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Eco heating – What are the options?

Identifying the best gas boiler alternatives

An emphasis on rising energy costs has been an especially prominent catalyst in the rise in popularity of eco heating systems in recent times. But what are the most viable alternatives to gas boilers, in terms of availability, purchase and running costs and general energy efficient operation?

This blog will shine a spotlight on a variety of eco heating solutions, explaining what the best options are for particular properties, how easy or difficult they might be to source, and what sort of financial incentives could potentially be available for anyone switching from gas to green heating.

Read on to find out more…

Aerial view of large house with multiple solar panels

What are eco heating systems?

Whilst incorporating many forms, eco heating systems do share a couple of consistent common traits. Those being a lack of CO2 emissions and a lengthy lifespan.

Essentially, eco heating options are fitted with energy efficiency at the forefront of the mind; the aim is to provide an adequate level of warmth for the household year round, whilst minimizing the environmental impact of home heating to the utmost effect.

Of course, the choice of heating system is a major consideration for any home renovation or house move, and given the drive to move away from gas-based heating systems on the whole, new-build properties in particular are now largely favouring the introduction of eco heating solutions.

But the possibility exists, indeed often a financially incentivized one in fact, to switch from more traditional gas boilers to green heating solutions as part of home refurbishments as well. You’ll be looking to strike the perfect balance between sustainability and cost effectiveness when making the move.

As an overview, the available domestic eco heating systems are as follows…

  • Heat pumps
  • Infrared heaters and panels
  • Biomass boilers and stoves
  • Solar thermal panels
  • Heat retention storage heaters
Smartphone connecting to home eco heating system

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are devices which use a minute level of electricity to draw natural heat from a cold space and release it into a warmer one. Essentially, they work in the same way as a fridge does, though the heat transfer process is done in reverse. What’s more, reversible heat pumps provide the functionality to deliver heating in the colder winter months and cooling in warmer summer climes.

An extremely efficient operation is a hallmark of heat pump systems, which can create around three to four times more heat than standard electric heaters drawing upon the same amount of electricity. In addition to this, they represent a completely consistent home heating solution that can be relied upon to perform well all year round.

Both ground source and air source heat pumps are available, each of which offer clean and sustainable means of acquiring energy. They draw upon natural heat which is replenished by the sun in a constant cycle, setting them apart from alternative fuels. And greenhouse gas emissions are no concern either, given that combustion isn’t a part of the process.

Generally speaking, heat pumps come with a reasonably high purchase and installation cost. However, financial incentives exist in relation to their fitting, as detailed in our blog, Heat Pump Grants – Your Key Questions Answered. Teamed with savings on running costs and cheaper energy bills over time, heat pumps can actually prove a much more financially viable solution than you might imagine, especially in comparison with the likes of gas boilers and other heating options.

Heat pump being installed at a residential property

Heat pump advantages

  • Green heating solution with no local combustion
  • Financially incentivized installation with government assistance available
  • Much cheaper running costs in comparison with the likes of gas boilers and other more traditional heating systems (can save up to £1,500 annually)
  • Extremely efficient operation – Coefficient of Performance (or CoP) rating exceeds 3.5
  • Perfect option for homes with solar panels

Heat pump disadvantages

  • Relatively high purchase and installation cost

Infrared heaters & panels

Infrared heaters and infrared heating panels work in an entirely different manner to convection heating systems.

Whilst convector heaters warm the air, infrared heaters instead transmit infrared energy onto solid items. The energy absorbed by these objects leads to vibrations amongst the molecules, which in turn heats up the unit, room or person.

An ultimately extremely effective heating option, infrared heaters or panels can actually deliver a greater and more efficient energy output than convection heating solutions in some instances.

Man holding infrared heating panels

Infrared heater & panel advantages

  • Diminutive profile
  • Require little to no maintenance
  • No air circulation makes them an ideal option for those who suffer with allergies
  • Silent operation

Infrared heater & panel disadvantages

  • As infrared heaters don’t warm the air, the room can feel much colder quickly when they are turned off
  • The systems only have a short range of three metres or less
  • Infrared panels can be less effective if there are constructing objects between the panels themselves and people in the room
  • Given that infrared energy is transported via glass, infrared heaters are unsuitable for window-facing installation

Biomass boilers & stoves

Biomass boilers, also referred to as domestic wood-fuelled heating systems, unsurprisingly, burn wood chips, pellets and logs to generate energy. The biomass materials used for fuel are inclusive of industrial waste, animals and food.

In terms of domestic solutions, biomass stoves can be used to warm up a single room or smaller area of a home, whilst biomass boilers can be viewed as a replacement to a gas boiler or central heating system, providing heat and hot water for an entire property. Refer to our previously linked heat pump grants guide for a better insight, but only certain biomass stove installations are financially incentivized by the UK government, namely pellet versions that feature a back boiler.

Biomass heating systems are able to operate sustainably due to the fact that the carbon dioxide emissions that result from their burning of wood is the same as that absorbed over the course of the plant growing.

One notable sticking point for would-be switchers to biomass heating solutions is whether or not they can obtain or source the required fuels locally with relative ease or not. Plus, the required maintenance of biomass boilers and stoves can potentially be off-putting as well – each system needs to be cleaned frequently for the removal of ash and debris, unless a budget-stretching self-cleaning system is the order. And in the case of both boilers and stoves, homeowners will have to make sure both chimney and flue pipes undergo a professional sweep at least once a year.

In addition to these elements, the size of biomass boilers has to be a significant consideration as well; they are a deal bigger than oil and gas boiler systems. Any potential biomass buyers would need to ensure they comfortably have the required space for the necessary fuel as well and a flue that meets regulations – that being either an insulated stainless steel pipe or, more commonly, an existing lined chimney. Any biomass heating system installation must also be compliant with building regulations, so it is advisable to seek guidance or reassurance from your local council or planning authority to determine if planning permission will have to be sought.

Ultimately, in terms of energy efficient performance and eventual potential savings, the good outweighs the bad as it pertains to biomass heating solutions. It is reasonable to suggest that the boiler option is favourable where possible, as they can make use of the same fuel to provide hot water for an entire property whilst also warming the whole home via central heating functionality. Whilst they cost a pretty penny from the outset, government assistance can ease the financial burden, and given how excellent an alternative they can prove to gas boilers for all the reasons aforementioned, they provide returns to more than justify a hefty initial price.

Wooden pellets

Biomass boiler & stove advantages

  • Excellent green heating solution which can be carbon-neutral
  • Potential to save up to £800 per year on energy bills in comparison with gas or oil alternatives
  • Very cheap source of fuel
  • Eligible for government funding assistance as incentivization to install

Biomass boiler & stove disadvantages

  • Expensive to purchase and install
  • Fuel prices can fluctuate depending on area, how much is available and type of wood
  • Regulation-meeting flue is a requirement
  • Significantly larger than a standard gas boiler so bigger space is needed for fitting and storing
  • Require regular maintenance in terms of cleaning and refuelling

Solar thermal panels

Solar thermal panels operate in an economically friendly manner by absorbing the sun’s heat via solar collectors, which are installed on the roof of a home. From there, the resulting heated fluid is transported to a hot water tank and ready for use throughout the home.

One of the biggest drawbacks concerning solar panels, especially for households subjected to the unpredictable UK climate, is that they don’t provide an adequate level of energy to meet the heating requirements of a typical property. As such, they are regularly used to accompany the likes of heat pumps or infrared heating panels.

Furthermore, they continue the renewable energy solutions trend of incorporating an expensive initial cost, with wealthy returns over time.

Solar panels on roof of house

Solar thermal panel advantages

  • Little to no maintenance needed
  • Eligible for government assistance to offset much of the initial purchase and installation price
  • Can fulfill 50% of a typical household’s hot water requirements
  • Very economically friendly operation

Solar thermal panel disadvantages

  • Expensive to purchase and install
  • Unable to meet the heating demands of a full household typically, needs to be used as a secondary solution
  • Reliant on weather

Heat retention storage heaters

Heat retention storage heaters are able to provide an economically viable heating solution by relying on less expensive night-time electricity for power. Storage heaters essentially charge up during the evening and gradually release their stored heat over the course of the day.

However, the perceived impracticality of the systems was one of the most common criticisms levelled at them, with users often needing to ‘play a guessing game’ as it related to their heating requirements. Concerns over this, plus the efficiency, or lack thereof for an eco-heating system, have however been largely eliminated since new legislation came to the fore in 2018, and modern heat retention storage heaters work much smarter in both regards.

Contemporary storage heaters have much improved insulation properties, so warmth won’t be lost via leakages, and fan-assisted controls now aid with overnight heating to emit an extra burst of warmth, so the desired effect is achieved much more readily.

What’s more, the majority of newer models also incorporate an integrated back-up heater in the event that heat ever does actually run out. There is automatic functionality for the heater to detect just how much charge is necessary in accordance with the regularity that the back-up heater is used. In turn, the heater will alter in line with daily usage patterns, easily enhancing efficiency levels.

And the presence of in-built digital thermostats will allay any worries over having to predict what level of heat will be required. Modern storage heaters will allow the user to create a personalised heating schedule that is programmable 24/7 for versatile control over your home heating. They can also be controlled remotely so you don’t need to worry about wasted energy when you are away from the home.

Pair of residential modern heat pumps covered in snow

Heat retention storage heater advantages

  • Modern versions can be programmed with a tailored heating schedule
  • Energy efficient performance
  • Eligible for storage heater grants to help with initial up-front cost
  • Good value running costs as they make use of night-time electricity and charge when not in use

Heat retention storage heater advantages

  • Expensive initial purchase and installation costs
  • Some models can be impractical if the household requires a consistent heating schedule
  • Questionable efficiency of some older storage heater models

Choosing the right eco heating solution

Outside of the whole home eco heating systems detailed throughout this blog, the opportunity also exists to install electric radiators throughout the home. Although obviously, this is likely to prove a far more expensive means to achieve an economical home heating measure, as multiple rads would be required.

Each of the eco heating solutions touched upon in this article come attached with their own unique benefits and drawbacks, and you should now have all the information required to weigh up which is the best system to switch to for yourself personally.

If you would like any further help or advice regarding eco heating systems though, or have any other home heating posers, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the BestHeating team. You can do so by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below, or by contact us via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

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