What are the most viable alternatives to gas boilers? There are many, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they always make financial sense and in this guide we’ll help you understand the key points to remember.
While Government is aiming to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050, it is essential to look into alternatives to gas boilers which not only help to reduce carbon emissions but also reduces energy bills.
A Climate Change Committee (CCC) report suggests that 23 million (85%) UK buildings are using gas boilers as a means of heating.
The various low-carbon heat options for the residential sector will help in meeting the fifth carbon budget and the 2050 target.
Why consider a low-carbon alternative to a gas boiler?
The findings of a report published by Nesta revealed that home heating accounts for 38% of all UK gas use, and an average household has a boiler that emits greenhouse gases equivalent to approximately 2.2 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Switching to low-carbon alternatives will help to reduce carbon emissions.
Also considering that the government is imposing a ban on the installation of gas boilers in new homes from 2025, it is the right time to think about a green alternative to gas boilers.
Besides damaging the environment, gas boilers are also very expensive to run.
With the prices of gas increasing every year, it is wise to look for energy-efficient alternatives.
Alternatives of Gas boilers
There is no shortage of options when we talk about the alternatives to gas boilers.
We can divide these alternatives into two heads, i.e. traditional alternatives and low carbon alternatives.
Traditional alternatives to gas boilers
Oil and LPG are considered the traditional alternatives to gas boilers.
The Climate Change Committee suggests that about 4 million (15%) homes are not connected to the gas grid, using oil or Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG).
Unfortunately, these ‘ off-gas’ homes make up a greater share of heating emissions (23%) due to the higher carbon intensity of oil and LPG- and the electricity- compared to gas.
Electric Boilers use electricity as fuel and are much easier to use as compared to gas and oil boilers.
However, they are not suitable for homes that have high usage of heating and hot water.
Low Carbon alternatives
There are many low-carbon heat options are available in the market that can help in achieving the targets set by the fifth carbon budget and 2050 targets.
These low carbon alternatives options include the following options:
- Hydrogen boilers.
- Biomass boilers.
- Air source heat pumps.
- Ground source heat pumps.
- Solar thermal panels.
- Infrared heating panels.
- Solar-powered electric heating.
- Hybrid heating system.
While there are several green heating options available in the market, not all are technically suitable for across housing stock.
The CCC suggests that out of 23 million on-gas homes, most if not all are theoretically suitable for hydrogen, and could fit a large proportion with heat pumps.
Meanwhile out of 4 million off-gas homes, almost 3 million homes could be suitable for heat pumps and around 0.5 million homes might also be technically suitable for connection to a heat network.
Let’s take the low-carbon heating options into account.
Hydrogen boilers use hydrogen as a means of fuel.
It does not emit harmful emissions as hydrogen only releases water when burnt in pure oxygen.
Since 85% of UK homes are already connected to the gas network, hydrogen boilers are cost efficient and less disruptive alternative.
Moreover, it is likely to be an affordable alternative as compared to other options like a heat pump.
Although burning hydrogen as a source of fuel is an eco-friendly method, the procedure involved in producing hydrogen does release carbon.
A 100 per cent green hydrogen is expensive and requires 100 per cent renewable energy.
Biomass boilers burn plant-based materials like wood to produce heat.
It is a carbon neutral process as the tree only releases that carbon it had released during its lifetime.
The biomass boilers not only are a low-carbon alternative but help to reduce the amount of wasted wood that goes into landfills every year.
The drawback of biomass boilers is the highest maintenance it requires to keep them working.
The leftover ash from the burning wood needs to be cleaned out regularly.
Air Source Heat Pumps
An air source heat pump extracts heat from the air and uses it to heat your rooms via radiators and underfloor heating.
The new models of heat pumps can work at a temperature as low as -25.
While air source heat pumps are suitable for almost most UK homes, they are very costly to install.
On average, an air source heat pump costs between £7000 to £1500.
Ground Source Heat Pump
As the name suggests, a ground source heat pump extracts heat from the ground to use for central heating and hot water.
An underground network of pipes circulates the refrigerant liquid while absorbing the heat.
The heat pump then further heats up the liquid and circulates it to the central heating system.
According to Energy Saving Trust, a ground source heating installation costs are around £24,000 if your ground loop is buried in trenches, and could be around £49,000 if you need to dig a borehole.
Solar Thermal Panels
Solar thermal technology turns sunlight into heat which not only helps to reduce your carbon footprint by also saves you on monthly bills by covering your heating needs using a completely free, renewable energy source.
However, thermal solar panels work best if your roof is south-facing or at least southwest and southeast.
Also, electric showers and cold-fill washing machines/ dishwashers are incompatible with solar heating water.
Infrared Heating Panels
Infrared heating panels are not connected with conventional heat distribution systems rather they warm up people and objects directly.
They do not produce any emissions and don’t circulate dust around the room.
However infrared heating panels are double the cost of a traditional space heater and can only work efficiently when there is no obstacle between you and the heating unit.
Solar-Powered Electric Heating
A solar inverter is used in solar-powered electric heating to convert the Direct Current (DC) from the solar panel to an alternating Current (AC) that supply electricity to the house.
Although it’s an energy-efficient and greener way of generating heat, it is not highly efficient during the dark and cold wintry days and you will end up using more of your available energy (main grids) for heating.
Hybrid Heating Systems
The hybrid heat pump is a system where a heat pump requires another heating system (gas, oil or LPG) to function.
This boiler could be an existing boiler, or you could be considering installing a new boiler at the same time as the heat pump.
The Energy Saving Trust advised the two configuration options to get the maximum savings from the hybrid heating system.
- Use boiler as a top-up system in the time when the heat pump is not enough to meet the requirement of heating and hot water in cold weather.
- Only use the boiler at a time when it is cheaper to run than the heat pump.
However, it is not a 100% renewable method as it still uses a boiler running on fossil fuels.
Moreover, the installation cost of a hybrid heat pump is way higher than the traditional boiler.
Alternatives to Gas Boilers & Central Heating FAQ
Now we have covered the basics, here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive with regards to gas combi boiler alternatives:
What funding is available to fund green alternatives?
If you are serious about replacing your gas boiler with a green alternative, like a heat pump, or solar panels, the good news is that there is some government support available.
This is in the form of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS). This is a UK government initiative that aims to encourage property owners to transition to low-carbon heating systems to heat their homes.
The BUS offers £5,000 towards the cost of installing a biomass boiler only i.e. it can’t be used for new gas boilers.
Find out more about the Boiler Upgrade Scheme here.