The way we heat our homes is set to change for the better.
And the heat is on to say goodbye to gas boilers and say hello to clean heating - zero-carbon homes are the future.
With the majority of UK household CO2 emissions coming from heating, the UK Government is committed to delivering zero-carbon homes by 2025 through their Future Homes Standard, which was announced in the government’s spring statement in 2019.
The Standard outlines plans to radically improve the energy performance of new homes in England to ensure they are future-proofed with low carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency.
The Future Homes Standard consultation document explains that new homes in England can no longer be built with fossil fuel heating, such as a natural gas boiler.
Why are gas boilers being phased out?
The government believes moving to cleaner sources of heat – away from gas – and improving the energy efficiency of homes will be key to helping it bring all greenhouse gas emission to net zero by 2050. As well as reducing carbon emissions, it should also help to keep energy costs down for consumers too.
The full technical specification of the Future Homes Standard is due to be confirmed in 2023, followed by the introduction of legislation in 2024, with the standard then implemented in 2025. If the current timeline goes ahead, this means that new build homes by 2025 will not be built with gas boilers.
What will replace gas boilers in new homes and self-builds?
As part of the Future Homes Standard consultation process, 70 per cent of respondents – including engineers, designers, builders and people working in the energy sector – agreed that heat pumps will be key in delivering the Future Homes Standard, so how exactly do they work?
Heat pumps work by taking energy from low temperature sources – air, ground, or water – and then transforming into a higher temperature to heat water, radiators or underfloor heating.
Ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps are more commonly used for homes. The former uses buried pipes to take warmth from underground and turn it into a fluid, which is pumped into a heat exchanger to increase the temperature. This is changed into water again, which is pumped around the home’s heating system. The latter uses the same technique, except it takes heat from the air. Air source heat pumps can still work even if it’s around -15°C outside.
A fabric first approach is crucial for these to work to their maximum – heat pumps work best in homes that are already energy efficient.
Funding for boiler upgrades
Help is at hand for those considering the shift to heat pumps after the Government recently released the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which gives homeowners up to £6,000 towards the cost of an upgrade to low-carbon heating systems.
Self-builders are eligible for this grant and will have a three-month period in which to apply. It works on a first-come-first-served basis.
The funding allows for either £5,000 for air source heat pumps or £6,000 for ground source heat pumps. An Energy Performance Certificate is not required for self-builders, but it is for existing home owners.
Grants will be on a voucher system that are applied for before installation. The vouchers, which have a usage date, can be redeemed on completion.
Alternative low carbon heating
There has been a real focus on heat pumps but hydrogen boilers or solar water heating could also be possible replacements to gas boilers.
Hydrogen boilers work in a similar way to gas boilers, but instead of burning natural gas or methane they burn hydrogen. This makes them a greener way to heat homes as water is the only by-product of burning hydrogen gas.
Solar water heating systems use solar panels, which are filled with a fluid, to absorb heat from the sun and turn this into higher temperatures for the home. These systems come with a storage battery for cooler days and overnight.
Embracing low carbon heating is one solution, but the government is clear that it also wants a fabric-first approach to be at the heart of all new homes. This means using high performing building materials – such as glazing and insulation – along with the right design to improve the energy efficiency of homes.