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Greener heating systems - what are the options?

  • 15, Feb 2021
  • Read time: 15 mins

We all want to be more energy-efficient. There’s a climate crisis and we want to do our bit – but how? Well, it may surprise you to know that 1.7 million UK households repair or replace their boilers every year. If you’re considering replacing your old boiler, switching to a new energy-efficient heating system is one of the biggest ways you can make a difference.

Woman using mobile looking at a smart home app.

Why are greener heating systems important?

Almost a quarter of UK households have a gas boiler aged 10 years or older, with inefficiencies resulting in 8.7 tonnes of carbon unnecessarily emitted every year.*

The good news is there are some great options out there with government grants to help with the cost of installation. In this guide, we’ll delve into energy-saving measures that can significantly reduce your household emissions. So, if your boiler is due for repair or replacement, it’s time to consider renewable or low-carbon heating options. You’ll save money in the long run. You might even save the planet – and that’s no bad thing.

*MORE THAN home claims data, February 2021

According to a recent government report:

  • Buildings are the second-largest source of emissions after transportation
  • 90% of homes in England use a fossil fuel boiler for heating and hot water
  • 66% of homes are at Energy Performance Certificate D or worse
  • By 2035 upgrading all UK homes to EPC C will save £7.5 billion in household energy bills
  • By the mid-2030s traditional gas boiler systems will be phased out
  • The increase in energy-efficient heating installations could support 50,000 jobs.

Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive 

The Domestic RHI scheme rewards homeowners who install eligible low emission heating systems. Every quarter the government will send you payments for the amount of renewable energy your system creates, which in turn helps them to lower their UK emission targets.

The Green Homes Grant

Homeowners can apply for a voucher scheme to use towards the cost of installing green home improvements. This voucher could cover two-thirds of the installation total cost; however, you may be eligible for a 100% voucher if you or someone else in your household receives certain benefits.

To be eligible you must:

  • Live in England
  • Either be a homeowner or a residential landlord
  • Or own your own park home on a residential site.

What if I rent my property? 

Tenants can also fill out a request form to start the conversation with their landlord and agree on what improvements can be made to their home.

Eco-efficient heating systems for your home

If you’re considering switching to an eco-efficient heating system, remember:

  • 31% of homeowners who use a gas boiler had to repair their boiler in the last year
  • 43% of homeowners with gas boilers admit to increasing their gas consumption
  • 15% have noticed gas consumption rising despite their usage remaining the same
  • 24% who use a gas boiler to heat their home say it’s aged 10 years or older
  • 15-30% Boilers of 10 years or over are typically less efficient than newer, greener systems**

[**MORE THAN, Heating-related home emergency claims data, January 2019 - December 2020]

So, now that you’re armed with some solid reasons for making an eco-heating system your next home maintenance project, let’s take a look at what is out there.

Heat Pumps

Conventional boilers use gas or electricity from the national grid to heat water to feed around your central heating system. Heat pumps use thermal energy from natural sources including air, ground, or water to create warm air to ‘pump’ around your home. Similar in method to an air conditioner unit, refrigerant fluid is contained within heat exchanger coils. As the fluid heats up using these natural sources it is then compressed into gas to circulate around your pipes and radiators.

Air source heat pumps 

As the name suggests, the air source heat pump (ASHP) draws air from outside your home. Heat is extracted from the air before a compressor turns it into gas that passes through your home heating system.

Ground source heat pumps 

The ground source heat pump (GSHP) involves a network of underground pipes containing a refrigerant fluid. The sun’s warmth underground is absorbed by the fluid. The fluid is then heated further by a compressor that converts the fluid to gas to send around the circuits around your home.

Water source heat pumps 

Water source heat pumps (WSHP’s) use a stable body of water to heat your home. Laid approximately 2 metres under the waterline, refrigerant liquid housed in the pipes extracts heat from the water’s ambient temperature. It is then compressed as gas and fed into your heating system.

Hybrid heat pumps 

A hybrid heat pump combines both fossil fuel and renewable energy to provide heat and hot water. It uses two components working in tandem to provide warmth to your home. One component will be gas or electricity supplied by the national grid, or by oil or LPG. The other component will be either air, ground, or water source heat pump. The hybrid system will monitor the temperature outside your home and decide which component is most efficient to heat inside your home.

The pros and cons of heat pumps

Pros

  • An extremely efficient method of heating your home
  • A heat pump can both warm and cool your home
  • Limited or zero dependence on natural gas and its costs
  • Less energy use means better for the environment
  • Less maintenance than traditional heating systems.

Cons:

  • Installations can be expensive and involve building work
  • Water source heat pumps, for example, may require special permissions
  • Heat pumps can be affected by cold weather.

Heat batteries

A heat battery is a compact, eco-efficient alternative to the traditional hot water tank. Just like any other battery, they store energy for later use, giving you control of how and when to use it. For example, they can store heat generated by heat pumps using cheaper night-time tariffs. The heat battery will ensure you have a constant supply of heat and hot water throughout the day. They can also be used with other eco-heating systems such as PV (solar) panels.

Pros and cons of heat batteries

Pros

  • Smaller than a hot water tank
  • More eco-efficient than a hot water tank.

Cons

  • The initial outlay may be higher than installing a hot water tank, however, they will save you money over the course of their life span.

High-heat retention storage heaters

Night storage heaters have become more efficient since the 2018 European Ecodesign Directive called for energy-using devices (from kettles to lawnmowers, televisions, and heating systems) to improve their environmental credentials.

High heat retention storage heaters, as they are now called, have better insulation, retaining thermal capacity long after they have been charged. The latest models now emit less heat when you don’t need it, and more heat when you do. They also use smart technology to regulate the temperature of your home.

Pros and cons of high-heat retention storage heaters

Pros

  • No plumbing or extensive building work required
  • They benefit from cheaper night tariffs
  • They are cheaper to run than conventional storage heaters
  • They can use smart app timers and thermostats

Cons

  • They take up more space than traditional wall heaters
  • They depend on having a cheap tariff of night-time electricity
  • Once charged – they will release heat whether you need it or not

Infrared heating panels

Infra-red panels are a slimline alternative to the conventional radiator. But rather than warming the air that surrounds us, as a convection radiator will, they use radiation to heat objects in the room, including ourselves.

Relatively new to the domestic market, infra-red panels can be powered by solid fuel, oil, and gas. They are completely safe – not all radiation is harmful. Our sun produces infrared light waves that warm us even on a chilly winter’s day.

The pros and cons of infrared heating panels

Pros

  • Electrically powered panels do not need plumbing
  • They are compact and can be placed on walls or ceilings
  • They can look like a framed picture or even a bathroom mirror

Cons

  • More expensive than conventional radiators
  • Obstacles such as furniture can hamper their efficiency

Solar panels

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity from sunlight. When light hits the panels, it is converted into DC electricity. The current flows into an inverter which converts it into AC electricity for use in the home.

The pros and cons of solar panels

Pros

  • Once installed maintenance is low
  • A zero-emission energy source
  • An unlimited source of power (the sun)

Cons

  • The initial outlay is high
  • Not as efficient when overcast
  • They need space
  • Not everyone likes how they look

Low carbon boilers and stoves

If your boiler has reached a certain age and you’re thinking of alternatives, then here are some eco-efficient options to consider.

Our upgraded home emergency cover includes access to a 24-hour home emergency helpline, boiler repairs from trusted service providers, and up to £500 towards the cost of a new boiler.

Biomass boilers 

Whereas conventional boilers are powered by fossil fuels such as gas, coal, or oil, a biomass boiler uses wood in the form of logs, chips, or pellets to heat your home. In its simplest form, it can be a stove that is also used to heat hot water. Or, it can be a fully-automated domestic system that siphons an annual supply of pellets from a silo into the combustion chamber. In some cases, they use more space than a traditional boiler and may be better suited to properties that are not connected to the grid. If your biomass boiler burns logs then it’s advisable to live close to a plentiful supply.

Electric-combi boilers 

Electric combi boilers are ideal for those whose property is not served by the local gas supply. Plus, they are small enough to fit in your kitchen cupboard and can look like a traditional boiler. The fact that they do not need a flue is an advantage if you live in an apartment block. Although they work using the same principle as gas boilers, they require less overall maintenance. Also, if your electricity supply uses renewable energy, or you get your energy from say, PV solar panels, then electric combi boilers could allow you to go 100% green.

Micro-CHP Systems

The clue is in the name: micro combined heat and power system (Micro-CHP). This low carbon energy system, while producing electricity, also produces heat which is then used around your home. Relatively simple to install, the outlay can be initially expensive, and some systems can be noisier than traditional boilers.

However, micro-CHP systems generate power, heat, and hot water from the same energy source. This makes them a highly efficient way of harnessing energy from the grid. The system uses a fuel cell or heat engine to generate electricity, is small enough to replace a traditional boiler, and can be powered by mains gas, oil, or LPG. Although they are dependent on fossils fuels, micro-CHP systems are becoming increasingly popular as low carbon alternatives to domestic boilers.

5 reasons to consider upgrading to an eco-efficient heating system

  1. Green energy government grants mean it’s a perfect time to switch to eco-alternatives
  2. Energy prices are always volatile. Alternatives to traditional heating systems make financial sense
  3. State-of-the-art appliances have made eco alternatives ideally suited for domestic use
  4. Once installed, appliances such as solar panels, infrared panels, or heat pumps require little maintenance
  5. In one week, the average UK person emits the same amount of CO2 that a person from Rwanda does in a year.

So, if your old boiler needs replacing, consider switching to an eco-efficient alternative. Our homes will be warmer. Our wallets will be fuller. The future will be brighter.

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