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Blog Post 6 January 2022

Renewable heating: what are the options for your home?

Heating accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other aspect of our lives for the average UK household. In order to reach net zero targets, we’re going to need to drastically reduce the amount of fossil-fuel generated heating – in other words, gas or oil boilers – in our homes.

One way to do that is by installing a renewable heating technology, such as a heat pump, solar water heating or biomass boiler or stove. Each home is different, and you need to find out which technology will suit your home and your lifestyle.

Heat pumps

A heat pump captures heat from outside and moves it into your home. It uses electricity to do this, but the heat energy delivered to your home is much more than the electrical energy used to power the system.

Heat pumps are suitable for almost all homes and may also reduce your energy bills, depending on the system you are replacing. There are two main types of heat pump – air source and ground source – in addition to other systems such as hybrid heat pumps that may work for your property.

Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the air to heat your home – even when outside temperatures are as low as -15 degrees. Air source heat pumps require a place outside your home where a unit can be fitted to a wall or placed on the ground. It must have some space around it to allow a good flow of air.

Ground source heat pumps use pipes buried in your garden to extract heat from the ground. You don’t necessarily need a large space, but you will need land near your home suitable for digging trenches or drilling boreholes, so a ground source heat pump is ideal if you’ve got a reasonable sized garden.

If you are considering a heat pump, you may want to read our blog about whether a ground source or air source heat pump is right for you.

Solar water heating

Solar water heating systems, also known as solar thermal, use heat from the sun to warm up water for your home. The system uses solar panels called collectors, which are fitted on to your roof. The panels collect the heat from the sun and use it to heat up water in a cylinder.

Because the amount of available solar energy varies throughout the year, a solar water heating system won’t provide 100% of the hot water required throughout the year. A conventional boiler or immersion heater is normally used to make up the difference.

You’ll need around five square metres for the panels in a sunny location – ideally on a South facing roof. The panels can be mounted on a roof, fixed to a frame on a flat roof or hung from a wall. You will also need space for an additional or increased size hot water cylinder.

And while conventional boilers and hot water cylinder systems are often compatible with solar water heating, if you have a combi boiler, you’ll need to add a solar hot water cylinder to the system.

Find out more about solar water heating systems.

Solar thermal heating pipes on a roof


Biomass systems burn wood pellets, chips or logs. While burning the wood does emit carbon dioxide, it is at a much lower level than coal or oil provided the fuel is sourced locally. Biomass is considered a sustainable option as long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel.

A biomass stove burns logs or pellets to heat a single room – and may be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating as well. A biomass boiler burns logs, pellets or chips, and is connected to a central heating and hot water system.

If you’re considering a biomass boiler, you will need space for the wood boiler itself, which would be bigger than a gas or oil equivalent, as well as space to store the fuel. You would also need a flue that meets the regulations for wood-burning appliances.

Find out more about biomass heating systems.

Combining systems

Different renewable systems can complement each other. For example, solar water heating works well with heat pumps, because together they can provide efficient water and space heating. Of course, this is a more expensive route to take, so the decision will depend on your budget.

By installing a heat technology when you’ve already got work going on in your home you can save on installation costs – combining jobs and saving on disruption too. As with all big investments in the home, do plenty of research and ask potential installers questions. Read our guide to installing renewables for more advice.

Last updated: 23 December 2021