How to choose a new heating system

Consumer expert Jennifer Newton looks at heating system options, from Government grants to new technology that will help cut energy bills

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Old heating systems are expensive to run and often struggle to keep a home sufficiently warm. At the very least, you need to find out how energy-efficient your home is and decide which elements are worth upgrading, to ‘future-proof’ against energy price rises. If you are on mains gas, simply upgrading your boiler to a modern A-rated model is still the cheapest way to heat your home. However, if you live off mains gas and are currently using LPG, oil or electricity for heating, then you should explore the different renewable technologies on offer, which allow heat to be generated without the use of fossil fuels. To help homeowners make the switch to renewables, the Government is now offering financial incentives.

Latest government schemes

In order to lower the level of harmful carbon emissions released into the environment, the Government has launched a variety of schemes to encourage homeowners to ditch old, energy-guzzling systems. The two main schemes available are the Green Deal, which was launched in January 2013 for financing improvements, and the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive), introduced in April 2014, which pays you money for installing renewable heating technologies.

It is also worth noting that the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) will become available again in April 2015. This was launched in June 2014, when £120million was made available for homeowners to claim back money on projects such as upgrading a boiler or adding double glazing. The scheme closed prematurely in July due to overwhelming demand, but next April a further £120million will be released. To ensure as many people as possible can take advantage, the Government will be reviewing how much is offered for each energy improvement. Email gdhif@decc.gsi.gov.uk for the latest updates or contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.

CVO's Venezia HE balance flue gas fire

With its modern glass front, CVO’s Venezia HE balanced flue gas fire, from £4,000, is energy efficient as it is room sealed and requires no air ventilation

Green deal financing

Instead of paying for a new heating system upfront, the Green Deal allows you to apply for a loan, which has a typical interest rate of seven per cent. According to comparison site Moneyfacts, a personal loan can offer better value with rates of just 4.9 per cent. However, only those with a good credit rating will be able to successfully apply for this, whereas your credit file isn’t checked with Green Deal financing. If you don’t mind a bit of research, the following steps won’t be a problem, otherwise, you may question why the process isn’t easier.

How to apply

  1. Pay for a home energy assessment, which costs around £90-£150. You will receive from this a Green Deal report, including recommended improvements, estimated savings on bills and an Energy Performance Certificate.
  2. Next, contact a Green Deal provider or installer to quote and arrange work (if possible, get a few quotes). Check also at this stage if you’re entitled to other subsidies, including: ECO (Energy Company Obligation), which is available if you are on certain benefits; Feed-in Tariffs, if you generate your own electricity (such as through solar panels) and RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) for renewable technologies.
  3. You will then receive ‘The Green Deal finance plan’, which outlines work, repayments and warranties. The loan is repaid through your electricity bill; this will not be more than what you currently pay as the new energy items installed should mean less energy is used and savings put towards paying off the work.

For further information, call the Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) (details below left) or Home Energy Scotland (0808 808 2282). Alternatively, visit the Green Deal pages at Gov.uk and check for the Green Deal logo. To find a Green Deal assessor, provider or installer in your area, search at Gdorb. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Green Deal Approved

Not on mains gas?

Find out about the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive)

If you rely on oil, LPG or electricity to heat your home, you could save money by claiming regular RHI tariff payments for switching to renewables. The tariff is based on how much energy you will generate from your chosen technology. Air-source heat pumps (for space heating) and solar thermal panels (for hot water) are the most affordable options.

‘The RHI is possibly one of the renewables industry’s best-kept secrets,’ says Andrew Sheldon, managing director of renewables specialist Ice Energy. ‘Not only do you save money on energy bills, it’s also a fantastic investment opportunity; for example, if you spend around £10,000 on a heat pump, you will reclaim around £21,000 over seven years under the RHI.’

In order to be eligible for the scheme, you will need a Green Deal report, which includes the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate), and use a registered MCS (Microgeneration Certificate Scheme) installer. Cathy Debenham, who runs the renewable energy advice website YouGen, says: ‘The scheme’s aim is to enable renewable heating to compete with fossil fuels. Payments are made over seven years to compensate the owner for the price difference between the two.’

However, Cathy warns homeowners to make sure the technology is right for their property: ‘Heat pumps run at much lower temperatures than a standard boiler, and so are most suited to well insulated homes, ideally with underfloor heating,’ she says. The RHI pays the following tariffs per unit of heat generated for seven years:

TechnologyTarrif
Air-sorce heat pumps7.3p/kWh
Ground and water-source heat pumps18.8p/kWh
Biomass-only boilers and biomass pellet stoves12.2p/kWh
Solar thermal panels (flat plate and evacuated tube for hot water only)19.2p/kWh

Zehnder's Roda Status designer radiator

Greenstar CDi compact boiler

Nest learning thermostat

Underfloor heating

Best for… Combining renewables with luxury

The heat emitter most recommended for use with renewables that fall under the RHI scheme is underfloor, which can be installed throughout the house, or in just one or two rooms, such as a bathroom or kitchen. There are now many choices and some systems can be fitted over an existing floor.

Chris Ingram, one of the experts behind the Ask for Underfloor campaign, says: ‘Not only is underfloor heating very efficient, it also provides better comfort levels and a touch of affordable luxury. ‘As a guide price, based on a three-bedroom detached house, a water-based underfloor heating system will cost around £2,100,’ he advises. ‘This will, of course, depend on factors including installer rates, the size of the house and the individual system chosen.’

Schluter DITRA-HEAT-E underfloor heating kit

Renewables for heat incentive

Renewables such as solar thermal panels and air-source heat pumps will reduce your home’s CO2 output and are a particularly good option when offsetting the use of more expensive fuels such as oil, electricity and LPG. The upfront costs are high but can be paid off within three to seven years through the RHI. Consider, too, biomass boilers and ground-source heat pumps, although they require more space to install. ‘Take advice on which heat pump will best suit your property,’ says Andrew Sheldon at Ice Energy.

solar panels

Best for… Homes needing ample hot water

Solar thermal

Costs and savings

Best for… Homes in the country

Air-to-water heat pumps

The Dixon family