When it comes to home renovation and extension projects, the heating is a key issue for consideration, not only in the quest to keep your family warm during the winter months, but also to maintain your utility bills at a manageable level in the future. Whether you’re stripping out and refurbishing your property or adding a new extension, taking time to plan the heating solution that will best fit your configuration is certain to pay dividends. Ranging from standard gas central heating and oil to LPG and renewable energy, there’s a myriad of choice and each has its benefits and drawbacks.
Gas central heating
Gas provides an excellent heating return for every unit of fuel, and condensing boilers are now leading the way in fuel efficiency, with some being more than 90% efficient. Since it’s piped directly in to your home, gas requires no storage space but it can be subject to price fluctuations as the UK is no longer self-sufficient in its supply. In addition, burning gas creates carbon dioxide so it is not the cleanest of fuels, and any property not on the gas network will need to be connected up at additional expense.
Electric central heating
In terms of installation, electric storage heaters are cheaper to set up than a gas central heating system because you won’t need a flue or any additional pipework. Storage heaters are also very low maintenance and as a result don’t require an annual service. Electricity is also universally available, but those advantages come at something of a premium, with electricity prices around four times higher per unit than gas. Given the vagaries of the UK climate, storage heaters can present challenges in regulating the heat you require as they don’t offer instant control over the temperature, with older models even relying on the bricks within them to give out heat. In addition, there can be a delay as the storage heaters reheat overnight, although newer models do offer a convection solution for faster heat generation.
LPG central heating
As with gas, LPG is a very efficient fuel, but it does command a higher price per unit than electricity and gas, and since it is delivered by road it doesn’t score highly in eco-friendliness. It’s also possible to run out of LPG while awaiting the next delivery, which can be a problem in winter, although it is possible to rent a tank that communicates directly with the supplier in order to mitigate against a gap in supply.
Oil-based central heating
Heating systems that use heating oil are usually ‘wet’ in that the oil is burnt in order to heat water that provides central heating through radiators and hot water to the taps. Heating oil is delivered on lorries and stored in a tank at your premises so has an inferior carbon footprint to some other fuels. If you opt for oil you’ll have a choice of a heat-only boiler or a combination condensing boiler. Rather than heating on demand as standard gas boilers do, combination condensing boilers tend to have a built-in store to deliver hot water. Oil is very efficient and can be cost-effective despite being subject to price fluctuations at times of heavy demand and variable weather. Oil tanks can be something of a blot on the landscape, so it’s worth investigating whether you can site your tank underground and, as with conventional gas, burning LPG produces carbon dioxide so it’s less clean than some alternative fuels.
Wood-burning heating solutions
There’s something slightly nostalgic about the idea of heating your home and providing hot water using wood-based fuels such as logs, wood chips and grasses, all of which are classed as woody biomass. While most homeowners purchase and install a wood-burning stove to provide heat in their lounge, it’s also possible to hook the stove up to a boiler to service the rest of the property. While it’s a traditional method for generating heat, burning wood creates smoke that can add to pollution levels, and conventional open fires are believed only to harness around 15% of the potential energy contained in wood. As a result, more contemporary wood-burning heating systems are now taking the form of sealed furnaces or pellet stoves that burn biomass pellets and can form part of an efficient co-generation system that produces heat and electricity simultaneously. Biomass can be curated locally and can therefore be more cost-effective than other fuels, while its sustainability makes it in reality carbon neutral. On the downside, wood-burning heating solutions can require a larger boiler than standard gas or electric systems and can also be more expensive to install.
Renewable heating solutions
The popularity of micro-generation technology is on the rise as more and more homeowners seek to improve their carbon footprint by generating their own energy. As well as benefiting the environment as a whole, creating your own energy source reduces your dependence on stretched global resources and guarantees continuity of supply, even if the installation costs can higher than with standard heating systems. The initial outlay is without doubt offset by the savings in utility bills over the longer term, and the ability to sell back any excess energy generated under the government's Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme. Electricity can be generated through solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar thermal panels can provide hot water. If your property and plot can accommodate one, a wind turbine can be a useful source of top-up energy. Domestic wind turbines come in two variants – roof-mounted and freestanding (or pole-mounted) – and they will need to be hooked up to a mains power outlet in order to operate. Their role is, therefore, to complement an existing energy source rather than act as an independent standalone system. An often-overlooked alternative source of eco-friendly energy is the heat pump which, unlike other sources which burn fuel to create heat, simply utilises either warm air or the naturally occurring heat in the ground. In common with wind turbines, a heat pump will need electricity in order to function.
As Sergio Mesen of Bristol builders, Refresh Renovations, observes, with so many heating options available it’s important to talk to a specialist who can recommend the best solution for your project. ‘At Refresh, we focus on planning with our clients from the very beginning,’ says Sergio. ‘We look at what they’re hoping to achieve with their home renovation or extension. Only when we fully understand that are we able to provide expert advice on every aspect and in particular on technical areas such as the heating and hot water provision. It goes without saying that we’re passionate about design and aesthetics, but we’re equally committed to exploring and incorporating the best technologies for today and into the future, and how the necessary energy will be generated is a fundamental part of that process.’
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