Mark Homer is a Director of Progressive Property, a company he co-founded in 2007 with Rob Moore. They are dedicated to helping investors build up their property portfolios by sharing personal knowledge and experience.

Mark has developed more than 1000 property units and his personal portfolio is valued at over £40M. Predominantly private residential rooms, his company now manages more than 1300 tenants in properties around Peterborough.

With the price of energy rocketing recently he has become acutely aware of the need to control energy consumption across his estate. Particularly where tenants enjoy all-inclusive rents.

Mark succinctly explains his experience of some tenants’ approach to heating control. “It’s quite simple, the thermostat gets put right up to maximum, which might be 30°C, and then the room temperature is regulated by opening the window”.

This is a common issue in rented rooms particularly in student accommodation. But a growing population of young professionals are opting for room or studio rental, and these are typically Mark’s tenants. 

Successful developers and landlords face many decisions that affect their return on investment. For example, should electric or gas be used for heating?

Mark explains, “It depends on the development and what the M&E Consultant advises, to meet the regulations. Wet systems historically have been cheaper to run, but issues with EPC and SAP calculations along with capacity & availability of existing gas and electrical supply to the site will determine the choice we make”.

Improvements in insulation and building techniques makes electric more attractive, particularly the lower installation and maintenance costs. Changes to Part L of the building regulations make it easier for electric system compliance.

Mark’s most recent project had electric heating, but he wanted to improve its performance, so he called the heater manufacturer for advice. “I had a couple of meetings with Atlantic, and they suggested I look at Prefect Controls.”.

“I went on their website and watched loads of videos. They were great, as they explain what Irus is in a nutshell. I had seen the system in a Study Inn property and thought, ‘they are a good-sized student operator’, so that gave me confidence.”

An Irus control unit, installed in each room, gathers information for environmental conditions including temperature, humidity, light, and sound pressure. It logs when heat is called for, detects open windows and occupier absence, reducing heat input if rooms are empty. The existing electrical wiring circuit communicates data to the portal, so is quick and inexpensive to install.

“The Central Control element is brilliant because we don’t have to go into a room to see if a tenant is still actually there, or has abandoned the room, or is claiming not to be there but actually is. We can see every day, what is happening with all sorts of data”.

“We set the time and temperature parameters on the portal. Our default is 18°C, with a Boost to 24°C for 45 minutes. It then returns to default. I can see what the temperatures are in each room, so if I receive a complaint about it being too cold, I can look at their room and assure them that it is acceptable. We had a couple of times when the temperature exceeded our settings, one room was 37°C! So, I rang Prefect and said, ‘what’s going on?’ They explained that it was caused by a supplementary fan heater. So, we had a word with the tenant, and it was removed. Not only was it wasting energy but regs. say they can’t be used as they can be a fire hazard”.

“Likewise, if there are complaints of noise, I can look on the system and find evidence. When I present it to the offender, things change quite quickly!”

From the portal, parameters are adjusted remotely and securely from anywhere with internet access and data is interpreted in a variety of ways.

“The Central Control element is brilliant because we don’t have to go into a room to see if a tenant is still actually there, or has abandoned the room, or is claiming not to be there but actually is. We can see every day, what is happening with all sorts of data”.

When managing the rooms, there is a fine balance. Tenants must be comfortable, but over-consumption of energy, either intentionally or unwittingly must be avoided.

Water heating is another area where Irus can take control. Traditionally the two elements on a cylinder work together to maintain water to the required temperature. But the thermostats within the elements are crude, imprecise and seldom adjusted after they are installed, so there is no accurate indication of the water temperature inside the tank. Timing controls are rarely fitted, so invariably they are left to their own devices.

With Irus, two sensors measure the water temperature close to, but independent of the elements and feed this data back to the portal. Maximum efficiency profiles are set and the individual elements are switched independently depending on demand and are rarely on together.

Mark was quick to maximise the control Irus could bring,“I didn’t originally sign up for that, but when I realised it was possible, I thought ‘that sounds like a good idea’. Instead of having both elements running almost constantly, Irus can switch them depending on need”. He continues, “There is even a profile for monitoring Distribution Use of Service charges”.

DUoS Charges pay for the distribution infrastructure and are time-banded depending on demand throughout the day. Irus will switch elements on for 30 minutes before a red time band occurs, then reduce input during the period.

The installation took place while rooms were occupied, and Mark was surprised how little disruption there was, he concludes, “Prefect did the whole project, end to end, for me, it’s just not been stressful because the guys just do it all and it works, which is not that usual!”.