When the nights draw in and cold starts to seep into our homes, how we heat them quickly without it costing a fortune becomes a priority.
The vast majority of British homes are run on gas boilers that heat water which is then distributed through a network of radiators.
But gas is a fossil fuel and is seen as bad for the environment. Britain’s 2050 net zero target will put pay to it over the coming years.
While the Government’s existing carbon emissions reduction policy only mandates green heating be put in new homes built from 2025, there is a growing view that far more drastic action needs to be taken, and faster, if we are to meet net zero targets on time.
Less than 5% of heating systems in domestic households are low carbon currently
Heating our buildings is currently responsible for more than a third of the UK’s overall carbon emissions, with more than half of those produced by British homes.
At the same time, less than 5 per cent of heating systems in domestic households are low carbon, highlighting just how drastic a change is needed if net zero is to become a reality.
A report by the Confederation of British Industry published in June recommended that government ban the installation of traditional gas boilers in all homes and workplaces from 2025 and said oil-fired boilers should be phased out from 2023.
But if gas boilers are banned – what are the alternatives? And, how much will making the switch cost homeowners? This is Money takes a look.
What could replace gas heating?
There is a range of low carbon heating technology already available including heat pumps, hybrid systems and hydrogen-ready boilers.
According to the National Grid, heat pumps powered by electricity are the favoured option for new properties but can be tricky to fit into existing homes, due to space constraints and because they require very high levels of insulation to keep temperatures comfortable.
‘If switching every UK home over to a heat pump is too impractical and costly, another solution would be to use our existing infrastructure and boilers but adapt them to run via a lower carbon fuel,’ it says.
‘Hydrogen is believed by many experts to best fit the bill here, as when it is burnt it only produces water, with no carbon dioxide.
‘It requires only moderate adjustments to home heating systems and you can also mix natural gas and hydrogen together, rather than having to make a full switch.’
Quick wins to go green
Earlier this year government announced a Green Homes Grant
Even if we can’t all swap to a greener heat source yet, we can still cut our homes’ carbon footprints, according to National Grid.
‘Relatively small quick win changes to reduce the impact of our home heating include improving insulation in floors, lofts and windows – even down to thermal window coverings.
‘Smart heating controls that allow you to flex your home’s temperature are also reasonably simple to retro-fit to an existing heating system.
‘Both measures could not only cut your carbon emissions but your heating bills too.’
There is some financial support available from government if you want to make these kinds of changes.
Earlier this year government announced a Green Homes Grant offering homeowners up to £5,000 to pay for a variety of energy efficiency and heating measures, such as insulation and double glazing.
Those living in ‘fuel poor homes’ can apply for a grant worth up to £10,000 each to make improvements.
How much will decarbonising heating cost?
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 – clearly, that’s a whopping sum.
It also depends on what you switch to. At the moment, it’s more expensive to use electricity to heat your home because gas is relatively cheap.
But it’s entirely possible that government will start to tax the use of fossil fuels to discourage people from continuing to rely on them.
This would mean that electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar and tidal power, theoretically, should become the cheaper option in the future.
Why switch to electric?
Switching your heaters to electric versions you might save some money.
Dave O’Keefe from Just Radiators says: ‘Many homeowners simply don’t realise how easy it is to switch to dual fuel or electric heating.
‘Most new radiators can be converted to dual fuel or electric, and the benefits to the environment are considerable. Plus, choosing electric puts you in control and makes your usage far more economical.
‘We’re seeing more and more of the leading brands offering electric radiators, and it’s ultimately the smart choice for consumers.’
This means technology and the radiators have improved vastly over the years.
Just Radiators and This is Money have pulled together five potential reasons to go electric with your home’s heating.
Using apps to manage your electrical heating lets you heat your home more economically
1. Pay what you use
Using apps to manage your electrical heating encourages you to heat your home more economically.
Most people don’t walk around the house switching off valves for the radiators in rooms they’re not using, yet when you can control it all through an app it becomes much easier to heat only the room you’re in.
When you use smart home control hubs such as Nest and Google Home, you can flick on the heating on your way home, set your radiator to heat up your towel from bed or cool down children’s rooms once they’re asleep.
Using your electricity in this way saves you money, as you’re only ever paying for the energy you use.
2. Cut running costs
While electricity still costs far more than gas in the make-up of our energy bills, there are a number of factors that can make electric radiators cheaper to run.
Many electric radiators have their own thermostat, giving you the power to heat only certain rooms. They can also have a feature that automatically puts them into standby when you open a window or door, so no energy is wasted.
Plus, with an electric towel radiator costing an average of 12p an hour to run, it’s cheaper and more convenient than switching on your central heating in summer or running your tumble dryer to dry soggy towels for around 67p per cycle.
With electric heating, the annual gas boiler service will be a thing of the past
3. Cut maintenance costs
Electric radiators rarely need to be replaced and don’t need to be bled or balanced, so they’re easier and cheaper to maintain than central heating radiators.
Plus, as they don’t require any pipework, they can be more affordable to install, too.
4. Improve your efficiency
When you switch to electric radiators, 100 per cent of the energy used is converted to heat, compared to a central heating system, where heat is lost through the pipes.
This makes electric heating a far more efficient option for warming up your home.
5. Cut your carbon footprint
Carbon-neutral electric radiators are an environmentally friendly alternative to central heating powered radiators.
Generating zero harmful emissions, using no heavy metals and keeping the air both inside and outside your home clean, there’s also no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when you use electric radiators, so you can be assured you’re keeping your family safe, too.
Could you cut your energy bills… or help the planet and go green?
Millions of people could be needlessly overpaying for their energy as they fail to switch to providers who offer cheaper deal.
They may also be missing out on the opportunity to help the planet and fight climate change, by switching to green deals that offer electricity from renewable sources and more environmentally-friendly gas.
With our partner, Compare the Market, you can compare energy tariffs and exclusive deals. Why not find out if you could save hundreds of pounds a year on your energy or go green?