Would you consider changing your heating system to help reduce carbon emissions? Should more help be available to do so? Our guest discusses the issues.
This is a guest post by Madeleine Gabriel/Nesta. All views expressed are her/its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
A very loud clunking, and then an eerie silence. That was the sound of my old gas boiler breaking down two years ago. It had been on the blink for a while and after a few repairs, it finally conked out. It was February, and I was in no mood for cold showers, so I got straight online and ordered a new condensing boiler, which was fitted within a week. Relief!
In the frenzy to get my heating back on, it never once occurred to me that there might be alternatives to gas boilers – or even that it might just have been worth doing a bit of research before the old one gave up the ghost.
Like the vast majority of boiler-buyers, mine was an emergency purchase. But it’s one that has some big implications.
That’s because in the UK, a whopping 15% of carbon emissions come from heating our homes – after transport, it’s the biggest source of emissions. But unlike flying or driving, most people aren’t aware that heating is a contributor to climate change.
The good news is that low-carbon heating technologies do exist. Heat pumps are the most widespread of options currently on the market. These clever devices act like a refrigerator in reverse, taking heat from the air or the ground and turning it into usable heat in your home. They use some electricity to run, but are highly energy efficient when installed correctly.
In some countries, such as Finland and Switzerland, heat pumps are already fairly common, but in the UK only around 25,000 are installed each year. The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government on how to meet the UK’s legally binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, thinks that this number will need to rise to over one million per year by 2030.
And that’s where the challenge gets pretty daunting. Nearly 85% of the UK’s homes – that’s about 24.5 million houses – have gas central heating. To reduce carbon emissions to net zero, almost all would need new heating systems at some point in the next 30 years. Gas boilers have a lifetime of around 15 years.
So for people like me who only think about changing their system when it breaks down, there will only be one or two opportunities in that period to install a more environmentally friendly system. And at the moment, heat pumps are much more expensive than gas boilers, although government schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive have attempted to make the purchase more attractive for consumers.
Can it really be done? And if so, how? That’s a question that the government and industry are grappling with at the moment. But it’s worth remembering that the UK’s houses have seen some pretty radical transformations before.
Homes built before 1919 often lacked bathrooms and indoor toilets, and in the second half of the twentieth century there was a big push to improve housing quality.
In 1967, 25% of all UK houses still lacked at least one basic amenity (a bath or shower, an indoor WC, a wash hand basin, hot and cold water at three points). But by 1991, the proportion was down to just 1%, and there are virtually no houses today that don’t meet this standard.
The charity I work for, Nesta, is setting out on a new programme of work to look at ways to reduce carbon emissions from the UK’s homes, so we’d love to know what you think.
Would you consider changing your heating system to help reduce carbon emissions? What do you think the government, industry and others should do to help? And what concerns would you have?
Tell us in the comments below.
This was a guest post by Madeleine Gabriel/Nesta. All views expressed were her/its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.