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Best renewable heating system for your home

Which Renewable Heating System is Best for Your Home?


To achieve carbon targets and help us combat climate change, more homes will need to turn to renewable heating systems. A renewable heating system provides heating using sustainable energy sources and doesn’t emit carbon into the atmosphere.

There are several renewable heating options, including heat pumps and solar thermal, so it’s important to find the best renewable heating system for your home.

Which renewable heating system is best for your home?

Renewable heating systems extract heat from sustainable energy sources. These sustainable fuel sources don’t emit carbon into the atmosphere and will never run dry. This is opposed to fossil fuels, such as natural gas and oil, which produce carbon and supplies of which are running low.

When it comes to turning to a renewable heating system, you have no shortage of options:

  • Air source heat pump
  • Ground source heat pump
  • Water source heat pump
  • Biomass boiler
  • Solar thermal

Air source heat pump

The air outside contains heat that can be extracted to provide central heating. And that’s exactly what an air source heat pump does. Even in temperatures as low as -20°C (depending on the model) an air source heat pump is able to use the air to heat your home.

An air source heat pump is made up of a fan, which needs to be installed in a unit outside (usually smaller than a typical washing machine), that turns to bring in air. The air is then compressed and heated further by a heat exchanger.

There are 2 types of air source heat pump: air-to-water and air-to-air. An air-to-water heat pump will heat a water-based central heating system (radiators and underfloor heating) while air-to-air systems heat the property through a network of fans.

Ground source heat pump

Temperatures underground are consistently sat between 10°C and 15°C. And a ground source heat pump extracts that heat to provide central heating and hot water.

To harness this energy, an underground pipe network needs to be installed – which will cause some disruption during the installation. These pipes can either be installed in a vertical or horizontal borehole, depending on the space available.

Water source heat pump

A water source heat pump extracts heat from an outdoor water source. These outdoor water sources, such as lakes and rivers, are absorbing energy from the sun which water source heat pumps can use to heat your home.

For a water source heat pump to be a potential option for you, a lake or river must be located within 100 metres of your home.

Biomass boiler

Unlike other renewable heating systems, biomass boilers burn fuel to provide central heating and hot water – much like gas and oil boilers. However, rather than burning fossil fuels (which emit carbon), plant-based organisms are used instead. Typically, biomass fuel includes wood chips, logs and pellets. Burning biomass fuel is a carbon neutral process as the only carbon emitted into the atmosphere was absorbed by the tree during its life.

Solar thermal

A solar thermal heating system absorbs heat from the sun which can then be used for a wet central heating system and domestic hot water. Installed on the roof, solar thermal panels are completely out of your way. And, once installed, they are very low maintenance and have no running costs whatsoever.

Solar thermal panels are different to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems which convert sunlight into renewable electricity.

You can get free no-obligation solar thermal quotes at Solar Guide.

How will a renewable heating system benefit my home?

A lot of the talk around renewable heating systems focuses on how they’re needed to help the UK achieve its carbon targets. And as low carbon heating systems this is true. However, there’s much more to them than this and by turning to renewable heating, you’ll stand to benefit in a number of ways:

  • Shrink your carbon footprint
  • Reduce the reliance you have on your energy supplier
  • Potentially lower your heating bills
  • Don’t need to be replaced as often as conventional boilers
  • Lower maintenance than boilers
  • Earn payments for the renewable heat being generated through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

Renewable heating system costs

One of the biggest considerations to make ahead of having a renewable heating system installed is the price. If you’re used to replacing a boiler with another boiler then renewable heating system costs can come as a bit of a shock.

Automatically-fed biomass boilers are the most expensive of these heating systems. Meanwhile a solar thermal heating system (depending on its size) is potentially the most affordable.

Renewable Heating SystemAverage Cost (including installation)
Air source heat pump£4,000 – £11,000
Ground source heat pump£8,000 – £12,000
Water source heat pump£9,000 – £11,000
Solar thermal panels£3,000 – £5,000
Biomass boiler£4,000 – £21,000

Between September 2020 and March 2021, homeowners can get help with the installation of a renewable heating system through the Green Homes Grant scheme. Homeowners can receive up to £5,000 to help with the initial costs of installing a low carbon heating system, including heat pumps and solar thermal panels.

Renewable heating system energy bill savings

It’s important to consider the potential long term savings when having a renewable heating system installed. By heating your home with your own renewable system, you’ll have less reliance on your energy supplier and potentially lower energy bills as a result.

Making savings on your heating bills over the course of 20-25 years (the length of time a renewable heating system can last) could see you make a return on your initial investment.

Renewable Heating SystemPotential Heating Bill Savings
Air source heat pumpUp to £1,300
Ground source heat pumpUp to £1,090
Solar thermal panelsUp to £100
Biomass boilerUp to £980

Source: The Energy Saving Trust

As well as energy bill savings, you could earn money through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). RHI payments are made quarterly over a period of 7 years with tariffs that differ depending on the system you have installed.

Renewable Heating SystemRHI Tariff (p/kWh)
Air source heat pump10.85
Biomass boiler6.97
Ground source heat pump21.16
Solar thermal panels21.36

Note: RHI tariffs are adjusted on a quarterly basis. Tariffs in the table below are based on applications submitted between 1 July 2020 and 30 September 2020.

What to do before installing a renewable heating system

When heating your home with renewables, insulation is key. This is because heat pumps and solar thermal deliver central heating at a lower temperature to gas and oil boilers.So, by having sufficient insulation, the heating system will be able to increase the temperature much more efficiently.

As well as insulation, the lower temperatures are better suited to heat distribution systems with larger surface areas. This means large radiators and underfloor heating.

Will renewables replace boilers?

The boiler is a tried and trusted heating system. So, replacing it with an unfamiliar renewable heating system may seem daunting. And this is despite all of the benefits they have to offer.

While there is a shift towards low carbon heating systems in an attempt to tackle climate change, with millions of gas boilers installed across the UK, replacing them all simply isn’t practical. Instead, we may eventually see the fuel used to heat our homes change rather than the system itself.

One possible candidate is hydrogen. Hydrogen is a gaseous fuel that doesn’t emit carbon when burned and actually contains more energy than natural gas. So we could effectively heat our homes to the same temperature but use less fuel.

Leading boiler manufacturers Baxi and Worcester Bosch have both developed hydrogen-ready boilers already. They’re also pushing for a ruling that would ensure all boilers installed from 2025 are hydrogen-ready.

While there is much positive talk around hydrogen replacing natural gas, hydrogen-boilers aren’t yet available to buy.

Should I stick with my boiler? It’s important to ensure that your current boiler is condensing and able to deliver highly efficient performance.

So, here’s how to spot if your boiler needs replacing:

  • It was installed more than 10 years ago
  • Your energy bills are on the rise
  • It frequently needs to be repaired
  • Replacement parts are difficult for a heating engineer to come across
  • The efficiency rating is below A
  • You’re no longer covered by a warranty

If any of the above sound familiar then it’s time to consider a replacement boiler. All boilers installed in the UK must now be condensing which means they’re highly efficient. And by having a new modern condensing boiler installed, you’ll benefit from:

  • Lower energy bills
  • A more reliable heating system
  • Manufacturer warranty protection

If your property is connected to the gas network and you’ve recently had a new condensing boiler installed, a renewable heating system could actually increase your energy bills. So, in that case, you may want to wait to have renewable heating installed. That doesn’t mean you should rule out renewables altogether though as you could generate your own electricity with solar PV.

Can I have a renewable heating system as well as a boiler?

Having a renewable heating system installed doesn’t mean that your existing boiler has to be removed. Instead, it could be installed alongside your existing heating system.

When paired with a heat pump, this is known as a hybrid heating system.

Having a hybrid heating system will still allow you to benefit from renewable energy but also keep your familiar boiler. The hybrid heating system will automatically switch between the heat pump and boiler depending on which is the most efficient at the time. When demand for heating is low, the heat pump will be used, while the boiler can be fired into action when demand is higher.

All-in-one hybrid heating systems typically cost between £5,000 and £10,000.

As solar thermal heating systems can only provide heating and hot water during daylight hours, a boiler will be needed to heat your home the rest of the time. Despite only being able to generate heat when the sun’s out, a solar thermal heating system can provide around 60% of your hot water.

Which renewable heating system is right for you?

Whether you choose a heat pump, solar thermal panels or biomass boiler you will be shrinking your carbon footprint and lowering your impact on the environment. Heat pumps require a suitable outdoor setting, solar thermal panels should ideally be installed onto a south-facing roof and a biomass boiler needs plenty of space.

When taking your next steps to find the right renewable heating system for your home, it’s important to seek professional advice.

To connect with heat pump and biomass boiler installers in your area, visit Boiler Guide where you can get free no-obligation quotes from up to 3 installers. By comparing quotes, you can be confident that you’re hiring the best person for the job at the most competitive price.

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