How do I choose a heat source?

Construction site
What heat source would you choose for this place?

Once you have decided how the heat is going to be distributed around your property, the next thing to decide is where the heat is going to come from.

For most people on the gas grid, this is a fairly easy decision. Mains gas is the cheapest heat source available (3-4p/kWhour) and obviously the nice people from British Gas (or whoever) have gone to the trouble of hooking up a gas pipe to your home.┬áJust a little word of warning though. As I mentioned in the last blog, if its a new build and underfloor heating is being used then a heat pump is a real option and should not be ignored. At the very least, get a quote and see how the running costs work out. Also, gas is a fossil fuel and there is only a finite amount of it left in the world. As supply gets more scarce, prices go up. It’s common sense. Maybe now is the time to get on the right side of history and consider a renewable option.

Supposing that you do want to go renewable. There are two main options: biomass and heat pumps. There is a lot to think about with either one of these heat sources. In fact, I have already written a blog on some of the things to think about if considering a biomass boiler. Find it here

Heat pumps come as two main types: ‘air-to-air’ or ‘air-to-water’. An ‘air-to-air’ system is basically an air conditioning system that can be used to either heat or chill the air. Obviously, this has the advantage that in summer it can be used for chilling. If you happen to have solar pv panels too then this is obviously when the solar panels will be working their hardest and providing loads of electricity. You could actually be using the sun to cool your home!

One of the disadvantages is that you have air blowing units in the house which most people don’t like. In reality, they actually run very quietly, similar in noise to a fridge but in every room that can be a bit much. Another thing to consider is that ‘air-to-air’ heat pumps are not eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive which pays you to generate heat.

An ‘air-to-water’ heat pump uses the refrigerants to heat water for a normal heating and hot water distribution. Heat pumps have something called a ‘Co-efficient of performance’ (sometimes referred to as a ‘seasonal performance factor’). What this means is the amount of heat energy that is extracted from the heat pump compared to the amount of electrical energy that is put into it. A heat pump with a co-efficient of performance of 4 produces 4 times as much heat energy as electrical energy put into it. This modern miracle is explained through the science of refrigerants. I won’t bore you with the details here but just to say it really does work and this makes heat pumps by far the most energy efficient heat source available. Their efficiency can be increased even further by using solar pv panels to provide the electricity which is required to power it. Effectively this makes it a zero carbon heat source. Very exciting!

If you really don’t fancy renewables, then the main options are oil and LPG. LPG is usually delivered but can also be collected in bottles and brought to the property. Oil is almost always delivered and is stored in a large tank in the garden. Price wise, oil is the most expensive even with the drop in oil price that we have been hearing so much about lately. At some point, this will definitely rise, no doubt in connection to the next Middle-Eastern war. Again, my advise is to get on the right side of history and go renewable! One more point on LPG and oil boilers. Their lifespan is usually 10 years or so…15 if very well maintained. A heat pump or biomass boiler will last for up to 25 years! This should be borne in mind when sizing up the cost benefits or these choices.

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