Most UK homes still use gas boilers to generate warmth. But, given around 30% of UK carbon emissions are created by heating buildings, is there a greener, cheaper, more efficient, and environmentally friendly way for us to stay warm through the winter?
On a cold rainy day in the middle of December, returning to a warm home or enjoying a hot shower is something many of us take for granted - but could it soon be under threat? In as much as 80% of UK Homes, this warmth is thanks to gas boilers. The challenge is that heating systems are responsible for as much as 30% of UK carbon emissions and, the most likely alternatives are currently either very expensive or, in many cases not practical. So, with a national target of reaching net-zero by 2050, we need to find a better, greener approach.
So how can we reduce the emissions from heating our homes while keeping the future options both practical and affordable?
Making our homes more efficient has two main steps, choosing the energy source we are going to use and making sure we get as much out of the energy source as we possibly can. The answer to the first will be a mix of Hydrogen boilers and heat pumps, both are great and have their distinctive USPs. Heat pumps are great for new builds and homes with a bit more space while Hydrogen boilers will be by far the least disruptive to our current system and should allow many flats in large town centres to keep ‘traditional’ combi boilers.
The bigger problem is that the UK housing stock is so diverse it’s impossible to have one strategy which will suit us all. New builds are built practically airtight and let very little heat out and cold in while, older style properties will be the exact opposite and often have very little insulation if any at all, and the buildings are peppered with tiny cracks and holes known as adventitious ventilation which loses around 7KW’s of heat an hour.
As we can see, designing new homes with efficiency in mind is a lot easier than retrofitting a hundred years later. Because of this the Government has banned new builds from utilising natural gas from 2023 and at the time of writing the CBI have advised that if the UK is to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050 then no boilers burning any fossil gas should be installed in UK homes by 2035 - that’s a big statement!
New builds seem to have leaned towards heat pumps and district heating using HIU’s to give individual flats greater control over their own usage.
There are roughly 27.5 million homes in Britain where things get more complicated. Retrofitting greener heating can be expensive and impractical, The Committee on Climate Change has calculated that it would cost an average of £26,000 to convert each UK home to a low-carbon heating system and that's before you consider the lack of space in many of the converted, older properties or their abysmal levels of insulation and their tendency to hold heat like a sieve holds water.
Hydrogen is believed by many experts to be the best retrofit option which causes the least disruption to the current way we heat our homes and allows consumers to keep the familiarity of a gas boiler and controls. When Hydrogen is burnt it only produces water, with no carbon dioxide and gas boilers will only need minor changes to run on Hydrogen, you can also mix natural gas and hydrogen together, rather than having to make a full switch.
While the traditional gas boiler will certainly have a role to play for some time yet, its days as top dog in the heating industry are undoubtedly numbered.
Unfortunately, when it comes to its successor there is no ‘one size fits all answer. It will take a mix of Heat Pumps, Hydrogen, and better built / better-insulated housing.
Cross-party collaboration will be needed to give industry clear guidance so installers and companies can invest in training and upskilling and all of us will need to do our part to affect small changes in our day-to-day lives.
Even if you can’t immediately swap to a ‘green’ fuel there are lots of small things you can do every day to be more efficient and reduce your Carbon footprint. These include relatively cheap fixes like low energy lightbulbs, dual flush toilets, and using carpets or rugs over wooden floors. We can insulate our homes and fit double or triple glazed windows, we can make sure we turn off electrical appliances like TVs or Computers and take the plug out of the wall, we can fix the dripping tap and walk instead of drive.
All these relatively small and easy things can add up and help reduce tons of emissions over time.
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