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Which laws apply to heating?

The UK has very little in the way of direct laws on heating. There are, however, various laws that may indirectly influence your heating options. For instance, all work on heating equipment must be carried out to an appropriate standard of safety.

Interestingly, the government is planning to ban the installation of gas boilers in most new-build domestic properties from 2035. Gas boilers fitted into existing properties must meet a basic standard of energy efficiency.

Health and safety rules applicable to heating

In general, employers have a duty to keep their premises at a reasonable temperature. As a rule of thumb, this is likely to be a minimum of 13°C to 16°C, depending on whether the space is used for active work (ie rigorous physical work, like working in a warehouse) or sedentary work (eg desk work). There is no stated maximum, but staff members should be comfortable. For more information, read Workplace temperatures.

In commercial and residential buildings alike, good ventilation is important to ensure fresh air is being circulated. Naturally, opening doors and windows where possible will provide a constant supply of fresh air. However, for buildings that require an alternative, air conditioning and/or heat recovery systems can help keep rooms at a comfortable temperature throughout the seasons, without compromising on the quality of air.

For private homes, the Energy Saving Trust recommends heating to between 18°C and 21°C. However, you may feel more comfortable in different temperatures. Note that, generally, it is healthier for younger children and older people to be in warmer temperatures. 

A private landlord is responsible for ensuring that their rental property has access to a reliable heat source and hot water at all times. These must be functioning and maintained throughout the course of a tenancy. For more information, read Tenants' and owners' obligations and Legal obligations of a landlord in Scotland

Landlords should especially keep these temperature recommendations and their specific duties in mind when using smart technology (eg smart thermostats) in rented properties.

Do I need planning permission to install air conditioning?

There are significantly more laws surrounding air conditioning. For the most part, however, they are fairly simple to navigate.

Installing air conditioning in a residential property?

You are unlikely to need planning permission to install air conditioning in a standard domestic property. The exception is if you live in a place that has restrictions on the outward appearance of a property (eg if you live in a listed building or a conservation area).

There are, however, some requirements you will need to meet to avoid the need for planning permission. In particular, an external air conditioning unit will need to meet the following criteria:

  • have a maximum size of 0.6m³

  • be located at least one metre from the property’s boundary

  • be at least one metre away from the edge of a flat roof

Additionally, your external unit must not:

  • be fitted on a pitched roof

  • be installed on a property where there is an existing wind turbine

In addition to the above, you must ensure that your external unit does not become a cause of noise pollution. This is highly unlikely with domestic units, but is still worth checking.

If you’re unsure whether you need planning permission to install your air conditioning unit, you should speak to your local planning authority.

Installing air conditioning in a commercial property?

Planning permission may be required for commercial properties. Basically, this will depend on the size of the installation and the impact it may have on the surrounding environment. For example, how close the external AC unit sits to the boundary of your worksite or whether the unit disrupts access to the worksite. 

Noise pollution may also be a concern, especially if commercial properties are situated near residential ones.

As with residential properties, if you’re unsure whether you need planning permission, you should speak to your local planning authority.

Air conditioning inspection and reports

Under The Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations 2012 and The Energy Performance of Buildings (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2012, air conditioning units with an output of at least 12kW must be inspected every 5 years.  Inspections must be carried out by accredited air conditioning energy assessors, who will charge you for the inspection.

These inspections are designed to improve an AC unit’s efficiency, reduce energy consumption, reduce operating costs and reduce carbon emissions. Failure to have an air conditioning system inspected can incur fines of £300.

Note that, in commercial rental properties, the landlord and the tenant are likely to have joint responsibility for making sure that these inspections happen as they should.

The air conditioning inspection will include a visual assessment of the AC unit and system and an examination of your air conditioning equipment and its controls. 

For more information, see the government’s guidance on air conditioning inspections in buildings.

What’s included in the report?

After an inspection, the energy assessors will provide you with a report setting out:

  • the current efficiency of your equipment

  • how to improve the efficiency of your equipment

  • any faults detected and suggested actions

  • how you can reduce your AC use

While you don’t have to follow the report’s recommendations, doing so will likely save you money and reduce your emissions.

Do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about the law on heating and air conditioning.

Dominic Little
Dominic Little
Director at Chill Air Conditioning

Dominic is the Director of Chill Air Conditioning, who are specialists in air conditioning installations for both commercial and domestic use across the East Midlands.

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