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How can homeowners make their properties more efficient through the green homes grant and what does the scheme mean for boilers?

Published: 9 September 2020 - Neil Mead

Home heating accounts for around 20% of all UK carbon emissions and to help bring this percentage down the government has launched the Green Homes Grant scheme. Through the scheme, homeowners can receive funding of up to £5,000 towards increasing the efficiency of their property.


The Green Homes Grant scheme comes in two parts: the Primary Green Homes Grant and the Secondary Green Homes Grant. With a Primary Green Homes Grant, homeowners can receive funding of up to £5,000 towards the installation of a renewable heating system or improving the property’s insulation. After having work carried out through the Primary Green Homes Grant, property owners can receive a secondary grant to cover costs of heating controls and additional window glazing.

Around 600,000 homes stand to benefit from the scheme which is receiving £2 billion worth of government investment. However, there’s one glaring omission from the scheme and that’s the boiler. There’s somewhere in the region of 24 million boilers installed in the UK and this scheme could have been an opportunity to replace the most inefficient.

The reason that home heating accounts for such a high amount of carbon emissions lies in the fact that most properties have a boiler that runs on fossil fuels. Around 85% of homes have a boiler that runs on natural gas and, when burned, natural gas releases carbon into the atmosphere. So, at this point it’s not surprising that the government would want to encourage the uptake of renewable energy.

However, modern boilers can achieve efficiencies of over 90% thanks to condensing boiler technology. This means that a condensing boiler produces far fewer emissions than a non-condensing boiler while also helping to lower energy bills. It’s now a legal requirement for all new boilers installed in the UK to be condensing, however, as many as 6 million currently heating homes are still non-condensing. So helping homeowners with the cost of replacing an old inefficient boiler with a modern condensing boiler would really help to lower the carbon emissions from home heating.

We already know that gas boilers won’t be installed in new builds from 2025 - with heat pumps set to be the likely replacement. And whereas retrofit installation of a heat pump in an existing property can be difficult, installation in a new build makes complete sense.

A heat pump will be at its most effective in a well insulated property. And while UK homes are widely regarded as the draughtiest in Europe, new builds with a heat pump will be designed with insulation in mind. Another consideration to make with heat pumps is that they produce heating to a lower temperature than boilers so are best suited to a central heating system that includes large radiators or underfloor heating. All of these considerations can be dealt with for installation in a new build home but it’s much more difficult for existing properties.

Insulation is particularly important, no matter whether you have a heat pump or boiler. Should your property be poorly insulated then heat produced by your heating system will be able to escape, forcing the heating system to have to work harder. And if you have a boiler that means higher energy bills. Sufficient cavity wall, loft and floor insulation will keep more heat in your home and the Green Homes Grant is a great opportunity to increase your property’s insulation at a lower cost.

Rather than replacing all of the boilers across the nation perhaps it’s the fuel that needs to be changed. Natural gas is delivered to gas boilers through an extensive gas network. A complete switch to renewables would put this network to waste. So a low-carbon alternative to natural gas could help to lower carbon emissions from home heating without replacing millions of boilers. And a leading contender is hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a fuel that only produces water and heat when burned - no carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. In addition to this, hydrogen also contains more energy than natural gas so a hydrogen boiler would require less fuel than a natural gas boiler.

Leading boiler manufacturers Baxi and Worcester Bosch are already planning for this scenario by developing hydrogen-ready boilers. As well as developing hydrogen boilers, , they are also calling for all boilers installed from 2025 onwards to be hydrogen-ready. The process of switching the gas network to hydrogen would be gradual and begin as a blend of hydrogen and natural gas. 

So, while the Green Homes Grant holds the promise of improving the efficiency of your property, take the time to find out how you could best use the funding. A renewable heating system may not be overly appropriate whereas sufficient insulation is important for every property.

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