UK HVAC trends: Winners and Losers May 2021

UK heating market

Both hydronic heat pumps < 50kW & chiller heat pumps increased their share in a depressed construction market in 2020 and this trend is set to continue. Hydronic heat pumps < 50kW are expected to be driven by RHI applications in existing builds up to 2022, after which the new build market will increase its share. 

In 2020 domestic boiler sales decreased, especially for new build. Boiler sales are likely to recover some lost share in 2021 over 2020 but this will depend on the outcome of the British Gas engineer pay dispute.

Gas boilers are likely to be banned in new build dwellings across UK from 2025, when the forthcoming Future Homes Standard will be implemented. Heat pumps installed by national house builders will start to gain ground in 2022, but it is not until mid-2023 that the trend is expected to accelerate. This is because the revised building regulations are likely to contain a transitional period of 12 months, during which the builder must comply with the latest set of regulations. If the house on a plot is not built within 12 months, it will need to comply with the new regulations. By mid-2023 this will start to happen because the future homes standard will be implemented in 2025. Since new build has a very small share of the gas boiler market, it is not likely to impact sales significantly.

Electric boilers are likely to continue to see an increase in demand as a cheaper solution in small new build flats. Heat Interface Units fell in 2020 but are expected to bounce back in 2021. These products will compete for installations in new build against hydronic heat pumps.

Heat Pump chillers are expected to change out commercial gas boilers.

In the commercial boiler market BSRIA expect a drop in floor standing units compensated by growing wall hung boiler sales in cascades with heat pumps taking share in the new build market.  2021 is expected to be business as usual in terms of any changes in design, instead of making big strides forward, however, certain consultants will be looking to change out gas boilers with heat pumps.

By 2022 this trend will start to gain momentum. Consultants will increasingly be designing hybrid systems (heat pump + gas boilers) as confidence may be low for heat pump systems among consultants.  Heat pump sales will be driven by a few factors including the London Plan & a number of councils declaring a climate emergency.

Cooling-only chiller sales will hold up with heat pump chillers (reversible, heating only, 4 pipe) driving chiller market higher. 

The market for air-to-air single splits saw a fall in 2020, not surprising considering the share they have of the retail high street. Smaller splits increased their proportion of the market, partly due to the trend away from larger splits driven by price and legislation. RAC splits are becoming the new PAC as they are now more effective at cooling and cheaper, whilst at the same time we are seeing an increasing trend towards residential units; albeit from a low base. 

Outlook for single split is one of decline overall in 2021, especially as the UK has experienced a cool spring. The summer needs to start quickly to drive a significant up-lift in sales. However, it is likely smaller splits will continue to increase their share. 

Multi splits were another bright spark in otherwise depressed market conditions. This market has a larger share of the residential market especially in South East England. 

Sales, especially those < 7kW were up, driven by increasing demand from residential. This market is expected to hold up better than single splits in 2021, in part due to the trend in changing out mini VRF due to budget constraints as well as residential sales. 

Mini VRF is also changing out Maxi VRF where the trend is towards installing 2 mini VRF systems instead of one maxi VRF. The trend is towards smaller systems with lower refrigerant volumes. There is a higher confidence level for sale of mini VRF sales than maxi. Overall the VRF is expected to be flat in 2021, with a a slight decline in Maxi VRF & a slight increase in Mini VRF.

There is little evidence yet to suggest there is a trend away from VRF towards chillers. The recent decline in Maxi VRF is thought to be a construction sector trend.

To summarise, it is still unclear what the long-term trend is for VRF, but most industry experts expect a rise in chiller heat pump sales pushing the chiller market higher. Hydronic heat pumps < 50kW will grow more towards 2025, but sales will be limited by the number of dwelling completions each year, and the government budget from the successor to the RHI scheme.

For further information about the UK boiler, heat pump or air conditioning market, please contact BSRIA Worldwide Market Intelligence for recently published reports:

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