In a typical home in the UK, around two thirds of the money spent on energy bills goes towards heating and providing hot water for the home. With energy prices still on the increase, having an efficient heating and hot water system for your home is essential if you are looking to save some cash. Added to this, it is the most significant way to reduce the CO2 footprint of your home too.
Most homes in the UK have some version of central heating. This may be night storage heaters, a boiler with radiators or a warm air system. If you are looking to replace all or part of this system in the near future, it is important to consider all the options to ensure you invest in an efficient heating system both for now and for the future.
Options for heating your home
There are a number of options available for providing heating and hot water to your home. Here are some of the most commonly seen around the UK:
Fossil fueled central heating
Gas central heating is still one of the cheapest ways to heat your home, and of all the fossil fuels it has the lowest level of CO2 emissions. However, the downside of installing a new gas boiler is that you are still reliant on a fossil fuel which, by its nature, is becoming scarcer, and as a consequence is likely to continue to increase in price over the coming years.
Some homes do not have a connection to the gas network, in which case will need to consider LPG, bottled gas or oil as a fuel for their boiler. These fuels are ‘dirtier’ than natural gas and come at a premium price, making them a highly unattractive option for most homes. Add to this the fact that, again, you are still relying on a rapidly depleting, price increasing and CO2 producing fossil fuel, and this option becomes less attractive still.
Biomass is essentially a fancy word for heating with wood. This may be done via a single stove, such as a wood burner, which will heat one room or one area, or via a biomass boiler which can be connected to radiators and hot water tanks to provide a central heating alternative for your home. Choosing to heat with wood has a better outlook than fossil fuels, because as the availability of wood supplies and competition between suppliers increases, the price of the fuel is likely to go down, not up like fossil fuels.
Biomass is seen as a carbon neutral fuel source. This is because wood which is used to make the pellets or chips for your system is produced from quick growing, short rotation coppice, and replaced immediately. The CO2 that is released during its burning is equivalent to only that which the plant absorbed during its lifetime, unlike fossil fuels which release CO2 that has been buried underground for millions of years.
Choosing to heat your home with biomass right now will probably cost around the same over a year as heating your home with gas central heating. However, in addition to cost savings over other fuels, adopters of biomass can receive a Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) to help with the cost of installation, and in the future will be able to claim the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to give an income for years to come.
Infrared heating panels work on electricity, and like most electrical appliances work at 100% efficiency. They are available as wall mounted panels, standalone heaters or can even be built into the skirting board of the room. Unlike other forms of electric heating, infrared heating doesn’t rely on convection currents to move the heat around the room. Instead they produce infrared waves of energy which penetrate objects and people in the room, making them an efficient alternative to other electric heating.
Infrared panels can be good for allergy sufferers, as the lack of convection current means dust and pollen are not moved around the room as much. If used in conjunction with photovoltaic panels, infrared heating certainly has its place in the efficient home.
Heat pumps are increasingly popular in homes all over the UK, whether ground or air source. Ground source heat pumps are the more efficient of the two technologies, largely regarded as having a coefficient of performance (CoP) of 3:1. This means for every one unit of electricity that is put into the pump, three units of heat energy are extracted from the ground. Ground source heating requires a larger investment than air source, as extensive ground works are required to install the system.
Air source heat pumps are another option to consider. Just like ground source, these can be connected to a warm air heating system or to a wet central heating system. The CoP of air source is lower, however, with current estimates at around 2:1. This does however make them a more efficient alternative to other electric heating systems. They are much cheaper and easier to install than ground source heat pumps too, and with both types of heat pump, householders will be eligible to get help from the Green Deal, the RHPP and eventually the RHI.