The Future of Home Heating
The UK government has set a target to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050 and, in order to meet this, gas boilers are going to need to be phased out; this will affect 85% of UK homes.
Currently, whilst there are renewable options currently available which will aid in cutting carbon emissions, they can be very costly, inconvenient to install, and potentially ineffective in UK homes; which are some of the oldest and least insulated in Europe.
The Problem With Gas
Around 20% of the UK’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from our homes with this coming predominantly from the natural gas used for heating and hot-water.
One solution is to generate electricity through carbon-free methods and use this ‘clean’ power with around 50% of all UK electricity is already low-carbon and this figure expected to increase to 83% by 2040. However, electricity is considerably more expensive than gas and so electric heating might prove too expensive. Natural gas is one of the cheapest methods of heating our homes with one kilowatt hour (kWh) of mains gas costing around 4p in comparison to electricity which costs 16-20p per kWh.
So, whilst the UK government needs to remove gas boilers from UK homes, most householders are understandably reluctant. At present there are still more than 1.5m new gas boilers being installed every year in comparison to just 20k homes being converted to low-carbon heating each year.
There is no single alternative to fossil fuels but the three main contenders are: air source heat pumps, hydrogen boilers, and heat networks.
The Cost of Progress
In addition to scrapping gas boilers, the UK government also wants as many homes as possible to achieve Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C by 2035 to cut energy consumption. However, the average cost to improve a home in EPC band D-G is £8.5k with older this figure rising to £10k for older and larger homes.
Various grants and incentives have been suggested to encourage householders to improve energy efficiency, such as stamp duty rebates, VAT cuts, and green mortgages, but finding financial support is proving hard for homeowners, especially since the early axing of the Green Homes Grant.
What Can I Do
Insulation keeps you warmer in winter and cooler in summer but you will need to ensure your home has adequate ventilation.
The below are some low-cost upgrades:
- Loft insulation – 270mm is the recommended minimum
- Hot-water tank insulation – also known as ‘lagging’
- Draughtproofing – particularly around doors and windows
Floor insulation, underfloor heating, solid-wall insulation, and double-glazing could also be included as part of a bigger job such as an extension or renovation.
If your home is off the main gas grid in a rural area, then a heat network or hydrogen grid is less likely to reach you; therefore a heat pump is likely to be your most sensible option. Check your home has outside space for an external heat pump, inside space for a hot-water cylinder, and has an EPC rating of C or above.
Heat network zones and hydrogen trials will soon be underway so take advantage if there is one near you; you can also contact the local council for their plans on these.
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is due to be replaced in April 2022 by the Clean Heat Grant, which will be less generous in some instances, so check whether the RHI would work better for you now.
Do not rush to rip out your existing boiler if it is efficient as there are currently no plans to force anyone to replace these. Gas boilers will be phased out by low-carbon alternatives as part of the natural replacement cycle so wait until your boiler needs replacing before deciding on the best system for your home.