Home heating (UK)

Written by nana@lovehatechange
Published 29 August 2020

Household emissions must reduce by 87%
for the UK to achieve the Net Zero 2050 targets

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash 

UK is committed to Net Zero 2025

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050 (gov.uk source). This will require a reduction of 87% to the household emissions of 8,789 CO2e per household in 2017.

How will the 87% reduction be achieved?

Analysis by Energy Systems Catapult for the Committee on Climate Change explored what it means to cut this much carbon in the UK. They found that the most significant change is needed  in how people heat their homes.

UK household CO2 emissions based on Energy Systems Catapult Analysis

This is likely to be implemented through a range of different systems, with people and communities making choices dependent on the location, size and dimensions of individual properties. The UK government has spoken about  improving heat efficiency of homes and by transitioning to hydrogen and electricity. Gas boilers will be banned for new homes from 2025. For the existing houses this means replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, heat networks and hydrogen boilers (Carbon Brief, Jun 2019).

What can you do?

Reduce energy consumption

    • Optimize your heating schedule, e.g. reduce heating 60min before going to bed.
    • Put on an extra layer and reduce the room temperature. 18 °C is considered ideal for healthy adults. For those with respiratory problems or allergies, WHO recommend no less than 16 °C, and for the sick, disabled, very old or very young, a minimum of 20 °C.
    • Only heat the rooms you actively use.

Choose a renewable energy supplier

The best option from an environmental perspective is to choose a company who also invest in building renewable energy capacity.

According to Ethical Consumer, the best options currently are Good Energy and Ecotricity. Out of the Big Six, they recommend SSE, which is supporting renewable energy more than any of the others and is Fair Tax Mark certified.

Octopus offer cheaper night-time prices  which is very handy if you have an electric vehicle or storage heaters and can choose when to run/charge them. The scheme is called Agile Octopus

Further options for house owners 

Reduce leakage

Start by checking if you can reduce the leakage. Draughts are uncontrolled ventilation, and are also the cause of considerable heat loss. In the typical UK house draughts will account for at least 10% of the total heat loss. If there is an unused open fireplace that figure will rise to over 50% (source).

You can easily check the sources of heat loss and insulation efficiency with a thermal leak detector. Some of them even offer moisture detection, so you can find out where that damp problem is coming from. (Best Reviewer 2020 reviews of thermal leak detectors here – or maybe you can borrow one from your neighbour.)

Improve insulation

Insulation is key in the fight against heat loss but not just that. Bad insulation can cause moisture and mould issues, which negatively affect indoor air quality and can cause serious health issues for the occupants. 

Since warm air tends to go up, loft insulation is the first thing to check out. E.g. ecomerchant has a lot of information about insulating walls, ceilings, etc. 

Pay attention to the insulation material

Many suppliers have a limited selection of material options, and there seems to be lack of awareness of environmentally friendly options. 

You can find an interactive version of the below wheel with more information here.

The 8 Roles of Insulation


National Energy Foundation

You might find some ideas and inspiration in the National Energy Foundation page. 

Alternatives to Gas

Especially if your boiler is coming to the end of its lifetime, it’s worth considering alternatives to gas. 

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are the most efficient alternative to fuel, oil, and electrical systems, when it comes to the process of heating and cooling. Their efficiency rate can be as high as 300%.

Heat pumps are expensive to install, but they have a long lifespan of up to 50 years. It typically takes 5-7 years for them to pay for themselves but if you are considering to get one, you’ll get an estimate for your particular situation from your supplier. Note that all types of heat pumps are eligible for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Heat pumps are fairly difficult to install and local geology, movement of heat and your specific requirements need to be carefully researched. The main UK quality assurance scheme for low-carbon and renewable energy technologies is the DECC-supported Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)It is through MCS that heat pump systems must be registered in order to be eligible for the RHPP grant and RHI payments.

The Renewable Energy Hub’s Complete Guide to Heat Pumps in 2020 is an excellent source for information. Another good source of information is GreenMatch, which is an online service that provides quotes for green energy products from multiple providers. 

Finally, beware that some of the fluids used for heat transfer are powerful greenhouse gases, and if you want to make your installation an environmentally friendly option, it is recommended to use low global warming potential (GWP) and/or biodegradable fluids.

Solar panels

Solar energy can be used to provide electricity or hot water. Electricity is more versatile and can also be sold on or used for heating, so a solar power (PV) system makes more sense than a solar thermal system for most people.

The initial costs are high but the panels pay for themselves over time. An average installation price for a a semi-detached house with a 21m3 roof is £4000-6000. With a 4kw system you could see a return of £700 in the first year and £6,750 after 20 years.  

Is it a good option for you?

This depends on your location, the size of your roof, and which way your roof faces. Pay attention to whether the roof is shaded by things like big trees. Make sure you get a get good quality quotes that take all these things into account.

For more information, see e.g. The Complete Guide to Solar Panels 2020 by the Renewable Energy Hub.

Hydrogen boilers

It is not yet possible to buy or install a hydrogen boiler. The government is working with the heating industry to achieve a 100% hydrogen gas grid, but this is not likely to be ready in the next decade. The current aim is to phase in a 20:80 blend of hydrogen to natural gas by 2025. More information in the boilers guide.