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Energy-efficient heating systems: what are the options?

Energy-efficient heating systems: what are the options?

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

Guide written by:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

40 guides

If you're hoping to make your home more energy efficient, your heating system and heating controls need to be at the centre of your focus. But from biomass boilers to heat pumps, high-efficiency boilers to energy-saving electric radiators, what kind of heating is best? Read on to find out more.

When it comes to reducing energy consumption and lowering energy bills, you need to think carefully about how your home is heated. Heating accounts for about 50% of the total energy consumed by households in the UK so it is essential to make sure your heating system is as efficient as possible.

Installing an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient heating system can help you to make big changes as can smart programming which ensures you only consume what is strictly necessary without compromising on comfort.

Different energy-efficient heating systems

A few different heating systems can be considered when attempting to improve energy efficiency. Each of these systems presents its own set of advantages. Biomass uses energy derived from burning wood and other plants and is an economical way to heat a home. It is considered renewable by some and can make good use of industrial wood waste. A heat pump extracts heat that is naturally present in the air, in the ground or even from the sun to heat households – and it uses very little energy to do so. If you require a gas system, a high-efficiency boiler recovers heat from exhaust flue gas that would otherwise be wasted by traditional boilers. This helps to boost heating performance. If you're looking at electric radiators, you should turn your eye towards models with good heat distribution and a smart control system for optimum performance.

Looking to make the switch to a more energy-efficient heating system? The following options can all work:

All of these heating systems have good energy efficiency ratings and, with the exception of gas boilers, which rely on fossil fuels, all run on renewable energy.

How to manage your heating system

High-quality heating controls allow you to adjust the temperature of your heating to match your needs as closely as possible. Of course this will improve your comfort but it'll also lower your energy usage and your carbon footprint in the process.

Gone are the days when you had to remember to turn off the heating before heading out to work or when opening a window – a smart thermostat will do all the work for you!

Wood pellet boilers

A wood pellet boiler can be an environmentally friendly way to heat your home and can reduce your energy bill considerably. More efficient and cheaper to run than gas boilers, wood pellet boilers also provide a greater degree of energy independence making them a popular choice for anyone hoping to improve energy efficiency. However, these systems do come with one constraint and that is finding the room to store wood pellets.

Wood pellet stoves

A modern and more practical version of the traitional wood burning stove, pellet stoves are valued for their excellent performance, aesthetic, energy security, ease of installation and the comparatively reasonable cost of wood pellets. Look out for the SIA Ecodesign Ready label which guarantees the stove meets lower emissions limits.

Wood log boilers

In addition to being less expensive and easier to maintain than wood pellet models, wood log boilers are just as eco-friendly and economical to run. However, they do need to be topped up regularly and manually. You also need to think about wood storage when making your choice.

Wood burning stoves

Used as an additional heating source or as central heating, depending on the appliance, wood burning stoves are less expensive than biomass boilers. They also offer good performance and are just as environmentally friendly. Available in a wide range of materials, shapes and designs, you do, however, have to load these stoves manually and have space to store logs.

Wood burning cookers

Wood burning cookers can provide a really comfortable cooking experience. But they can also work as additional heating sources or even central heating depending on the heat output of the cooker and your home's insulation. These cookers can be filled with logs or wood pellets, depending on the model, and offer a greater degree of energy independence.

Fireplace inserts

While a closed-system fireplace needs to be incorporated into a chimney breast during construction, an insert can be installed in a pre-existing fireplace. Much more efficient than a traditional open fire with an efficiency rating of 50 to 80%, closed fireplaces and fireplace inserts can be used to heat large rooms or even small houses depending on their heat output.

Air-to-air heat pump

An excellent alternative to traditional heating systems, air-to-air heat pumps use warmth from the outdoor air to produce heat. This heat is distributed throughout the home via wall-mounted indoor units meaning you don't need radiators. Air-to-air heat pumps are easy to install and use, and can also be used as air conditioning over the summer months. They cannot be used to provide hot water but they can be connected to fan coil units.

Air-to-water heat pump

Air-to-water heat pumps are made up of several units interconnected by a coolant. The outdoor unit captures calories from the air while the indoor units send the heat towards radiators or an underfloor heating system to distribute heat. They can also be used to produce hot water. Easy to install and use, these heat pumps are less effective in sub-zero temperatures than air-to-air heat pumps.

Ground source and solar-assisted heat pumps

Designed to provide heating and hot water, ground source heat pumps extract heat from the ground using sensors that are buried in the ground. They require substantial construction work to install. Solar-assisted heat pumps combine solar panels with the efficiency of a heat pump to heat homes and produce hot water.

Energy-efficient gas boilers offer the best performance of all gas boilers with a seasonal energy efficiency rating of no less than 92%. They work by extracting heat from exhaust flue gases to inject it back into the heating circuit. These boilers also produce less pollution than traditional gas boilers.

Modern storage heaters

More economical than other electric radiators, a modern storage heater, or ceramic radiator, continues to produce radiant heat even after it has been switched off thanks to its ceramic heating core. These heaters also heat up quickly, produce a pleasant warmth and distribute heat evenly.

Radiant panel heaters

The design of radiant panel heaters means that they distribute heat through a room by transferring it to all bodies in the room including furniture, objects and people. Designed to heat up spaces quickly by distributing heat evenly, these heaters can be used to adjust temperatures accurately. A particularly stylish option, these heaters come in a range of designs.

Energy-efficient heating grants

When making any changes to your heating system, it's always worthwhile checking if you are eligible for any grants. A variety of grants are available to help homes transition to renewable energy including solar panels and heat pumps.

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme is a government-run initiative helping small homes throughout the UK transition to low carbon heating systems. This scheme aims to provide £5000 grants to homes hoping to replace their gas boilers with clean heat from low carbon alternatives such as heat pumps. Furthermore, from April 2022 there will be zero VAT on putting energy efficient measures into practice.

The aims of these initiatives are to reduce emissions and enable the phasing out of fossil fuels in the years to come.

Some thermostats can be connected to an outdoor sensor to regulate the temperature of your home. These thermostats are designed to turn your heating or air conditioning on or off depending on the outdoor temperature they detect. Of course, they also take the indoor set temperature into account. It's also possible to programme different temperatures according to the time of day or the day of the week (for example, to lower the set temperature while you are at work). These thermostats can save you between 15 to 20% on your bills and help provide optimal thermal comfort. They will also help your heating appliances to last longer.

Guide written by:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester, 40 guides

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

After years of DIY, renovation and designing, I decided to turn my passion into a career. Starting in 2006, in the South-West, I helped people with renovation or construction projects. My expertise and curiosity led me to look further into innovative ideas for myself and my clients. Indeed, to live your passion is also to transform the space you live in and the objects you use daily. My family love my creations and ideas that I bring into their lives! My favourite thing to do: use colour to brighten up interior space. But also tips to hide away clutter. Your home is just never big enough, is it? It is therefore a great pleasure to share my tips with you, so that you also can take as much pleasure as I do when starting up your next project!  

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