5 Cost-Effective Low-Carbon Strategies for Your Home Heating
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The cost of heating our homes has gone off the scale, so many of us are looking for more affordable heating alternatives that won't kill the planet. And while most of us remain reliant on gas or electric heating, there are ways to transform our houses into cost-effective, low-carbon homes.
After all, as long as we rely on gas or electricity, we're giving the power companies free rein to dip into our bank accounts and take whatever they like.
Surely, there has to be a common-sense way out of this power monopoly?
Well, you're in luck because this article covers 5 cost-effective, low-carbon home heating strategies.
Let’s get started.
What is low-carbon heating?
Low-carbon heating systems release no-to-very-low amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, getting their power from carbon-neutral sources, such as the sun, the ground, and plant-based fuels.
And while we can opt for carbon-neutral tariffs for our mains power and gas, we're still adding carbon into the air when we burn gas or electricity, affecting air quality.
The carbon costs of gas and electric
According to an article in The Guardian back in 2021, the gas boilers we're using in our homes emit twice as much CO2 than all of the UK's power stations and eight times the Nitrogen Dioxide, which is responsible for tens of thousands of early UK deaths each year.
So, until we address how we heat our homes, it will be challenging to hit net zero.
Of course, part of the problem is the age of the boilers in our homes. And while new boilers are more efficient, not everyone can afford to upgrade them every ten years, so we find ourselves at a bit of a stalemate.
Indeed, home gas boilers kick out thousands of tons of carbon emissions daily, and while electric heating produces less carbon, almost 48% of the UK's electricity is still generated from burning natural gas.
So, neither gas nor electricity offers low-carbon heating in the UK.
What are low-carbon heating systems?
There are many low-carbon home heating systems available in the UK. However, these technologies are still not installed into new-build homes as standard; although this is becoming more prevalent.
The most popular low-carbon home heating systems are:
- Heat pumps
- Solar water heating
- Biomass systems
- Electric combi boilers
Let’s look at each of these technologies.
Low-carbon home heat pumps
There are three types of low-carbon home heat pumps: ground-source, air-source, and water-source.
And while heat pumps rely on electrical power, they demand considerably less than conventional heating systems, making low-carbon home heat pumps a more sustainable heating source.
How does low-carbon heat pump heating work?
Heat pumps absorb heat from the ground or air and store it in a fluid that gets compressed to further increase the temperature. And this fluid transfers its heat to your water system, providing hot water that feeds into your home's radiator network and hot taps.
Ground-source heat pumps draw heat from the earth, so you need to dig a hole in your garden to sink the mechanism.
Air-source heat pumps draw heat from the air and look more like traditional air-con units. These are easier to install as you don't need to bury anything, but you do need space around the unit to promote good airflow.
Water-source heat pumps extract heat from a body of water, such as a lake, river, pond or borehole. And while you might think that your nearby lake is cold, it still contains enough heat energy to transfer to the working liquid, which is compressed to increase the heat that gets delivered to your home.
How much do low-carbon heat pumps cost?
Well, here's the million-dollar question! But, luckily, it's not a million dollars!
An air-source heat pump ranges between £9000 and £11,000, and up to £19,000 for a ground-source pump.
However, balancing the cost with the savings you'll make from the equivalent fossil fuel is crucial. It's certainly an investment. You will still receive an energy bill because heat pumps use electricity, but they're widely considered to save around 60% while reducing your carbon footprint by 2.5 tonnes.
Can I get a grant for a ground-source heat pump?
You can apply for a grant for a low-carbon heat pump through the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, offering grants of up to £6000, which goes towards the purchase and installation of your heat pump.
You’ll get up to £5000 for an air-source heat pump and £6000 for a ground-source heat pump, but those grants are unlikely to cover the purchase and installation costs fully. A typical system costs around £10,000, so you’ll have to find the remainder of the fee.
This grant is available to homeowners and landlords in England and Wales but doesn’t cover social housing or new builds (unless you’re building your new home yourself).
There are additional criteria for qualification:
- A valid Energy Performance Certificate (with no recommendations for improvement)
- Suitable loft or cavity wall insulation.
Bear in mind that these grants are only available for people converting from a fossil-fuel system. If you already have a low-carbon heating system, you won’t receive a grant to upgrade it.
Solar Water Heating
Solar water heating is a fantastic low-carbon way to reduce your energy costs, harnessing the power of the sun to provide hot water for your home.
A solar panel collects the sun’s energy, transferring it to a storage heater inside your home.
The cost advantages of solar water heating
The most obvious advantage of installing a low-carbon solar water heating system is that it saves you money on your energy bills each month because you no longer need to pay for the fuel or electricity that powers your boiler.
The price of solar panels has decreased so much in recent years (around £4-5,000) that they're now almost as affordable as traditional power sources, making installing a solar water heating system even more affordable. These savings grow as more homeowners choose to invest in solar energy.
Solar water heating systems can reduce your carbon footprint by using clean, renewable energy sources.
Low carbon biomass
Biomass heating systems burn wood pellets, logs, or chips to heat individual rooms or to fuel your central heating system and hot water boiler.
And while you're still burning carbon dioxide-releasing wood, it's more carbon neutral because the pellets and chips are usually made from industrial waste.
Biomass is considered sustainable because new plants and trees are planted each time one is felled for fuel.
How much do biomass heating systems cost?
They're not cheap! For a biomass heating system to heat your entire home effectively, you'll need an automatically fed pellet boiler, which keeps topping up the fire with pellets while it burns. These cost between £11-17k, including installation and fuel store.
Of course, you’ll need to consider the costs of pellet delivery as they’re usually only available online.
Bioethanol heating systems
Bioethanol fireplaces provide a real flame fire and a beautifully toasty warmth. However, a bioethanol fireplace isn’t a replacement for your entire heating system, as they’re intended to be for occasional use only.
What is bioethanol?
Bioethanol is a denatured alcohol (don’t drink it!) made from the fermented by-products of crops such as sugarcane and corn, which you buy in bottles — 1 litre burns for around 4 hours.
Bioethanol is considered carbon neutral because:
- It’s made from waste products
- Burning it doesn’t create smoke, soot, or ash
- You don’t need a chimney or flue
Bioethanol burns cleanly, so you don’t need an external flue or chimney. It uses oxygen from the air, like all natural combustion, and produces a little carbon dioxide (the same amount as burning two candles) and a trace amount of water vapour.
Essentially, burning this fuel won't pollute the air, and whatever carbon dioxide it releases is absorbed by your house plants (which will thrive around your biofire).
How much are bioethanol fireplaces?
This is probably the best part about bioethanol fireplaces — they're relatively inexpensive to buy, and installation is as simple as removing it from the packaging it arrived in. You’re looking at a price range from £150 to £1000, with a typical price of around £500 for a super-stylish unit that looks beautiful and warms your room without relying on gas or electric.
Electric combi boilers
Electric combi boilers are considered a low carbon home heating system because they don’t burn fossil fuels.
These systems work on electricity provided by the national grid or an alternative power source, such as solar panels.
But, of course, how green your electric combi boiler really is depends on how your power company produces your electricity. However, in 2022, 39.9% of the electricity generated in UK power plants came from renewable sources — so things are certainly improving on the green energy front for network power.
And, if combined with a solar water heating system, electric combi boilers offer excellent low carbon home heating.
Create your own low-carbon home
We hope we've provided some valuable information to help you decide which way to go in your low-carbon home.
And if you’re considering going down the bioethanol route, you’ll probably have lots of questions. So, check out our ImaginFires FAQs, which provide most of the answers about buying, installing, and using a beautiful bioethanol fireplace.
If you have questions, please get in touch — we’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading.