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The UK’s Gas Boiler Ban: How Does it Affect You?

Learn all you need to know about upcoming changes to the Building Regulations, and how they may affect our heating methods.

In early 2019, then-Chancellor Philip Hammond shell-shocked the British public with the pledge to ban gas heating from new build homes as of 2025. One year and two chancellors later, there’s been tonnes of speculation but little in terms of law to spell out the terms of the “ban”.

Gas boiler ban in the UK from 2025

Here’s what we know today.

Are gas boilers being banned?

The “ban” will be promulgated in 2025 in the Future Homes Standard, a document that’s set to change Parts L (conservation of fuel and power) and F (ventilation) of the Building Regulations. If passed into law, the Future Homes Standard will require new homes to give off 75-80% less Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions than those built to current code.

As a stepping stone to the sweeping changes we may see 5 years from now, the Government plans to raise the energy efficiency standards for new homes with changes to Building Regulations in 2020. As of this post’s publication time, the Government tells us that it’s still analysing public feedback it received on the 2020 changes.

To summarise: all we know for now is that the Government has proposed changes to how we will heat new homes from 2025 onward, and certain efficiency requirements will be raised as early as this year. There is currently no law on the books that bans boilers as of 2025.

Why are boilers getting banned?

Let’s take a step back here. Even if the planned changes go ahead in 2025, “boiler ban” is too general a term to describe them. The actual “ban” will most likely affect boilers that burn gas, oil, coal, and LPG to produce heat. Indeed, the former Chancellor’s statement that started the controversy promised an “end of fossil-fuel heating systems”. Thus, certain boilers, such as those that run on renewable fuel or electricity, may arguably be exempt.

OK, why are fossil-fuel boilers getting banned?

In 2019, the UK produced 351.5 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 (and 435.2 Mt of all greenhouse gases); here’s a breakdown of their sources:

  • Transport – 119.6 Mt
  • Energy supply – 90.1 Mt
  • Residential – 65.2 Mt
  • Business – 64.7 Mt
  • Public – 8.0 Mt
  • Agriculture, industrial, and waste management – 15.6 Mt.

As we can see, the UK’s homes were the third largest producers of CO2, behind only transport and power generation, with 18.5% of all emissions! This domestic CO2 mostly came from burning fuel for heating and cooking.

Carbon dioxide emissions by sector and overall greenhouse gas emissions in UK 1990-2019

With the Government’s binding resolution to cut all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, there’s a long, tough road ahead. Consider this: since 1990, we’ve only slashed our greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.

To this end, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) states in its report “Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming” that achieving the net-zero target will entail full decarbonisation of the country’s buildings by 2050. And that’s how fossil-fuel heating wound up on the shorter-term hit list – the same CCC, in the same report, recommends not connecting new homes to the gas grid after 2025. (So now you know who set things in motion with this “boiler ban” business).

What else could the draft change to Building Regulations include?

Switching to low-carbon, or carbon-neutral sources is only a part of the Government’s plan for curbing net emissions. The other piece of the puzzle lies in the fabric of our homes. Older buildings that have not had an energy retrofit lack the airtightness and insulation efficiency to control heat loss well. The more heat these buildings lose, the higher the load on their heating system, the more Carbon Dioxide ends up in the atmosphere.

From the impending 2020 update to Building Regulations, to the obscure 2025 Future Homes Standard, the Government wants to change how we build homes to reduce the output of our heating systems. The changes will likely enhance the airtightness of the envelope and mandate triple glazing in windows.

Is it feasible to ban all fossil-fuel boilers from new homes in only 5 years?

If gas and oil boilers do get banned, the Government will have to give the public an economical alternative to heat their homes. With 15% of the country’s population living in fuel poverty, it’s unthinkable that homeowners will use electricity for heat; not at 14p/kW, anyway. Not to mention that the UK’s electricity is hardly green; according to Energy UK, over 50% of the country’s power is made by burning fossil fuels.

Another obstacle to banning gas-fired heating systems is the country’s vast gas pipe network. It’s hard to imagine that such an extensive system of pipes would get phased out along with the units it used to power.

This brings us to the next question:

What are the alternatives to fossil-fuel heating?

If the proposed ban on fossil-fuel does forge ahead as planned, you’ll need to find a new means of heating your new home.

The Future Homes Standard consultation package predicts that most homes will turn to heat pumps, heat networks, and to some degree, direct electric heat. The package skims over hydrogen, and notably omits other green devices, such as biomass boilers.

We, on the other hand, think the latter are worth discussing, as they may well become our preferred heating method as decarbonisation moves ahead.

1. Heat pumps

This may surprise some folks, but we’ve been using heat pumps for quite a while. Chances are, you have two in your home already: your fridge and your air conditioner. Like all heat pumps, these devices extract heat from one place and reject it into another.

Here is how the process works:

  1. a compressor circulates refrigerant between two heat exchange coils;
  2. one coil evaporates the refrigerant at a low enough pressure that the resulting gas absorbs heat from the surrounding air;
  3. the heat-laden gas then makes its way into another coil, where it condenses at high pressure and emits the heat;

In this manner, fridges, air conditioners, and other heat pumps can absorb heat in one place and emit it in another. When you use this technology to heat your home in the middle of winter, the device will draw heat from the outside air (yes, even in frigid subzero temperatures, air contains a percentage of its room temperature heat) and release it inside. In summer, the process can be easily reversed and the heat pump will function like any other air conditioner.

There are two types of heat pumps: air-source and ground-source. The former takes heat from outside air as we’ve described above; the latter, also known as earth-energy or geothermal heat pumps, absorb heat from the ground or groundwater before circulating it through the heating zones.

While these devices may sound like a brilliant, innovative way to keep your home comfortable year-round, let’s consider the costs or getting and running one. In 2020, buying and installing an air-source heat pump will set you back somewhere between £5,000 and £8,000. If you favour getting your heat from the ground or groundwater, then you’re looking at a bill of £11,000-15,000. Steep, isn’t it?

The operating costs are a bit more reasonable. Air-source heat pumps typically need 1 kWh of electricity to give off 3 kWh of heat. With an average UK household using 12,000 kW each year to keep warm, the need for electricity translates into 4,000 kW. At 14 p/kW, you’ll get an annual bill of £560.

2. Heat networks

The CCC estimates that by 2050, 18% of the UK’s heat will have to come from heat networks if we’re serious about the net-zero emissions target.

So, what exactly are heat networks?

Also known as district heating, heat networks supply heat to consumers via a system of underground pipes that carry hot water from a central source. These networks may be limited to serve a small cluster of buildings, or span an entire city.

The heat source, or energy centre, may either be a dedicated heat plant or draw surplus heat from some other industrial process. Some feasible central heat source examples include:

  • power station
  • waste facility
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants
  • fuel cells
  • heat pumps
  • electric boilers
  • geothermal sources
  • solar arrays

Plugged into a heat network, each building would receive heat through a heat exchanger the size of a small boiler. The controls would remain the same as with conventional wet central heating, so each household could monitor and adjust their ambient temperature.

One handy feature of heat networks is that their heat source can be readily swapped for a greener version, thus decarbonising the entire grid. Contrast this with the thorny ordeal of changing heaters in individual homes.

As well, heat networks may be able to recover waste heat – a major leap toward the carbon-neutral future.

All that being said, as of 2018, the UK’s heat networks supply heat to 500,000 consumers, accounting for 2% of the overall heat demand. That’s a long way to go toward hitting the 18% target, considering the massive infrastructure projects needed to make this happen. So, if you’re hoping to hook up your new home to a heat network in time for the boiler ban in 2025, best not to hold your breath.

3. Direct electric heating

In the context of net-zero Carbon, electric heat is an absurd alternative to gas-fired boilers. As we’ve seen before, most of the UK’s electricity is made by burning fossil fuels, so it’s mad to think electric heat is cleaner than gas. It is, and will be, “fossil-fuel heat” until our power generation methods change.

Apart from their less-than-renewable nature, electric heaters are also expensive to run. But we need not tell you this – you’ve seen your own electric bill.

That’s not to say that things can’t change. If renewable power means like solar panels see wider use, one can conceive that future, solar-equipped homes could produce electric heat at a lower cost.

But can it happen before the 2025 boiler ban? According to the Solar Trade Association, the UK already has roughly 800,000 homes with solar panels. With electricity costs on the rise and solar panel costs falling, it’s probable that more households will go solar in the near future.

4. Hydrogen heating

Low-carbon gases like Hydrogen are often cited as the future of home heating. But despite being the most abundant element in the universe, Hydrogen is not easily extracted outside of a lab. The highly efficient solid-oxide fuel cells are expensive, and not widely available. The cheaper proton-exchange membrane fuel cells are only 75% efficient. With current technology, for every 1 kW of electricity spent to produce hydrogen, we’d only get 0.92 kW or less by burning it – hardly a viable way to heat new homes if the 2025 boiler ban becomes law.

5. Biomass boilers

Strangely absent from the Future Home Standard consultations are biomass boilers. They give off way less carbon than their gas and oil peers, and their fuel comes from a renewable source! Seems like a grand alternative to costly fuel cells, dirty electric heat, and heat networks that aren’t there.

Biomass boilers function like any other boiler we’re accustomed to in the UK. But they come with one distinct feature: instead of burning carbon-laden oil or gas, they rely on wood products for combustion.

As a fuel, wood is practical in 3 ways:

  • First, it gives off way less CO2 when burnt. Wood-fired boilers emit 550-770kg of CO2 in the course of a year, whereas gas boilers – the next cleanest technology – produce a staggering 6,400 kg of CO2. That’s ten times more.
  • Second, it’s carbon-neutral. Growing trees destined for a biomass boiler’s combustion chamber absorb the CO2 given off by older trees as they burn.
  • Finally, it’s renewable: the species used to produce biomass fuel can grow fast enough to replace trees as they’re cut.

But biomass boilers won’t work for everyone. For one, they’re gigantic. Smaller homes just don’t have enough space to accommodate them or their fuel (imagine a tonne of wood chips sitting around in a London bedsit?). Also, they’re not cheap. The lower-end, hand-fed models cost upwards of £5,000, while the fully automated ones can command a price upwards of £13,000. In contrast, WarmZilla can hook you up with a top-tier Worcester Bosch boiler from as little as £1,649.

Can I get a new boiler for my existing home after 2025?

We know very little about what the “boiler ban” will look like when and if it’s passed. So far, the Government seems intent on banning fossil-fuel burners in new builds only; so, if you want to purchase a boiler for an existing home or a home that will get its Certificate of Occupancy prior to 2025, then there’s nothing on the books to stop you.

Is this still a good time to buy a gas boiler?

WarmZila boiler finance

While we may soon see some efficiency standards raised in parts of the Building Regulations, now is a great time to get a gas boiler. In fact, until renewable technologies get handier, more efficient, and cost less, gas boilers will remain the greenest and cheapest heating method. What’s more, there are Government schemes that will actually help you pay for a gas boiler if you apply for them now.

Check out WarmZilla’s posts on the Boiler Grant (available to eligible homeowners with mains gas) and the Green Homes Grant scheme to find out more.

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