Sustainable green heating

solar panels on a roofAs of April the 1st this year the government has introduced feed-in tariffs for those who produce their own energy via sustainable methods. The scheme makes a commitment to to make payments to house owners who use solar panels or wind turbines to make their own electricity.

A similar scheme for renewable heat sources is due to be made available in April 2011 and will be known as the Renewable Heat Incentive. It will provide a financial incentive to invest in these technologies. While the installation costs might be large, the price is coming down all the time and the overall benefits are good, both for saving money and the environment.

Solar Water Heating

  • This type of heating system will both cut water heating bills and reduce carbon emissions by collecting the sunlight from your roof and using it to heat the water in your hot water cylinder.
  • Water may have to be further heated by a boiler or immersion heater to get it to a sufficient temperature for showers and baths.
  • Additional heating for the water will also be needed for radiators. The most benefit comes from solar panels during warmer months when the heating isn't on, so it has limited use for heating the home during the winter. It won't prevent water heating bills, but will cut them.
  • A south facing roof area is best for a solar panel although they can be used on east and west facing roofs, but the effectiveness will be less.
  • A dedicated cylinder will be needed with a solar heating coil.
  • A combination boiler without a hot water tank will not be compatible with most solar panel systems.
  • Those living in conservation areas, in listed buildings or in a world heritage site may need planning permission for a solar panel.
  • Most systems will cost between £3000 and £5000 to install, although DIY versions can be bought at DIY stores. Most people can expect savings of just £85 on electricity and £50 on gas in one year.

Ground source heat pumps

  • This type of heating system can be used all year long as the temperature underground remains constant.
  • The heat pump circulates water and anti-freeze around a loop of pipe which is buried in the garden. The heat is absorbed into the fluid and pumped through a heat exchange before being extracted and concentrated by a pump compressor and used in the house. It is then cooled and circulated outside to continue the process.
  • A heat pump does need electricity to run, but are considered to be energy efficient as for each unit of electricity used to run it produces the equivalent of 3.2 units.
  • This type of system requires very little maintenance and if combined with solar power can be even more efficient.
  • Not all gardens are suitable as they need to be quite large and homes with these systems need to be well insulated as the heat is lower than boiler systems.
  • Underfloor systems will perform better than radiators, so the house may ned to be refitted or a new build.
  • Costs range from £7000 to £13000 and running costs will be a round £650 a year. In general you can expect to save £190 in gas or £840 in electricity.

Air Source Heat Pumps

  • These will absorb the heat from the air outside and use it to warm the water used for radiators, underfloor heating systems and hot water systems.
  • It can extract warmth from the air even when the temperature reaches as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius.
  • The require electricity to run, but produce 2.5 units more than they use.
  • Heat is absorbed into a fluid in the unit which is passed through a heat compressor and concentrated before entering the home.
  • Lower efficiencies than a ground source pump, but is smaller and easier to install. It will need a spot outside with plenty of space for good airflow.
  • Your home will need to be well insulated to gain the benefit and will work best with underfloor systems.
  • The system will cost between £5000 and £9000 and will save around £50 a year on gas and £700 a year on electricity.

Wood fuelled heating

  • More sustainable than gas or electricity.
  • Can be connected to a boiler or central heating system to provide additional heat and hot water.
  • The carbon dioxide emitted is the same as was absorbed by the tree during its life so it is a sustainable source of fuel, assuming the wood is locally sourced.
  • Not all areas of the country allow wood burning, so check with your council.
  • A stove connected to a boiler may cost as much as £9000 to install and savings could be as much as £410 a year depending on the costs of the wood.

The benefits of buying these systems are definitely long term and suitable if you plan to stay in your home for many years. But for some, the benefits of helping the environment outweigh the need to save money.

Government and local council schemes do exist to bring the cost down and can make installing one of these systems more cost effective. The Energy Saving Trust has details of any scheme available in your area.

The most important thing is to do your home work on the systems which will work best for you and to prepare your home. There is no point in installing a new low energy system if your home is single glazed, draughty and under insulated. These problems should be addressed before any new heating system is contemplated.

Once complete you can sit back and enjoy switching on the heating without worrying about the effect on your bills and the environment.

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