Greener and cheaper ways to heat your home

With rising energy prices it’s not surprising that many people are looking for efficient ways to heat their homes and reduce their fuel costs.

So what is the cheapest and greenest way to heat your home?

Mains Gas,  if available in your area, is likely to be the cheapest and least polluting conventional fuel to choose from – providing you have an efficient condensing boiler.  Always make sure you’re on the most completive energy tariff too.

Electric heating, whether by storage heaters or portable electric fires, is the method that produces the most CO2 emissions, and is also the most expensive option, see Sust-it’s electric heater calculator.

HeatingSwitching to a green renewable electricity supplier is one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce your home or business CO2 emissions. Green Choices does not have the resources to maintain an up-to-date list. However, Sust-it provides a free and impartial energy search engine to compare green and renewable electricity tariffs.

Oil-fired boilers have improved in efficiency, but oil prices, like other fossil fuels, can fluctuate greatly. Although bio-oils and biodiesel are starting to be developed, they are not yet widely available.

So whilst renewable energy might once have been seen as a quirky options for some, with the Governments push for feed-in-tariffs, it has become more viable. Although still only if you’ve got the funds to invest in the first place

But what alternatives are there to the traditional central heating boiler,

Heat pumps

Best described as a reverse fridge, heat pumps take heat from the ground, air or water, and use an electric pump to boost it to the right temperature to keep your house warm, and sometimes also for water heating. Initially, manufacturers claimed you could get four units of electricity for every one you put in, but this appears to have been over-ambitious.  A good performing system, properly set up. should give at least three units of heat for each unit of electricity used by the pump. And yes they work when the ground is frozen. They work best in well-insulated houses off the mains gas network and can give significant savings for people who currently heat their house using electricity.   But gas isn’t available in all areas.

Ground source heat pumps need lots of space, as pipes are buried in trenches of 1.5+ metres deep. As a rule of thumb, you need twice the area of the property you want to heat to lay the ground pipes. Water source heat pumps you need a nearby lake or stream or a well if you are lucky enough to have one handy!

Air source heat pumps attach to the outside wall of the building, and look similar to the fans on air conditioning units.

Can you get grants from heat pumps?

Yes, homeowners and small businesses in England and Wales can apply for grants for substituting their oil and gas boilers. With the scheme, which will run for three years from 2022, property owners will be able to get:

  • £5,000 off the cost and installation of an air source heat pump
  • £5,000 off the price and installation of a biomass boiler
  • £6,000 off the expense and fitting a ground source heat pump

Is a heat pump suited for your residence?

There’s an online app to help homeowners and businesses make knowledgeable assessments about the suitability of installing a heat pump. It describes the various kinds of heat pumps, their costs and carbon emission savings, and helpful advice about what changes might be required to make a home suitable for a heat pump.

Are heat pumps reliable?

Heat pumps tend to be more reliable than conventional boilers, as they function similar to fridges. Some manufacturers offer up to 10-year warranties.

Micro Combined heat and power (CHP)

It’s early days in the development of domestic CHPs.  It is a way of generating heat and electricity simultaneously.  Designed to replace domestic boilers it is fuelled by gas and generates electricity as a bi-product. For this reason, not everyone would consider it a renewable technology. Micro-CHP is significantly more expensive to install than a gas boiler, and so take-up is slow. The first 30,000 people to install CHP will be eligible for the feed-in tariff for a period of 10 years.

Biomass boilers

For domestic heating purposes, biomass means wood in the form of logs, wood pellets or wood chip. Unlike most renewable technologies which, use elements such as the sun or wind for power, there is an ongoing fuel cost with biomass heating. They also need more space. The boilers tend to be larger than the equivalent gas or oil-fired one, and you will need about 6-7 cubic metres of storage for the fuel for an average size house.  Check that you have a choice of local fuel suppliers, as the cost of fuel varies according to the distance the supplier has to travel. Pellets are the most expensive, but it is possible to have fully automated feed systems. Logs are the cheapest, and need to be fed in by hand.

For water heating – Solar Thermal

Solar water heating also takes the heat from the sun and uses it to heat water for use in the home. Like solar PV, you need a roof that faces between southeast and southwest – the closer to due south the better. However, for solar thermal panels, you need less space: between 1 and 2 square metres per person is a rule of thumb. You also need space to install a tall, thin water cylinder with two coils. Ideally, it should be big enough to hold two days water. It is possible to have solar hot water with a combi boiler, but it’s more complicated and you need to check that it accepts pre-heated water. If you use an electric shower for most of your bathing, solar thermal will not be suitable.

In the UK, always check your home EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for energy-saving recommendations.

For help and advice check out Yougen.