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By Joy Persaud

Warm and eco-friendly

Choosing an environmentally friendly method of heating your home will not only be kinder to the planet but could save you money, too.

With winter on the approach, many of us will be focused on how best to stay warm and cosy – while keeping costs down.

And, when it comes to heating our homes, the environmental credentials of the method we use are often as important as the financial costs, especially as the UK is committed to achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

To encourage people to be green, the government supports initiatives that champion renewable heat and pays a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for using renewable heat technologies. So which methods are available?

Ground source heat pumps

This low-maintenance system works by extracting solar energy stored in the ground or water via submerged or buried pipework. The heat energy is boosted into higher temperatures to meet all of the home’s heating and hot water needs, all year round.

Stephanie Gregory, director of marketing at Kensa Heat Pumps, explains: “Heat naturally flows from warmer to cooler places. A ground source heat pump follows this basic principle by circulating a cold fluid around the ground arrays [pipes], which absorb and attract the ground’s low-grade heat energy.

“The ground source heat pump then compresses and condenses this heat energy and transfers it to the property’s heating and hot water system. Having surrendered the heat energy from the ground to the heat pump, the fluid from the ground arrays continues its circuit back to commence the cycle all over again.”

Unlike air temperatures, the temperature beneath the surface of the ground remains broadly constant, at 8ºC to 10ºC all year round, making ground source heat pumps a reliable and efficient heat source, especially during winter when the air temperature is frequently colder than the ground.

 

“By using smart controls that learn the occupant’s preferences and building heat physics, it is possible to avoid the peaks of strain on the National Grid, and shift [the demand] load to the times when the grid can best accommodate it”

Stephanie Gregory, director of marketing, Kensa Heat Pumps

 

Heat pumps can help reduce the load imposed on the National Grid as they produce more heat than the electricity consumed, and smart energy use can help further.

Gregory explains: “By using smart controls that learn the occupants’ preferences and building heat physics, it is possible to avoid the peaks of grid strain, and shift [the demand] load to the times when the grid can best accommodate it.”

Choose a product and installer accredited by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) to ensure you can receive RHI payments. And consider whether you have enough outdoor space for a ground loop and the machinery necessary to dig the hole; the space required for this can be tailored to fit the area available. You won’t need a huge garden but the pipes will need to be bigger – or be plumbed in deeper – for larger properties requiring lots of energy.
 

Biomass heating

These heating systems can burn wood pellets, chips or logs to provide warmth for one room or to run central heating and hot water boilers.

The Energy Saving Trust, an independent body that advises on ways to reduce energy consumption, explains: “Chips are used to heat larger buildings or groups of houses. Pellets are much easier to use and more controllable than logs. Pellet boilers can run automatically in much the same way that gas or oil boilers operate. Most pellet and chip burners use automatic fuel feeders, which refill them at regular intervals.”

In contrast, log-burning stoves and boilers need to be filled with wood by hand, which is more labour intensive, says the trust. If you have a decent supply of wood nearby, this could, however, be a low-cost, feasible option.

Bear in mind that a stove is not eligible under the domestic RHI, unless it is a pellet stove with a back boiler. The trust estimates that a wood-fuelled biomass boiler could save you up to £960 a year compared with an old electric heating system.

Jon Butterworth, sales director of Arada, urges consumers to buy eco-friendly stoves. He says: “It’s a known fact that relatively high emissions come from old stoves and open fires. Lack of maintenance and bad burning practice, coupled with poor-quality fuel choice, lead to visible smoke, which in turn affects the air quality in both homes and the wider environment.”

From 2022, European law – in tandem with the government’s Clean Air Strategy – will ensure “only the cleanest” stoves are available for sale, explains Butterworth. “The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA), whose mission is to promote the benefits of stoves, their use and safe installation, launched the Ecodesign Ready scheme to support UK manufacturers who release stoves that meet the lower emission limits ahead of the legislation.”

Arada’s new products are designed to comply with the new regulations, producing far fewer emissions than an open fire or old-style stove.

In terms of maintenance, you’ll need to clean ash from the boiler or stove regularly if the device is not self-cleaning. If you have a wood-burning stove or boiler, the chimney and flue pipe must be swept regularly – at least twice a year – to remove soot and prevent blockages.
 

Solar water heating

If you have a sunny spot on your roof, or have the space to mount collecting panels, a solar water heating system could save you money and provide renewable energy.

You’ll need a solar cylinder in which to store your heated water, and will probably need an immersion heater or boiler to boost the heat during colder months.

The Energy Saving Trust describes solar water heating systems as low maintenance, with the majority having a long warranty.
 

Thermal storage

Whatever method of renewable heating you choose, it’s worth considering storing any excess energy generated for when it is most needed.

The Energy Saving Trust says thermal stores can be used with a conventional boiler or immersion heater – and work well when paired with wood-fuelled biomass boilers, heat pumps, and solar water heating systems.

They can provide space heating, water heating or both, depending on what other means you use. However, you won’t be able to claim RHI payments if you use storage with a solar water heating system.
 

Home insulation

All of these methods of heating will be far more effective if the home they’re heating is properly insulated. Steps you can take range from simple, low-cost measures such as draught-proofing windows and doors or lagging water tanks and pipes to more extensive jobs such as cavity wall or roof and loft insulation. The Energy Saving Trust’s guide takes you through the basics and will give you an idea of how much you’ll need to spend and how quickly you should make your money back through savings.