Craig Mitchell of Sentinel discusses working with ALMO, St Leger Homes, to demonstrate how social housing providers can improve resident satisfaction while improving the performance of heating systems across their housing stock
Customer satisfaction is a key priority for social housing providers but with tight budgets to manage, they face an increasingly difficult job in balancing the scales between being profitable and still providing a duty of care. One area that is often overlooked, yet has the potential to impact both the wellbeing of social housing tenants as well as throw up unexpected costs for providers, is the maintenance of central heating systems. There is a clear problem when it comes to heating properties in the social housing sector, with 23 per cent of residents saying they are unable to keep their living rooms warm, almost double the national average of 12 per cent. In line with this, research we carried out revealed there are over 3.3 million call outs to social housing properties each year because of heating system failures. When you also consider that the average lifespan of a boiler is 15 years, but in the social housing sector they are only lasting around seven to nine years, the extent of the problem is clear. With the purse strings tighter than ever, social housing providers looking to keep costs down can ill afford the expense of repairing a faulty central heating system or spare the resource needed to deal with unhappy tenants who are stuck with no heating or hot water. With this in mind, providers need to assess how to get maximum efficiency from boilers and extend the lifespan of systems across their property portfolios. The good news is that there’s a simple solution to this – improved water treatment.
The role of water treatment
Our research shows that approximately 87 per cent of boiler call outs within the sector are to systems without correct water treatment. Correct water treatment helps to prevent the corrosion that occurs when untreated water comes into contact with the metal inside the central heating system. This corrosion impacts the components within the boiler, increasing the likelihood of it failing or breaking down. The amount of call outs that can be attributed to a lack of water treatment helps to demonstrate that a large number of the repairs, which are chipping away at already stringent budgets, can actually be easily prevented.
Impact on residents
Social housing providers have a duty of care to give residents a good quality of life and they shouldn’t be left cold in their own homes, particularly when the cause of the problem can often be easily prevented. Carrying out water treatment and correctly maintaining central heating systems in social housing properties not only improves system performance, meaning tenants are less likely to be left without heating or hot water, but also increases system efficiency, which can lead to reduced energy bills for residents.
Putting it into practice
Sentinel has seen first-hand the positive impact of water treatment in social housing developments. One example is our work with St Leger Homes, an Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO), in Doncaster. The organisation had previously been suffering from a high number of boiler breakdowns and issues with its heating systems across its property portfolio, which had led to reoccurring, expensive call outs. These unnecessary service and repair costs were in large part due to inefficient and faulty boilers caused by poor water treatment. This boiler inefficiency not only resulted in unplanned costs for St Leger Homes, but also increased energy bills for tenants. By working with Sentinel to support the implementation of water treatment best practice, St Leger Homes has been able to dramatically improve the efficiency of boilers across its properties, helping to lower maintenance, repair and associated labour costs and most importantly improve tenant satisfaction.
A simple process
For providers that may think implementing a water treatment programme will be complex, time consuming and costly, it is actually very straightforward. The improved efficiency of heating systems at St Leger Homes was achieved via a simple three-step process; clean, protect and maintain. The first step involved cleaning the systems by removing any corrosion debris, residual flux or greases from circulating water, ensuring the systems were ready to be treated and helping to prepare for better performance. Step number two was protection to prolong system life; this involved adding chemical inhibitor fluid to the central heating systems to optimise water chemistry, extending the life of the systems by preventing the build-up of limescale and corrosion. The final step in the process was ongoing maintenance of inhibitor levels to ensure protection against the problems associated with poor water treatment. In addition to water treatment, a powerful magnetic filter was installed on each heating system across St Leger Homes’ portfolio of properties. Filters offer additional insurance against unexpected corrosion or debris problems, capturing residual corrosion particles and removing them from circulating water. Such issues can arise when a heating system hasn’t been thoroughly flushed after cleaning or where the concentration of inhibitor in a system has been diluted by water top-up, perhaps after a leak or change of radiator, and not replenished to the correct level. The three-step process to correct water treatment, alongside the installation of filters, should be adopted by social housing providers across the UK who are looking to proactively improve tenant satisfaction and wellbeing. The fact that taking these steps also results in significant cost savings offers an added incentive, providing a win-win situation for social housing providers.
Craig Mitchell is sales director for social housing at Sentinel