More and more UK homeowners are looking for alternative heating systems to replace their gas, oil or electric fired heating systems. Whether the decision is motivated by concern for the environment, to reduce your heating bills or both, choosing a renewable system is not a decision to be made lightly.
Here we explore the most popular options and the pros and cons of each to help you work out which alternative heating system is the best choice for your home.
Traditional heating systems
For decades we have been heating our homes with energy generated by fossil fuels, i.e. natural gas, oil, LPG and electricity which has been generated by gas-fired power stations.
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A gas boiler is the most common heating system in the UK as most homes are connected to the grid and it is the cheapest of all the fuels. However, as a fossil fuel, gas emits carbon when it is burned which is contributing significantly to global warming. In addition, gas boilers require regular maintenance and annual servicing which can be costly, and older boilers can be very inefficient.
Oil or LPG boilers
Homes which are not connected to the gas grid will often use oil or LPG boilers which require fuel to be stored on the property and topped up as needed. This is not only inconvenient, but both fuels also produce carbon when burned and are more expensive than gas.
Traditional electric heating systems such as electric boilers, radiators and storage heaters are significantly more costly to run than gas, oil or LPG with electricity costing around 10p more per kWh than gas. When the electricity is generated via gas-fired power stations these systems are also contributing to your home’s carbon footprint. On the plus side, electric systems are often cheaper to install and easier to maintain.
Note: Electric boilers which are powered by fossil fuel generated energy are not good for the environment, but if your electricity is generated either by a wind or solar farm or you have solar PV panels which generate electricity for your boiler, an electric boiler could be a more sustainable alternative. Infrared heating panels are a recent innovation which use a small amount of electricity to work but are much more energy efficient than traditional electric systems. Find out more about electric heating options.
Why should you consider an alternative heating system?
Lower energy bills
Energy prices are rising and show no sign of stopping. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, 75% of our energy bills pay for space heating and hot water production. With so much money being spent on our home heating, it’s crucial that you are using the most efficient system possible so you can keep running costs to a minimum. Alternative heating systems are significantly more efficient and often use renewable energy which is free.
Better for the environment
Global warming and the fight against climate change means that we have to find new ways to live which will not harm our planet any more than we already have done. This means changing the way we heat our homes and fuel our cars and being more conscious of our energy use. Alternative heating systems are designed to minimise energy consumption and, when powered by renewable energy, to produce zero carbon emissions.
Renewable Heat Incentive
Solar thermal, biomass, air to water heat pumps and ground source heat pumps are eligible for the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. This scheme pays you money for every kWh of energy generated by your renewable system for 7 years after installation. Find out more here.
Future-proof your home
Our supplies of natural gas and oil will run out and as a result energy prices will continue to rise. A renewable heating system will ensure you have a sustainable solution for the future and can even increase the value of your home in terms of its appeal to future buyers.
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Best alternative heating methods for homes
Whether you’re looking to replace your traditional heating system or are building a home from scratch, considering an alternative heating system which runs on renewable energy is a very smart idea. Here are some of the best alternative heating systems you might want to consider.
Solar thermal panels
Solar thermal panels are installed on the roof where they are exposed to natural heat from the sun. This heat is absorbed and transferred to heat water in a storage cylinder in your home.Solar thermal panels require little to no maintenance and a lot of the upfront cost can be recouped over the 7 years of RHI payments.
At the moment, solar thermal panels can’t generate enough hot water to be a complete heating solution by themselves so would need to be used alongside another renewable system or topped up by a traditional boiler.
|Pros of Solar Thermal||Cons of Solar Thermal|
|Boilers are eligible for RHI Uses renewable energy with zero emissions Very low maintenance||Dependant on the weather High upfront cost Can’t supply all of a home’s hot water (typically 40-70%) so needs to be topped up by another system|
Biomass boilers and stoves
Biomass boilers or stoves burn wood chips, pellets or logs to produce heat. A stove is usually used to provide space heating in a single room while a biomass boiler works as a traditional gas or oil boiler would and can heat an entire home. Biomass systems are carbon neutral, i.e. when the fuel is burned is only releases the carbon which the plant/tree absorbed while growing, which makes it a sustainable system. The fuel is often relatively low cost and if you have a natural supply of usable logs near your home, you could run your heating for free.
A potential downside to a biomass system is that they require regular cleaning and you will need to add fuel manually, as well as ensuring it is serviced professionally every year. These boilers are also significantly bigger than traditional gas and oil boilers.
|Pros of Biomass||Cons of Biomass|
|Eligible for RHI Potentially carbon neutral Fuel is often low cost and easy to source||Takes up a lot of space in home Requires regular refuelling and cleaning High upfront cost (£5,000-£20,000)|
A heat pump extracts latent heat from its natural surroundings and compresses it until it is hot enough to heat water in your cylinder. The two types of heat pumps available as alternative heating systems are:
- Ground source heat pumps
- Air source heat pumps (air-to-water)
As their names suggest, a ground source heat pump involves burying pipes underground where natural heat from the ground can be absorbed while an air source heat pump will extract heat from the air outside the home. A heat pump is a lot like a refrigerator in reverse and some heat pumps can also be used in reverse to provide air conditioning during the summer.
Heat pumps are low maintenance and incredibly efficient as, although they need a small amount of electricity to run, they produce 3-4 times more energy than they use. Heat pumps don’t produce any carbon emissions and are eligible for the RHI, but they have a high upfront installation cost.
|Pros of Heat Pumps||Cons of Heat Pumps|
|Heat pumps are very energy efficient Don’t produce carbon Eligible for the RHI Use a small amount of electricity to run – perfect partner for solar PV||High upfront cost Less efficient during winter May require new radiators or underfloor heating|
Heat delivery systems
Broadly speaking, there are two types of heat delivery system in wet central heating systems: radiators or underfloor heating. Traditionally, radiators have been used but in more recent years underfloor heating has become more popular, especially in modern homes. Underfloor heating is often a great partner for renewable or alternative heating systems as it delivers heat over a large surface area and these systems typically produce heating at a lower temperature. This means the system can be more effective and efficient than when paired with a series of radiators, although larger radiators could also be an option.
Which alternative heating system is right for you?
Swapping a boiler or an inefficient electric system for an alternative heating system will supply your home with hot water which has been generated far less impact on the environment, can usually lower your heating bills and will set you up for future sustainability. If you are building a new build either for yourself or to sell on, the low running costs and emissions can be a fantastic way to add value to a home. What’s more, the money you could earn via the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme could go a long way to recouping the cost of installing the system.
Your choice of alternative heating system will depend largely on how well insulated your home is, the size of the home and your lifestyle, which is why it’s important to get professional advice before making any decisions.
If you’re interested in heat pumps or a biomass boiler, visit Boiler Guide for free no-obligation quotes from installers in your area.