As winter sets in, a warm home is important. In the U.K., home heating is almost exclusively done with a boiler, which conjures images of cantankerous elderly equipment that fails at the worst moment. If you think that home heating is a relic of the analog world and technology wants nothing to do with it, think again.
Thermostat on radiator. (Photo by BuildPix/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)
However advanced technology becomes, the digital world has to work in conjunction with the analog one. A smart home where the morning alarm clock triggers the central heating, the lighting and even the tea kettle still needs the right plumbing, gas supply and mains power. Big organizations like British Gas or Boxt, which is a recent addition to the service industry, are eager to make digital and analog work together.
Boxt is an installer of boilers, air conditioning and, soon, electric vehicle chargers. Like British Gas, the Boxt engineers work with smart home accessories, too. So, when a boiler is installed, you can opt for a Nest learning thermostat, for instance, just as British Gas can supply its favored Hive system.
British Gas has a huge team of engineers, while Boxt has a network of local suppliers and installers.
Technology can help keep costs down, and one way to do this includes an initial connection thats done exclusively through a carefully detailed website. This is key for Boxt and is the first contact the customer has with the company. There are increasingly specific questions greeting the site visitor, such as Is your boiler combi or system?. It enquires which room your current boiler is located in and whether youre in a flat, bungalow or terrace. It even establishes water pressure in accessible terms by asking how quickly the water comes out of the cold tap, in accessible terms such as: Slow, takes more than 10 seconds to fill a pint glass.
These are questions that determine the kind of boiler and lead to the website deciding the price. Boxt claims the site can deliver a quote within 90 seconds. I tried the site multiple times with imagined scenarios of varying complexity. Sometimes it took longer, but never more than about six minutes in total. Crucially, this automation avoids the need for an engineers visit in almost all cases, which keep costs down. As a result, Boxts quotes can compare favorably to British Gas.
If a particular property is more complicated, youre asked to call Boxt so they can discover more details, or you may be required to send photos of your current boiler. If needed, Boxt can arrange an engineer visit.
Although it doesnt mean the service cant do complicated installations, there may be some situations like a complete relocation of the boiler to another room, say where it could be simpler to use a local tradesperson after all.
Boxt takes advantage of the fact that many new boilers are like-for-like swaps where the old one is removed and the new plonked in its place.
Key to the whole experience is the immediacy of availability: if your heating has broken, and you are keying in your details before 3PM, you can even choose a next-day installation. This attracts a price premium.
There are also higher prices for weekend visits, lower ones for midweek dates that are a little time off.
A central heating boiler, here installed by BOXT, can look good enough that you don't need to hide ... [+] it in a cupboard.
The boiler, pipes, fittings and all accessories arrive automatically by courier on the day of the appointment and apart from one phone call where the installer introduces themselves, everything is automated though customer service staff are available if needed. Costs are competitive but even when they are not the lowest, the fixed-price element is critical to the simplicity of the service.
None of this would matter much if the actual installation and supply part of the deal wasnt up to scratch.
Dre Smith, a musician who lives in Sandy, Bedfordshire, had her new system installed by Boxt. I asked her about her experience and she was impressed. I used the website to specify what boiler I needed. It took a few minutes, but it was straightforward and there were explanations to help if youre not sure. I got my quote immediately, and I chose a day when installation was a bit cheaper Id planned ahead because my boiler was still working. I think I might have been able to get a cheaper price elsewhere, but the fixed price was one of the main attractions, and you dont feel youre being upsold. I had the option of a free Google Nest Learning Thermostat and Google Home Mini, too. The day before installation, I got a call from my assigned engineer to arrange what time they'd come and on the morning, the boiler and other accessories were delivered about an hour before the engineer arrived.
British Gas also has a website where customers can specify what theyre after and estimated prices are quickly shared there, too. But there seems to be a hand-off to humans sooner than with Boxt.
As more parts of the process are computerized, costs can be controlled and human involvement limited almost until the first moment where tap meets wrench. At which point, the providing of cups of tea to the humans in your house is still mandatory.
Follow me on Instagram by clicking here: davidphelantech and Twitter: @davidphelan2009
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