Eco-friendly heating: how to keep your home warm and reduce your carbon footprint

From sustainable heating systems to easy homely hacks, we share everything you need to know to stay cosy and still be eco-friendly this winter.

Updated

male hand holding smartphone with app to regulate heating system and house temperature

When you want your home to stay warm in the colder months while also saving energy, the odds can seem stacked against you – particularly when you consider that heating alone results in 10% of the UK’s carbon footprint. But it is possible to keep the cold out, reduce your carbon footprint and even cut your bills. Don’t believe us? Read on for our easy sustainable heating options.

Effective home insulation

Keeping your home insulated should be the first thing to look at: after all, it’s no good getting fancy eco heating systems if you can’t keep the heat in your home and then have to use more energy. There are several ways to help stay warm with effective insulation:

  • Draught-proof your home. Windows are often the main culprit for leaking heat – but the good news is that they are easy to draught-proof. Use foam strips (available from hardware stores or online) for any gaps around the sides – you can also use these along the inside of doors. Other neat tips to keep the cold out are to place rugs on any bare floorboards, use both curtains and blinds on your windows, and cover other problem areas like cat flaps and letterboxes (while still making sure your moggie can get out and your post gets in) .
  • Use your curtains wisely. That means opening them in the daytime to let warm sunlight in, and closing them when it gets dark to help keep the warmth inside.
  • Make sure your loft is well insulated. The recommended depth of loft insulation is 270mm, so firstly check what insulation you already have. If you need to top it up, you could try to do it yourself as long as there are no damp problems and you don’t have a flat roof. Otherwise – or if you’re not confident about fitting the insulation effectively – get a professional in.
  • Insulate your walls. Yes, wall insulation can be a big investment, but it could also result in a large saving on your energy bills and energy usage. If you live in an older house and have solid walls (usually in homes built before the 1920s), you will see the biggest energy bill saving, although you’ll also save a decent amount if you have cavity walls.
  • Insulate your pipes. You can buy foam insulation tubes from a DIY store or online and put them over your pipes. As well as saving energy and money on your bills, this should also protect your pipes from bursting (which can happen in winter when the water expands as it gets close to freezing) – something that might mean expensive repairs.
  • Top up your hot water cylinder insulation. You’ll probably already have some insulation on the cylinder, but do make sure it’s at least the recommended thickness of 25mm. A replacement jacket shouldn’t cost more than £20.

Upgrade your boiler

If your boiler is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with a more efficient model to save money and energy. For example, an A-rated condensing boiler – which uses less energy to produce the same amount of heat – could save you up to £350 a year when replacing an old G-rated non-condensing boiler.

If you don’t want to replace your boiler, do make sure it’s serviced every year to make sure it’s running efficiently.

Reflect heat with radiator panels

Radiator panels are fairly cheap, widely available and easy to install, so if you’re looking for sustainable heat sources this seems like a no-brainer option. They work by reflecting the heat from your radiators back into the room, so it isn’t just warming up your walls. And don’t forget to bleed your radiators to make sure there’s no trapped air in the system.

Easy sustainable heating tips

There are some other very simple changes you can make in the home that can make all the difference.

  • Are you guilty of positioning the bed or sofa right in front of a radiator? Rearrange your furniture away from radiators so you get the full benefit when the heating comes on - and don’t forget your reflective radiator panels.
  • Strategically leaving doors open is another easy tip, as this will spread the heat from sources such as a hot bath or shower, or the cooker. This also works the other way, though – so if you don’t have the heating on in a barely-used room, keep that door firmly shut.
  • Finally, make sure you layer up your clothes. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but simply wearing a warm woolly jumper and those toasty bed socks you got last Christmas can reduce the temptation to crank up the heat.

Consider a smart heating system

Whether you’re keeping an eye on people coming to your front door or recording Homes Under The Hammer while at work, the connected home is becoming more commonplace – and that extends to your home heating.

With a smart thermostat, you can control your home’s heating remotely with a smartphone or tablet. Depending on the system you choose, you can programme your heating to come on at a certain time, at a particular temperature and in the rooms of your choice. Some of them can even work out how long it takes to heat your home as well, taking into account the outside temperature, meaning you can really nail maximum cosiness just in time for when you arrive home.

Not only does having a smart thermostat make controlling your heating system more convenient, it should also save you energy and money as you can programme the heating to come on only when you need it.

A smart meter is another way you can potentially reduce your carbon footprint. Utilising one you can easily see how much energy you are using via a digital display, and so adapt your energy use accordingly. It also cuts out having to send meter readings to your energy company or have someone come to your house.

Explore eco-friendly heating options

There are several low-carbon heating systems available. These alternative heating methods for homes could all save you money – as well as potentially earn you some cash through the government’s domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

  • Biomass heating - or wood-fuelled heating systems - burn wood pellets, chips or logs to provide warmth to one room or to power central heating and boilers. The price of wood fuel varies, but it is often cheaper than other heating options: a wood-fuelled biomass boiler could save you up to £960 a year compared to an electric heating system. This is very much a low-carbon heating option because the carbon dioxide emitted when wood is burned is the same amount that was absorbed while the tree was growing. This process is sustainable so long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel. Meanwhile, the carbon emissions due to cultivation, manufacture and transportation will still be much lower than emissions from fossil fuels if you use a local source.
  • Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) use pipes buried in your garden which extract heat from the ground. This heat can power radiators, underfloor or warm air heating systems and hot water.
  • Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) absorb heat from the air outside which can then heat radiators, underfloor heating systems or warm air convectors as well as hot water..
  • Solar water heating or ‘solar thermal’ systems use heat from sunlight to warm hot water. A conventional boiler can provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable and make the water hotter during the colder months. Want to know more? Discover the benefits of solar power and how it can power your home.
  • A thermal store is a way of storing renewable heat from your eco-friendly heating systems until it’s needed. There are different types of thermal stores for wood-fuelled heating, solar water heating and heat pumps – but you can also link up several different heating systems. Note that a thermal store system that is combined with a solar water one isn’t eligible under the RHI scheme.

Whether you’re now going to immediately move your sofa away from the radiator or are considering overhauling your heating system, you should now be able to make your home cosy with minimal impact on the environment. Why not try our hygge home decorating ideas to make your space as comfortable as possible?

Originally published