Heating our homes using gas boilers is not only damaging to the environment, but it’s also expensive, and with the price of gas growing year on year, many people are looking for green alternatives to gas boilers.
According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, on average, 60% of energy bills are spent on space heating, and a further 15% on hot water. With the significant costs involved with powering home heating systems, finding the best possible alternative to gas central heating systems is vital for those wanting to bring down the price of their monthly bills.
Why choose an alternative to gas boilers?
The Government’s Future Homes Standard will introduce a ban on gas boilers in new homes from 2025. This is all part of a plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from across the UK economy by 2050, and there is a legally binding target in place to do so.
Heating our homes using natural gas and oil produces carbon dioxide and when burned in excess damages the environment and everyone in it. Choosing an alternative to a gas boiler can save you money and protect the planet, too.
Each of us has a part to play in creating a greener future and even small changes such as swapping how you heat your home and water can make a big difference. That’s where alternatives to gas boilers come in.
What alternatives to gas boilers are there?
1. Air Source Heat Pumps
Firstly, there are air source heat pumps (ASHPs), which work by using electricity to absorb natural heat from a cold space, which is then released into a warmer space. This heat transfer method is similar to what you would see at play within a household fridge, only in reverse.
ASHPs require electricity to run because they are extracting renewable heat from the environment, but the heat output is far greater than the electricity input, making them an efficient solution for heating your home.
ASHPs are an extremely reliable alternative to gas boilers and operate all year round, producing 3 or 4 times more heat than a typical electric heater using the same amount of electricity.
Although the initial cost of installation is high, when paired with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments and energy bill savings, they make a lot of sense in the long term when compared to gas boilers and other heating systems.
- Can be used for space heating and hot water
- Saves money on energy bills after initial installation costs
- Eligible for Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive
- Low Maintenance
- Long lifespan
- The home must already be well insulated
- Lower efficiency when the temperature is under 0°C
- Electricity is required to run the ASHP
- Can be noisy
2. Ground Source Heat Pumps
Ground source heat pumps essentially function as circular wells by pumping water down into the ground and back out again to heat your home.
Heat from the ground is absorbed at low temperatures into a fluid in a looped pipe, which is installed underground. The fluid then passes through a compressor, raising the fluid to a higher temperature. The high temperatures can then heat water for the heating and hot water circuits in a house.
The cooled ground-loop fluid flows back into the ground where it absorbs more energy in a continuous cycle for as long as heat is needed.
If you are considering this alternative to gas heating, it’s worth thinking about the space you will need outside for the installation of the heat pump and also the suitability of that space. A heat pump installer should work with you to design your solution based on local conditions and the heat requirements of your home.
- Environmentally friendly compared to gas boilers
- Saves money on energy bills
- May be eligible for Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive
- Low maintenance
- Long lifespan
- Large upfront cost to install
- They are most effective if you have underfloor or air heating systems
- Disruption to your garden during installation
3. Biomass Boiler
Biomass is fuel developed from organic materials such as wood, plants or plant-based materials which are not used for food or feed.
When it comes to biomass boilers, the most popular biomass energy source is wood in the form of logs, pellets or wood chips – boilers that use wood as a source are known as wood pellet boilers.
Burning biomass releases heat which can then be utilised to heat homes and generate electricity.
These types of boilers are very similar to conventional gas boilers, as they provide both space heating and hot water for the property, only instead of using gas to produce the heat, biomass boilers combust sustainably sourced wood fuel.
- Biomass boilers and stoves qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI)
- Efficient way to use up waste wood
- Practical for remote locations
- Biomass boilers need more space than gas or oil boilers because the system is larger
- Initial investment of purchasing the boiler and installing it is higher compared to traditional gas or oil boilers.
- It is essential for biomass fuel to remain dry or it won’t burn properly, so storage conditions must be considered
- Requires some maintenance
4. Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System
Running an electric combi boiler powered by solar panels can significantly bring your heating costs down. Electricity is an expensive fuel and despite all the benefits of an electric combi boiler, the high costs of electricity from the grid can discourage people from purchasing one.
To combat this, generating your own electricity using solar PV panels to power your electric boiler is an excellent workaround that is environmentally friendly and allows you to take advantage of free, renewable energy.
A solar photovoltaic (PV) system converts solar radiation into electricity. This free renewable electricity can then be used as a power source for the appliances in your home.
Solar panels are first installed on the roof. The panels contain photovoltaic cells and these cells then retain energy from the sun. Direct sunlight brings the best results, but the cells are mostly still able to produce energy in daylight.
- PV panels are totally silent, producing no noise at all, making them the perfect solution for urban areas and for residential applications
- Easy to install on rooftops or on the ground without any interference to residential lifestyle
- Once installed, your energy source is free and renewable
- Initial installation costs
- They are fragile and can be damaged relatively easily so additional insurance costs are important to protect a solar PV investment
- The efficiency levels of solar panels are relatively low compared to the efficiency levels of other renewable energy systems
5. Solar Thermal Heating
Solar thermal heating systems work by capturing energy from the sun and then using that energy to heat water in your home. These systems enable many homeowners to generate up to 70% hot water with free solar energy rather than solely relying on their boiler or immersion heater.
Solar thermal panels are used in conjunction with a boiler, collector or immersion heater. The solar collector will use the sun’s rays to heat a transfer fluid. The fluid is made from a mixture of water and glycol, which stops the water from freezing in the winter.
The heated water from the collectors is then pumped to a heat exchanger inside a water cylinder. The energy from the exchanger will then heat the water inside the cylinder. After the liquid releases its heat, the water flows back to the collectors for reheating.
Once the system is up and running there are very few running costs involved. You will need a professional to check over the system every few years but other than that it will run on free energy.
It’s important to note that before pairing a solar thermal system with an electric boiler and hot water cylinder, it’s important to make sure that the systems are compatible with one another.
- No carbon emissions
- Low maintenance
- Eligible for RHI
- Little running costs
- Unable to store lots of energy for later consumption
- Can be inconsistent and unreliable, so need backup sources
- Not compatible with all heating systems
6. Wood Burning Stoves
A wood-burning stove is quite simply a stove that burns wood to create heat. Many stove manufacturers are now producing stoves with flue pipe systems that remove the need for a chimney, making this option much more accessible and available to the public.
This heating method is a great choice if you want to heat a single room in your home where you spend the majority of your time such as a living room. As wood is a renewable source, it is kinder to the environment than using gas or electricity and makes for a great gas boiler alternative.
When making the decision to purchase a wood-burning stove, it’s important to consider whether or not you have access to wood, and if you have somewhere to store it, whilst ensuring that it is kept dry. You also have to take into consideration whether or not you are based in a smoke control area. If you do, then you’ll need to get a DEFRA-approved stove.
- Burns fuel efficiently
- Creates a cosy ambience
- Huge savings
- Simple to use
- Impractical if you live in a smoke control area (unless stove is DEFRA approved)
- You will need somewhere dry to store your wood
- Buying and carrying logs to put on the stove can be inconvenient
- The chimney must be swept every 6 months if you are using a chimney
There is a common theme with many of these green alternatives to gas boilers: many of them require an initial upfront cost which can be expensive in the short term. However, many of these solutions are eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive, enabling you to make a return on investment in the long term whilst swapping to a cleaner, greener alternative that can help the UK reach its zero-emissions goal.
To round up, it’s important that you always take into consideration how much space you have to accommodate not only the solution itself such as piping, pumps or boilers but also any fuel that requires a suitable large, dry storage space.
Once you have decided which is the best solution for your specific situation, then you can look forward to leading the way with a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
In terms of employment and how green alternatives to gas will affect the job landscape, there is still a huge demand and future for gas engineers, with many gas engineers training to be multi-skilled in both natural gas and renewable alternatives.