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I do love this idea

Plumbers have an image problem that may derail the Government’s net zero ambitions, experts have warned.

Replacing gas boilers and switching to heat pumps is a central tenet of the Government’s ambitions for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050, and the installation will largely be done by upskilling current gas and oil boiler installers.

But almost all plumbers are middle-aged white men close to retirement, a government report has found, raising concerns that there will not be enough competent installers to reach the Government’s goal of 600,000 heat pumps being installed every year by 2028.

So, we’re going to plan everything. We’re going to have that Green New Deal. Just turn on that massive programme to lag, insulate, change the heating system of, every house in the country. And NOW! because climate change. Set money printer go brrrr!

But once we try to do this we find planning isn’t that simple. Every bodger in the country will be killing folk with bad work – as happened in Oz. So we’ve got to train more plumbers. And to do that we’ve got to design plumber training programmes. And then to do that we’ve got to plan more tech colleges. Which will need, of course, diversity advisors to do the Wilt Work on our Toilets Two classes. Which will need training programmes for diversity advisors and…….you see how this goes?

Fat Controllerism never does work simply because the world is a complicated place. Beyond the minds of even the cleverest retired accountants.

42 thoughts on “I do love this idea”

  1. As always, if the UK really wishes to decarbonise, I’d argue for putting ALL the money into a major nuclear program.

    The technology is about 70 years old, the Frogs have shown that a major building program is practical, there’s plenty of uranium, and all that’s needed is to crush the fascist climate deniers who pretend that all these ridiculous regulations are necessary to make everything safe.

    But of course if you got rid of all the fascists, there’d be no one worrying about the climate.

  2. Boganboy: wrong way round. Nothing will be accomplished until big gubmint is out of the way and its employment scheme for DIE graduates in the social sciences and hold them accountable for every failure. You’ll probably have to rebuild the education system from the ground up to strip out Marxist fantasy. This will probably only possible after we’re starving in the dark and the Net Zero enthusiasts lynched.

  3. Good plumbers/heating engineers, electricians, carpenters, plasterers, etc are already as rare as hen’s teeth. Their kids/grandkids (contemporary tradespersons) are all IT nerds.

  4. If you really wanted to achieve Net Zero….one way would be to provoke a war with a thermonuclear power until they glass you.

  5. Plumbers have an image problem … But almost all plumbers are middle-aged white men close to retirement, a government report has found, raising concerns that there will not be enough competent installers to reach the Government’s goal

    Why is it an image problem that there aren’t enough competent plumbers?

    Is the fact that the competent ones are almost all middle-aged white men a problem?

    Can anyone make any sense of the quote above?

  6. “are middle-aged white men”

    …and are therefore educated and sensible, not gullible enough to ruin themselves with our Heat Pump shit.
    We need a new supply of gullible idiots who will do what they are told and shut up.

    Government policy is becoming clearer.

  7. “Is the fact that the competent ones are almost all middle-aged white men a problem?”

    I think the story goes something like… We need to upskill plumbers, but by the time we get our act together they won’t be middle-aged buy anymore but close to retirement, and that – given the profession is almost entirely white, a demographic in decline – there will be no one to train.

  8. “What you don’t want, missus, is one of them expensive bleeding heat pumps. They won’t keep you cosy when it’s parky outside. Let me install you a cushty, reliable gas boiler.”

  9. I worked in further education, and actually did some of the training in “Equality and Diversity”. It’s not a pretty picture. The lecturers actually delivering the courses are decent people (in plumbing and construction, usually blokes) but are often there because they are past it and have had enough of being “on the tools” (at fifty, your knees play up!) or else have failed running a one-man white van business because the VAT, regulations, and payments systems bamboozled them.

    To be fair, having worked for themselves or on building sites they do need a bit of induction into the ways of educating youngsters. Many of them are brilliant at explaining stuff and were obviously good at getting ideas across when they were in the trade. But others are useless and need to be told that calling Leroy a “thick black bastard” when he gets it wrong is unlikely to increase his application and zest for the course and the job. Most of the lecturers knew they had to teach about “renewables”, but were sceptical. From experience, they knew that heat pumps are pretty much shite and impractical for most people. Same applies to the motor vehicle and engineering departments, etc.

    Driving this are the senior managers, whose salaries depend on getting good reports from Ofsted, increasing student numbers, and the magical “success rate”, which is retention x achievement. So they have to recruit as many kids as they can, whether suitable or not, and then put pressure on the lecturers to mollycoddle the kids and not let them fail at any cost. To ask them whether they actually believe the shitty things they do and the daft things they say would be considered a breach of good manners – maybe akin to asking a lawyer whether he believes his clients, etc. Among the senior managers there is an equality and diversity zealot. Almost always a woman. An Asian or black woman is especially prized. Ofsted again – the first thing they look at is the racial and gender composition of the senior management team. I worked with some absolute doozies.

    “Wilt” was funny. But we were recommended to read it in the early 1980s when I was training. Things have moved on a lot, and not in a good direction. There’s a point at which clowns get scary.

    Sometimes, people ask me whether I enjoy retirement…

  10. “and the installation will largely be done by upskilling current gas and oil boiler installers.”

    I can see no reason why a competent plumber/boiler installer should be “upskilled” to install the bloody things.
    Other than also needing to be certified as electricians as well, given the needs of the things and the need to lay an extra fused line 90% of the time.
    But that would upset the Guilds Unions, wouldn’t it?

    Bet you they’ll be going for the Australian “Solution”:

    One Man, to place the kit.
    One Man, to attach the pipes.
    One Man, to connect the electricity.
    One Man, to Inspect it all, and appease Nuggan the mighty Gods of Insurance.

    And all shall pay their Dues in homage to the Guilds Mafia Unions that oversee them all.

  11. So, let me get it straight…

    There aren’t enough skilled people to install the heat pumps…
    There won’t be sufficient generating capacity to power however many pumps manage to get installed…
    There isn’t sufficient distribution infrastructure to carry the power from however many plants that
    actually do get constructed to the substations…
    There aren’t enough substations to cope with the total load…
    There aren’t beefy-enough feeds, from however many substations that actually get built, to the streets…
    There isn’t sufficient capacity in the feeds from street to domestic in a large percentage of dwellings…
    … and to top it off, 95%+ of the population won’t have the £15-20K+ necessary to finance the new systems…

    … but other than that, it’s a doddle.

    And, the same applies to electic vehicles as well…

  12. Well at least they said tenet rather than tenant.

    how much of this “training” is actually training as opposed to form filling and box ticking? £2000 does not get much in the way of genuine training (i.e. involving any actual hands on which requires any sort of representative hardware any inspection of work done). I suspect a power point presentation by some “expert” outlining regulations and the issue of a certificate at the end of it.

  13. Mark,

    £2000 does not get much in the way of genuine training

    When did we just start accepting ridiculous prices for things? £6,000 is the cost of teaching a schoolchild for a year. It should be perfectly possible to re-train a plumber – who already has most of the required skills and competence, and isn’t going to be disruptive in class – for £2,000.

  14. I can’t see any particular problems in installing an air sourced heat pump system. Basically it’s a heat source & the interface with the household heating/hot water supply won’t be any different from a gas unit. Presumably it’s necessary to pressurise the heat exchanger circuits with whatever it uses as a working fluid. But that’s no different from doing aircon.
    Doing the design side? We already use tables for rad sizes/room volumes/level of heating required. Unit output/installation requirement. So just different tables.
    Ground sourced. Oddly enough, the groundwork should be similar to what’s required for a what you probably know as a septic tank. That works in the opposite direction to what a ground sourced heat pump system is doing. Distributes waste water over an area of ground. (Be interesting to know how you’d cope using both installations on the same piece of ground. Very interesting)
    The problems going to finding people who can do this sort of work in the first place. Or finding people who can train for it. New build’s easy because you’re working with a blank sheet. Anyone can do new build. It’s trying to retrofit because every building you go into will be different. That’s what sorts out the men from the boys. For that you need experience. You can’t train for that. You learn by doing it. Why the only way to become a competent plumber is to work under a competent plumber.

  15. Grikath, but you must adhere to the standards or we’ll all die (and it isn’t the unions that mandate most of this shit, it’s politicians who have no understanding of anything they pontificate / legislate about or bureaucrats who went to college and have no real world experience.

    My Son and Daughter in law have just converted their garage into a playroom for their daughter. House is built on 700mm footings. Current regs require 1000mm footings, even though it will only be supporting the weight of a brick wall and a double glazed window. Hundreds of pounds worth of additional concrete into the ground. Mandated by ‘experts’. If the fucking house is good on 700mm why isn’t a 3 foot, two skin, non load bearing brick wall?

    And when are people going to start asking questions about how much changing all the copper pipe that currently carries natural gas to our boilers to plastic so that they can convey the new solution to climate change, hydrogen?

    I want a new country please…..

  16. @BiS
    “I can’t see any particular problems in installing an air sourced heat pump system”
    1. It’s large and requires an external wall, not on the property boundary. The majority of rabbit hutches built in the last 30 years don’t have any room.
    2. It’s noisy. Cue council enforcement shutdowns and neighbourly sabotage. High density rabbit hutches again. Okay if you have 2 acres though.
    3. The circulating water must be much lower tempertaure than even a condensing boiler. This means all the radiators are too small. So you need to double up on the radiators in wall space that isn’t there. Oh, and that means all the piping need upgrading. Much of it buried in concrete flooring. Dig up all the floors.
    4. You need much better insulation. This will generally need to be internal (boundaries etc) and so the rooms all need emptying, rebuilding and refitting. Bathroom now too small for a bathtub.
    5. You need a hot water tank – many ‘modern’ CH systems don’t have one, using ‘combi’ boilers. So sacrifice the smallest bedroom to make the space.
    6. The hot water tank needs resistive heating, ‘cos the circulating water is too cool.
    7. The rooms need resistive heating too, for cold days. Heat pumps don’t work well in the cold.
    8. You need to rewire the house, fusebox, street feeder and street cabling,as 40A/60A (commonplace today) won’t have any spare for a 10kW-20kW heatpump (40-80A alone). Actually, for anything but the smallest hutch, you’re gonna need a 3-phase feed. So dig up the street, the drive/garden, the foundations to install.
    9. New and much larger substations needed, in crowded housing estate. Buy a house and knock it down to fit.
    10. And there’s not enough power stations anyway, and the nuke ordered 10 years ago will solve 1% of the problem maybe 20 years from now. When it’s very cold, and you need the heating, there’s no wind, so forget the windmills. And who needs heating during an August lunchtime? So forget solar..
    11. Do all of the above on every apartment on a 40 story tower block.

    See the problem?

    In truth, you’d need to bulldoze the whole housing estate, and start over.
    Listed building? Pah, freeze you kulak!

  17. “raising concerns that there will not be enough competent installers to reach the Government’s goal of 600,000 heat pumps being installed every year by 2028.”

    Government, nor their advisors, nor the media understands it. It’s about cycles. Someone produces X. A few people buy it. With the profit, you invest to make better/cheaper X. More people buy it. More supporting stuff for X appears. Even more people can buy X. You’re not going to spin up a radical change in 5 years.

  18. I doubt that “net-zero” is actually possible to achieve. Of course it isn’t a good policy in any case, but no doubt the government will continue to piss our money up the wall in the name of appeasing St. Greta.

  19. One thing that’s never been explained to me convincingly is how you can extract heat out of near zero air with high humidity. Which is pretty well the default for UK winters. Your cold side has to be at a significantly lower temperature than the ambient air. If that’s below zero, the moisture in the air is going to condense out & freeze on the heat exchanger. And ice is a very good thermal insulator. Sure, you reverse the system & melt the ice on the heat exchanger. Some of it may drip off. But as soon as the system goes back into house heating mode, it’ll refreeze. All you’re doing is creating a loop cycle. You’re going to use more energy then energy extracted.
    Yes, I know these systems will work in the arctic. But by definition, arctic winters are zero humidity. If the air temperature is minus ten, you can extract ten degrees by running your heat exchanger at minus twenty. But you can’t do that at plus four with humidity.

  20. “With the profit, you invest to make better/cheaper X.”
    You canna change the laws of physics.
    Moore’s “law” does not apply to science.

    Heat pumps are determined by thermodynamics. There’s very little to improve.
    Oh sure, you can manaufacture them cheaper (in China), and in volume, but it makes no difference. The heat-pump itself is about 1% of the problem. Ten times that for the house rebuild, and ten times again for the local & national grid rebuilds, and a couple of hundred Sizewells to run it all.

  21. @BiS
    “One thing that’s never been explained to me convincingly is how you can extract heat out of near zero air with high humidity.!”

    Spot on! A very astute observation that is never addressed by the Believers.

    I’ve run a dehumidifier (basically the same as a heat-pump, but all in one) in an outbuilding for 30 years. Every winter, I get a freezeup or two, despite hot-gas autodefrost. Typically when it’s 5 degrees or so, and damp and horrible. Typical British winter weather.

    Won’t it be fun having all that ice falling away from the defrosting heat exchanger on the 40th floor! But most likely, it will just smash into the heat exchanger or windows of the floors below, so pedestrians will be (mostly) safe.

    Utterly mad, yet our masters.

  22. @Tim the Coder
    There’s nothing on the plumbing agenda there that plumbers (heating engineers whatever) don’t have to do now. Nor on the electrical side. But you’re right. There will be so much more of it that will be required. And there certainly aren’t enough people around at the moment with the skills to do that volume of work. And won’t be any time soon. The skilling from scratch would be something like 5 years. And that’s just going to get you the first batch the second batch will learn from. It really isn’t something simple like training lawyers & accountants. Any idiot can do those.

  23. Theophrastus (2066)

    I inherited an ASHP in an 1840s cottage I bought to market as a holiday let (so no business rates or council tax). The previous owner had insulated the loft, installed double-glazing and replaced the radiators. It works well, keeps the house warm even at -8c and is quiet. Not cheap to run in cold weather, but the feed-in tariff for the solar panels means I get free electricity in summer and a surplus of c.£475 to defray the winter electricity bill. So overall it’s cheaper to run than the GFCH in my home. Also, there’s no shortage of engineers to service and repair it, at least here in Suffolk.

  24. I had a pal who was a temporary lecturer in an Engineering department. The plumber he hired for his Georgian Edinburgh flat proved to be a dim plonker bent on ruining the place. My pal read up on the BSI regs and did the job himself.

    Ping! He founded a plumbing firm that would work only on Georgian flats. Did very well, and still left him time for a spot of teaching (and running his own conifer plantation for the Xmas trade). Enterprising chap.

  25. And once I was firmly instructed in an industrial lab not to do an elementary bit of wiring myself because (i) it might not be safe, and (ii) if the unions heard about it there would be hell to pay.

    So a fully qualified lecky turned up, cocked it up, and damn near killed me when I switched it on. Back somersault over a lab bench! It was only my colleagues piling on to restrain me that saved his health because otherwise I’d have felled him and then kicked him a bit and then resigned.

    It was my experience over the years that qualified tradesmen were often duds (the best groups I experienced worked in Uni labs). Chemical plant operators were made of better stuff though classed as not being skilled labour.

    On the domestic front you can find good ones on personal recommendation. We were once recommended an electrician: “He’s very good and an elder at St Giles”. He was a wonderful advert for the Kirk, I must say. Talk about businesslike, careful and scrupulous!

  26. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    It’s not just the money printer that’ll be going brrrr!

    Incidentally, here in the Reich, it’s the same people do the heat pumps and always has been. Same company that did my bathroom replumbing put an air con in at the same time. It can be run in both directions so you can heat or cool at will.

  27. I stopped doing sparks work because, yes, knees, but still do bits and pieces for friends and family. My brother has bought a new house, and asked me to do the basic supply renewal while he gets on with the internal stuff. (I essentially trained him in normal socket and light installation, so he does all that, and I check it and wire it back to the supply).

    This is a 1960s ex-council house. The wiring is horrendous. I don’t know what the international audience is here, but in the UK power outlets are on a ring circuit, which is a loop that runs from a supply breaker and back to it.

    On initally turning the breakers off I thought everything had been wired as radials, US-style as there was only one wire from the breaker. I then found two wires going the the heating controller. uh oh! Yep, the ring left breaker number 1 and returned to breaker number 5, which also fed the boiler. At that point I stripped all the breakers out and got my 100-foot test leads and sent the apprentice scurrying around the house from outlet to outlet to identify everything.

    So, ripped out the consumer unit, brand new replacement put in, with supply isolator. That meant we could safely turn the power off while taking a wall down. In the process disconnected a surplus outlet. The removed wall allowed me to get above the roof and track the cables. Eh up. That surplus outlet we’ve disconnected has another cable. Eh up – it’s still live! How?

    Turns out, the installer had sort-of grasped the concept of ring circuits, but when the extension at the back was built and extra outlets put on, he put another ring on the ring, so it’s laid out like a capital letter B !

    So now, I pop off all the outlet faceplates and trace the individual wires. I have NO IDEA where this outlet is getting power from. With every other faceplate removed, it still gets power somehow. There must be a rats-nest of junction boxes hidden somewhere. Like that classic topology problem, I’ve found too many single connections and not enough dual connections for the system to work as observed.

    As a council house, this will have been done by a “qualified” electrician. But as I keep telling people “qualified” is not a synonym for “competant”.

  28. “qualified” is not a synonym for “competant”.

    We’ll have to find you a qualified and competent writer to do your blog comments for you……or at least someone who can spoll*.

    *The necessary Muphry’s Law consistence.

  29. Tim the Coder,

    “Oh sure, you can manaufacture them cheaper (in China), and in volume, but it makes no difference. The heat-pump itself is about 1% of the problem. Ten times that for the house rebuild, and ten times again for the local & national grid rebuilds, and a couple of hundred Sizewells to run it all.”

    I wasn’t thinking so much about the pumps (they’re not even on my radar as my boiler is 2 years old) but the plumbers learning to fix them as the market changes. It’s going to take a very long time because most people have a working boiler and will only consider changing as they replace a boiler, even if the tech works.

  30. There was a report out recently that highlighted that heat pumps were only effective when installed perfectly and it was highly likely that having to make compromises when installing in existing buildings would be able to get the performance promised, and that’s assuming competent installation

  31. @Tim the Coder: “ The hot water tank needs resistive heating” not necessarily true. One of my sons has just done a new build and the only heat source is an ASHP. Yes, there’s a hot water tank, and yes it’s enormous, but the heat pump does the business. Don’t ask me to explain the physics or the thermodynamics (afaik it’s magic) but there’s definitely no resistive heating involved.

    I speak as a confirmed sceptic, but in this case – massive insulation all round of course – it seems to work.

    I have no idea what his electricity bills are.

  32. My parents bought a house built pre-electricty and had been fitted out very early on, my father being an ex-electricial engineer on looking at the fuse box and some of the wiring (lead sheath with fabric/paper layer?) asked the owner how the place hadn’t burnt down already.

  33. @Peter MacFarlane

    I guess if the tank is large enough, you can run the bath/shower from it with no cold mixing, even though it’s not “hot”.
    But I’d be worried about legionnaire’s…you are supposed to keep water systems above 60 degrees to kill this (and other bugs, algae, etc) which is hotter than a heat pump can feasibly work at in winter.
    (The gain over pure electrical input drops to 1 or less if the temperature difference is too great.)

    I hope you son’s new build is still working and satisfactory in a few years. My boiler is 30 years old and the CH system in the original part of the house 40 years old. My father-in-law’s new condensing boiler lasted about 3 years, then suffered ‘unrepairable’ electronic failure.

    If its a very elaborate installation, then maybe it has a two-stage heatpump for the top-up? Anyone know if this is available/worthwhile?

    NB Regarding iccing up…this is a positive feedback thing, as the ice blocke the airflow, so the iced bits stay colder and grow more ice. The result of the autodefost is a large block of ice embedded in the matrix with very small insulating airgaps defrosted into it (amking any further hot gas in the matrix ineffective).
    A 3kW convector fan heater for a few hours or six is then required. Repeat every week or so until spring.

  34. You mean the ones that are simply nailed to whatever holds a nail, usually through them, and/or worked into the plaster? With often not a single fusebox in sight yet still inexplicably live even though the inspector swears on his firstborn everything has been checked and that they can’t possibly be liv..*bzeeerkkk*

    Those leads? 😉

  35. JGH’s story amused. I’ve a pal over in the UK wants to change a bath mixer. He’s turned off the cylinder out for the hot & also the cold out from the loft tank. But the cold bath is still running & shutting off the mains stopcock does nothing. It must be getting its water from somewhere. Best he can do at the moment is to let it run with the main off & hope whatever it is empties.

    But yes. Retrofitting is problematic because you never know what the people you’re following have done & how. Why certification is meaningless. It’s only really about putting stuff in from new. Not trying to cope with decades of changing standards & working practises. Changing out one gas boiler for another, or even going gasoil or wood is relatively simple because interface with the house heating system is similar. If heat pumps need bigger radiators that means bigger pipes for the increased flows. So all the floorboards have to come up. If there’s floorboards not concrete. Not too hard with an empty house. Another matter if you’re trying to do it with people living in it. A two day job turns into weeks. Unless we’re headed into a future of surface piping clipped on round all the rooms of the house. Like something from the 1950’s.

  36. On insulation: There’s a lot of houses are un-insulatable, at least in part. Typical Edwardians have back additions where room heights are lower than the main house. The roof is low pitch butts on to solid brickwork so you can’t get into the void. You can’t cut access from below because the roof space is too low to work in. The only way to insulate one would be to take the tiles/slates off & do it from above. Or take the entire ceiling down.
    How you insulate a thruppeny-bit bay without making it look like a WWII pillbox beats me.
    Maybe we’re just going to end up with ugly, impractical houses. Or we knock them all down & start again. Shame about all those Cotswold stone cottages.

  37. Learn from the Oz experience. I had a hundred year old house a while ago when the pink batts scheme was in effect. Wiring probably from the fifties. Numerous chancers at my door saying “but it’s free, please let us insulate your house!”

    They all got told to piss off. There was no way I was going to let dodgy contractors crawl around my roof space. Competent installers would have taken one look and said “nope with extra nopesauce, not touching that”.

  38. @Andrew M

    I’ve done “training” that by now easily exceeds £20k and the only thing I’ve learned is what a total and utter waste of time it was.

  39. I can’t remember how much my electrical engineering city & guilds cost when I first qualified in 1995, as I got a grant, but a one-day 18th Edition refresher course is typically 80 quid. I can’t see how a plumbing top-up for heatpumps could be much more than that. I would expect it to be more than a sit-down lecture thing as the important bit would be getting your hands on the kit and seeing how it all goes together.

  40. “Learn from the Oz experience … no way I was going to let dodgy contractors crawl around my roof space.”

    We need a water tank replaced in the attic of our house in South Australia. Easy peasy. They turned up, lifted off the relevant part of the corrugated iron roof, chucked the old tank aside, and installed the new. Not much crawling required.

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