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Taking off with renewables

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

THE TEAM: Staff at Optimum Heating in Barnstaple, including engineers, directors, office staff and apprentices Picture: Mike Southon. To order this photograph call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20121204A-002_C

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WHAT value is there in entering business awards?

In its 20th year of business, Optimum Heating is celebrating reaching the finals of three major awards: National Biomass Installer of the Year, RegenSW Renewables Installer of the Year and NHIC Best Domestic Renewable Project.

As these were the first awards the company has entered, founder Simon Boorer is pleased to have made such an impact and has developed an appetite to achieve even better performance in future awards.

Robert Zarywacz took the opportunity to find out from Simon what it is about Optimum Heating that is impressing awards judges.

Optimum Heating started in May 1992 as a commercial heating and plumbing company, but Simon said a sea change started four years ago when it completed its first biomass installation.

"We decided that this was something we had to go into," he said. "Biomass will account for 50 per cent of our turnover this year.

"We have 12 engineers doing heating and plumbing and biomass and we have been able to expand thanks to the biomass side of things.

"Thanks to renewables we are growing and expanding. We started with two people 20 years ago and are now up to 18 people. The key thing is to be able to apply our vast experience, depth of knowledge and good solid engineering skill to the biomass sector."

While the company installs and maintains traditional forms of heating, fuelled by oil, liquid petroleum gas and natural gas, its renewables offering includes biomass, solar thermal heating and district heating systems for more than one house or group of buildings.

Biomass heating is based around woodchip, pellet and log-burning boilers.

Carbon dioxide emitted when wood fuel is burned is equal to the amount absorbed as the plant was growing. As long as new plants continue to grow in place of those harvested for fuel, the process is sustainable.

Example projects include installing a pellet system at Bradworthy Primary Academy to replace old propane boilers as well as at Roadwater Village Hall on Exmoor.

The company has recently fitted a system to heat the swimming pool at West Buckland School. Case studies detailing some of these projects can be found on Optimum Heating's website.

As with many engineering and manufacturing companies in North Devon, maintaining a skilled workforce is a major issue for the company.

Simon said: "We invest in training. It is a key thing and has enabled us to have really good staff retention.

"In 2010 we took on three heating apprentices through Petroc. Last year we took on another apprentice and have recently taken on our fifth apprentice. They are the lifeblood of our company and we have had an extremely high grade of apprentice from Petroc."

Optimum Heating funds all its apprentices itself, demonstrating just how important it considers training.

Optimum Heating's customers range from holiday businesses to farms, schools and private homeowners. Its main client base is in Devon, Cornwall and the South West, but it also has commercial contracts across the UK.

"We are the leading company in the South West for installing biomass," concluded Simon. "We're very proud of the recognition we're now achieving on a national basis."

For details visit optimum heating.co.uk

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