norwich, they've been going a long time, used to heat up all the factory work up until the 2000. So you have city engineering. So they were all the designers that worked and designed all the pipe size and all this, and then you would have your fitters go out. So before the word installers, you had your fitters would go out. My dad was a fitter and they do all the pipe work in all the homes and you'd have your foreman and your charge hands and your clerk at work. So there was a hierarchy. You have your apprenticeships. Now we're a sole trader. It's a self employed industry.


[00:21:35.720] - Nathan

So you'll find that there's a trader that has to do all this. Some of them will charge for that survey. Some of them, let's say they've teamed up and then let's say there's like a five person team, they might offer that survey free. Then there's other models where if they get the job. That price is put on. So we're starting to see different models of that. Now, of course, you've then got lots of companies out there that have got the sales model. So they all employ sales people, and I don’t want to be derogatory to the window sales people, but they'll employ someone that will come around, flash, big watch, says all the right things, and people think, oh, yeah, this is a great company. Now, the person that's coming around doing the survey actually hasn't got any clue about heating system whatsoever. They just got some ballpark prices. Yeah.


[00:22:26.680] - Jon

They're commissioned driven salesperson, probably, yeah.


[00:22:29.970] - Nathan

And we're seeing a lot more of that happening. So a lot of the engineers out there getting emails constantly from these big companies that are setting up, say, come and earn this amount of money with us. All we've got to do is this. So thr survey is very interesting. So obviously heat loss calculations we used to do years ago with mirrors calculators, like I say, the design teams back in the day would do that. Anyway, for the fitters, we're starting to see a revival of people actually doing heat loss calculations. There are various ways you can do it. You can do it by hand or you can do it with software. However, I'm a big advocate of - calculation has a massive room for error. And I use the analogy of a wedding dress. If you're getting married, the bride doesn't ring up the dressmaker and the dressmaker doesn't ask all these questions like, what's your BMI, how tall are you, how much do you weigh? How much do you exercise? And then calculate the dress size? They measure the person. And we can actually measure heat loss in a home. We can use something called the heat and transfer coefficient.


[00:23:30.250] - Nathan

And there was a BEIS study called Smeter, so there used to be something called Coheating tests. There's now, these HTTC tests, you can even do it with your utility price data and with a few equations to get a ballpark figure, you can actually measure heat loss through fabric rather than calculating. So U-values, when we use that's calculation, and especially with cavity wall properties, no one knew how well insulation went in. So whether you put your U value in your software, you're making a very sort of. It's just a judgement, it's modelling. So I think you'll see the EPC certificates start to use, and I think they will start to use in the future HTC, which is heat transer coefficient. It's a proper measurement rather than the calculation.


[00:24:17.250] - Jon

And with sensors, with data, with software models, that should be doable, shouldn't it? We should be much better that we should be able to measure rather than estimate. And as you say, when you estimate, there's so much margin for error, and that will presumably then affect how well the heat pump might be sized. For example.


[00:24:41.590] - Nathan

Without a doubt, it affects performance. And we're all walking around with these mini supercomputers in our pockets this technology they can do. It's not hard to measure heat loss nowadays and it's not hard to monitor systems. I mean, we have been monitoring systems. The RHI had the monitoring and metering support package Ofgem’s got a lot of data. Unfortunately, that data kinda should be open access so engineers can learn from it what systems are doing, what why aren't they performing as good? What could we do here to tweak them? I mean, there is the BEIS heat pump ready programme about to start, and I think some of the companies and some of the consortiums will be doing that one of the ones I'm in. But we're trying to learn from data to help engineers with the peer to peer learning, better their practices, because that's useful data. That's really useful data than that data.


[00:25:32.730] - Jon

And then you've got a size of system. You've got to set up the controls right, as you say, you've got to get the flow temperatures right. You've got to get the radiators sized right in the right rooms for the wall to wall sofas or the big TVs, as you say.


[00:25:47.370] - Jon

I can really understand why there's that big range, but why that is a very different type of job to just coming in for a few hours and swapping out a gas boiler.


[00:25:57.070] - Nathan

Yeah. I think we might see some niche industries, like people coming just specifically surveys who know how heat moves in a home. They know how heat, moisture and air moves within a home. And they're very good at that whole survey thing. And that might become a little bit. And they have awareness of heating technology as well, because one problem we have got is a lot of the domestic energy assessors and the retrofit assessors, they don't always know heating technology very well, so they're getting a few things wrong. In my humble opinion.


[00:26:29.470] - Jon

If you looked at all the installers/engineers in the UK, Nathan, what proportion would you say are really doing heat loss calculations as they should be? Sizing heating systems, putting the controls on, checking the radiators, treating the whole heating system rather than just the heating appliance. Is it 10%? Is it 30%? Is it 50%? Who are able to do a really good job of that.


[00:27:01.390] - Nathan

That's a good question. It's probably more people than what I would actually put a figure on it. The funny thing is you kind of don't have to size. So the problem we've got in this country is that the combination boiler became very popular. So for all your listeners that don't know, all boilers are now condensing technology so they can work with low flow temps. They're supposed to. But combination boilers, which are the most popular boiler, they do a combination of two things. They provide the heating around your radiators, or under the floor, and they also provide instantaneous hot water. So you turn your tap on the mains. What goes into the combi boiler comes out hot. So we've done away with cylinders. Now, these were sized to be able to heat water instantaneously, so you're going to get 24 kw, 30 kw. You've got manufacturers.


[00:27:49.510] - Jon

So when you're having a shower. Yeah, when you're having a shower, you've got loads of hot water coming through.


[00:27:56.040] - Nathan

Well, this is the thing. I mean, you'll get the manufacturer's PR and marketing, say buy a bigger boiler, you'll get more water coming through quicker. Well, you don't. You're dependent on what's the flow rate of your main coming into your property. If you've got ten litres per minute coming in your main, you can only have ten litres or less coming out your boiler heated up. So all these claims, the bigger the boiler, the quicker the water will come out. It's all dependent on what your flow rate of your mains and pressure of your mains is. But we've been sizing boilers for that, so you kind of have to have a certain size to be able to do that water instantaneously. The problem we've got is most properties in the UK, despite we say we've got leaky properties, most properties in the UK only need around six to 8 kw of power, which is, let's say it's 8 kw. It's 8000 joules per second at design temperature, which is usually around minus street. And that means when it's like I say, well, I think I said earlier, when it's like ten degrees outside, you only need 3.6 kw.


[00:28:54.510] - Nathan

Well, most boilers can't modulate down that low. There's only a few that are actually able to modulate down low enough to be the biggest gas boiler seller in the UK is Ideal. So a lot of them go into new builds. New builds are around about four kilowatt demand at minus three, the boiler going in can only range right down to 7 kw. So these borders actually aren't condensed in properly. So even if an engineer was to go in and size the system correctly, they haven't got the boilers out there in the market, despite there's been a lot of models and makes out there, they haven't got the right boilers that can modulate down low enough, which is quite bizarre.


[00:29:38.450] - Jon

So it's really going to be, we're going to have to upskill, train, use all your learning techniques you talked about at the very beginning. The majority of installers are going to have to really reskill and much of their approaches to installing heating systems, is that fair to say or is that too harsh?


[00:30:06.750] - Nathan

Some of them already are, some of them already are, and they're doing great stuff. It's just the market isn't ready for them. Like I said, if an engineers really learn this stuff about flow temps and modulates, et cetera, the customer base isn't out there ready for them unless they've got customers that are now having heat pumps. Because that's quite a scary move for the sole trader to sort of go into heat pumps if there isn't a customer base for them because they're in the jump. Yeah, it's a big jump. Any learning. There's a quote, Learning is like breathing. You can't do it for someone. They have to do it themselves. If you want to become the best footballer in the world, you have to practice every day. It's no good just going on a boot camp every summer holiday. You've got to practice every day. And you'll find the best engineers practise every day, not hands on practise. They're practising with each other, like chatting about stuff. What would you do here? What would you do there? They're very passionate conscientious about their industry because it's technical. Like my cousin said, heating isn't rocket science.


[00:31:04.990] - Nathan

It's far more complex. Rockets - you have thermodynamic systems on them to keep them cool. You can go right there with hydronics and thermodynamics. It's a complex industry. I mean, analogies are good for learning. I like to use analogies to help people learn and get excited about it. It's about activating people to be passionate about learning. We got to get the learning courses because anyone can go on a course.


[00:31:31.110] - Jon

You got to get learning right. You've got to get the demand there. So as you say, these sole traders can see the demand. They know they'll get a return on investment in that learning and then we're in that direction. But if the market moves too quickly, the market is going to be frustrated because the engineers will be following it. We better move on, Nathan, to the last part of the podcast, which is where we get out there talking new energy crystal ball. And I'm going to set the dial this week to five years time, 2027. And quite a wide question for you, but I'd like to hear your views on how much progress you think Britain will have made to decarbonising heat in the next five years. So for listeners that don't know today, vast majority of heating systems installed against boilers, heat pumps, very small, tiny, but growing. Where will we be in five years time, do you think, Nathan? How optimistic or pessimistic are you?


[00:32:28.110] - Nathan

I'm optimistic, Jon. I think I am optimistic. You've got people like Octopus Energy that have obviously got big voice and they're doing heat pumps. Lots of awareness around heat pumps now. So that's a good thing. You have got engineers now starting to realise that their industry is transitioning, so they're starting to sort of think about things. I am quite optimistic. Manufacturers are going to have to sort of buck their ideas up a bit and change their marketing tactics and help engineers learn, provide some really useful resources to help people do the stuff they need to do. It's not always about courses. Sometimes it's resources. They provide something that's going to help the people do what they need to do. I am quite optimistic. I mean, I don't know if we're going to be what the ten point plan have reached 600,000 heat pumps a year. It's worth pointing out, though, when we talk about heat pumps. Heat pumps exist everywhere. They're around us every day. So you go in the garage that costa coffee machine, that's a heat pump. The vending machine is a heat pump, a slush puppy machine. Most of the offices that we work in, people look up and think, It's air conditioning, it's not.


[00:33:36.460] - Nathan

It's comfort cooling and comfort heating. It's all vapour compression, all the heat pump is all. The heat pump is moving heat from an evaporator to a condenser bar compressor. And they exist everywhere on the planet.


[00:33:48.990] - Jon

And what's the biggest challenge from an installer/engineer perspective, or what would you like to see happen for your optimism to be realised?


[00:33:59.970] - Nathan

I think they need more support. I think there needs to be behavioural change that people value a heating engineer a little bit more than they do. That's a tough one. That is a tough one, because there is a small cohort out there exploiting customers, charging the Earth, not doing a great job. There's a lot of conscious incompetence out there, so they consciously know they're not good enough. There's a lot of unconscious incompetence out there. So there's people out there doing stuff that they don't know is wrong, but you can work with them. You can say, look, you need to do it like this. And I think, oh, yeah, I didn't know that. And away they go. So there's all different types of competence. They need some support from manufacturers, some manufacturers and industry need to stop all this rubbish marketing that they've been doing for 30 years, because a lot of it's incorrect. It's just rubbish. And they're just trying to sort of sell stuff and help engineers become valued. And we need and for that to happen, we need really, really good consumer information, because the heterogeneous information out there for consumers, a lot of it's rotten, a lot of disinformation.


[00:35:08.950] - Nathan

They need real good quality information, because once they've got good information, they will then have a better understanding how to be good engineers. It drives up best practice, because if you've got a consumer said an engineer, what is a Watt? And an engineer doesn't know, it's a joule per second. They can actually then think, well, you can’t shift it, can you really? I mean, they don't have to at the moment, but there are certain things that engineers got to start to grasp and I think consumers can drive that, but they need a good information first.


[00:35:34.210] - Jon

It sounds like it's going to need a bit of everyone, Nathan. It's going to need manufacturers to support the installers, engineers they work with, and some of them, I think, are doing a reasonable job there, moving in that direction. It's going to need householders, consumers to probably put more value, to attach more value to the heating system and advice they get on the heating system. It will need government to help facilitate this. It will need service companies, energy retailers, as you mentioned, to help create the market with interesting propositions. But the one my takeaway from this discussion is unless we get the engineers part of it right, we can get every other part right. Unless we get the engineers part right, then the whole thing won’t work.


[00:36:26.390] - Nathan

You're very close to government Jon. Do you feel that they think that the engineers is a big part of it, helping support the engineers? I mean, I know they're all talking about upskilling and they're all talking about these courses, but we've had courses for years and years and years, and yet we've got kind of a low skill with all this technology. So you have to ask a question or is that the be all at end of all the courses? There's more to it than that. Our government should be interested.


[00:36:55.050] - Jon

The biggest thing I think is missing is understanding the business perspective of that sole trader you talk about.


[00:37:02.480] - Nathan



[00:37:03.190] - Jon

And I think most engineers are quite entrepreneurial, and I think if they see an opportunity, they will learn, they'll go on courses, they will listen to your podcast, they'll talk with other engineers, and I think they're capable, but they need to see the business opportunity because they've got families, they've got mortgages, they've got bills to pay, and unless they see the opportunity, they're not going to invest their time in it. Quite rightly.


[00:37:32.730] - Nathan

One of the saddest things I see, obviously, I've been involved in teaching a lot of apprentices, and everyone thinks apprenticeships is this the panacea. The trouble is, apprenticeships have actually been perpetuating the problem, because a lot of the main facilitator of learning for an apprentice isn't the College, it's the people they're actually out there working with. And if they've got low skill, the apprentices are having low skill. It perpetuates the problem. Now, you've got some really, really good companies and engineers out there. If they would get funding that full fund to take on apprentice so they could learn really good stuff, that would be a great bonus. But at the moment, the funding goes direct to colleges. Colleges only have them for one day a week and they get all the funding, actually. And it's so skewed. The whole training thing is so skewed towards this whole sort of mishmash of bureaucratic education system. Whereas if you've got a good engineer, give them some money, give them some ports, give them some empathy training, put some apprentices with them, and they will become great. That's not happening.


[00:38:32.040] - Jon

Well, Nathan, I think there's a lot more we could talk about this discussion today. It re emphasises my view that decarbonising power is hard, but I can see how that's going to be done and is being done. Decarbonizing transport, the same decarbonizing heat is an order of magnitude harder, I think, because there are so many different parts to the equation and we're dealing with so many different types of people and organisations. So anyway, it sounds like progress. Well, I know progress is being made it's great to hear your views from working with engineers and installers and training them. So thank you very much for your time, Nathan really appreciate it.


[00:39:17.710] - Nathan

You're welcome. Thank you for inviting me.


[00:39:20.470] - Jon

Thanks everyone for listening. We hope you've learnt more about the world of heating engineers installers and maybe prompted you to go and look at your own heating system and look at whether you've got sludge in the radiators what controls you've got and what flow temperatures you got in your house. So on that note wishing you luck to go and get stuck in your own heating system and hopefully decarbonise it and look forward to welcoming you back soon. Thanks very much and good bye.


Add yourself to our mailing list

Add yourself to our mailing list