Coronavirus and its effect on the heating industry

Martyn Bridges, Director of Technical Communication and Product Management at Worcester Bosch, discusses the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the heating industry and looks ahead to better times.

We are all in the middle of this pandemic together. The heating industry has been identified as one that should keep working where possible, if Government guidelines can be adhered to and most importantly, if it is safe. At this time, ensuring access to hot water is certainly very important for the nation to stay clean and healthy.

The current situation as we know it is that installers are identified as able to go into people’s homes to undertake work on essential repairs and maintenance. This may involve fitting a new boiler or hot water cylinder if the current one is irreparable. However, other work, such as fitting extra radiators and bathrooms or other design-focused jobs is understandably not classed as essential. As is apparent with these uncertain times, there are circumstances that are not exactly black and white. Such as a water leak or something which has stopped a homeowner from accessing hot water in their home.

But with the reduced work and the enforced but essential lockdown, what does it mean for the heating industry?

Disrupted supply chain

The heating industry is resilient and the current situation, although an extreme case, is no different. We are ploughing on and working where and when it is safe for both homeowner and heating engineer. However, like every industry the coronavirus outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on our sector. The supply chain has shrunk, with merchants more or less having closed most if not all their branches. As we are a two-step distribution industry – where manufacturers provide products to merchants, merchants to installers – any part of that link that falls away makes supply very difficult indeed.

So, like many businesses across the UK, manufacturers have looked at furlough following the announcement of Government’s Job Retention Scheme, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their employees. There are exceptions such as those working in after-sales or technical helplines, who ensure that essential work can continue to be carried out to those in need.

Digitalisation of training

Those in training departments, who are used to training installers face-to-face have had to think creatively and adapt to digital platforms to ensure training can continue. On a daily basis we are seeing video conference services such as Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom used for training, allowing multiple users to undertake courses shown online. Pair this with manufacturer’s YouTube videos and there is still a wealth of learning can be undertaken during these times.

However, there are limitations. There is no way to have a physical product in front of installers for any hands-on training as such, so we have to adjust. The theoretical side is still very possible as well as keeping manufacturers and installers in communication with each other.

A pause on regulation

Although we continue to plough on, it is essential the regulatory and legislation side of the industry does so as well. The Government have announced that they plan to stick with the current deadlines for the introduction of new building regulations, British Standards and a number of other draft proposal to direct us on the route to decarbonisation.

This is unlikely given the current climate. We just have to look at the cancellation of COP26 – a worldwide gathering of energy experts and countries in Glasgow, which was scheduled for November this year. Six months away. Again, no-one is questioning the cancellation of an event like this, however I hope this isn’t a sign for what’s to come with the UK’s own regulatory deadlines. We are doing all we can to assist with that.

Bouncing back

Looking to the future, we are lucky that the heating and plumbing industry is by and large an essential product service. Every home requires a boiler or other heating technology, to ensure we can create heating and hot water. The actual market volume of around 1.6 million boilers a year is probably around the lowest it can get.

So, I’m optimistic that the heating industry will bounce back once these troubling times are past us. There will always be a market for heating and plumbing engineers and manufacturers. Our industry is lucky to have a ready and waiting market for us once these unprecedented times have passed.

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