Low-carbon heating – how housing associations can reduce emissions, cut bills and improve comfort

By Oliver Baker, CEO, Ambion Heating

Following the launch of the Green Homes Grant to help improve the efficiency of E, F and G rated homes, the focus on fixing some of the country’s ‘leaky’ housing stock is a key part of the government’s overall strategy to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And with the Future Homes Standard due to be implemented in 2025 – which will see the installation of gas boilers banned from new builds – housing associations and landlords are under pressure to install future-proof heating systems that will both reduce bills and meet tomorrow’s sustainability standards.

Decarbonising heat presents a significant challenge, as it currently accounts for over one-third (37%) of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with heat from buildings accounting for 19% of our overall emissions. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has highlighted the need for the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy report to “take low-carbon heating from a niche market in the UK to the dominant form of new heating installation by the early-2030s”.  It also estimates that homes need to reduce emissions by approximately 83% by 2050.

This is a major undertaking so, for housing associations, finding a low-carbon heating solution that gives both themselves and tenants a cost-effective, low-carbon, low maintenance and super-efficient way to heat their properties is now more important than ever.

However, with schemes such as the Green Homes Grant favouring a limited number of technologies, there is the danger that housing associations and landlords could overlook newer and more effective options that can have an even greater impact when it comes to reducing emissions and cutting energy bills – while also increasing the overall comfort of the property.

That’s why it’s crucial for housing associations to investigate all of the options on the market before adopting a low-carbon heating alternative to gas central heating, to ensure they find one that will provide them with the most benefit.

One such option is computer-controlled infrared heating, which uses infrared – an intrinsically more efficient approach than traditional central heating, as it heats the material within a room, rather than the air, which can escape from doors and windows.

Saving cost and carbon

Computer-controlled Infrared heating systems are also typically cost up to 40% less to install, whether they’re being retrofitted into an existing building or installed within a new build, because they simply need wiring into the mains rather than plumbing in. So, compared to other technologies, such as air source heat pumps, infrared heating typically requires less upfront capital to install. Studies have also shown that with infrared heat, a comfortable ambience can be achieved with air temperature at up to 3.5˚C lower than a conventional gas central heating system. This makes a significant difference to a user’s energy bills.

Further, computer-controlled infrared requires no maintenance as there are no moving parts.  This is in marked contrast to ASHPs which require costly continual maintenance if they are to remain efficient.

Reducing damp and improving air quality

Many people opt for infrared heating because the heating experience feels more natural and comfortable. Infrared feels like standing in direct sunlight, and once the fabric of the room is saturated with energy, it emits a comfortable, radiant heat. Infrared can also reduce and prevent damp and improve the air quality within a building because unlike traditional central heating, it’s not reliant on circulating air, so there’s typically less circulating dust. The natural heat and improved air quality infrared provides can create a much more comfortable living environment.

With the net zero target getting ever closer, it’s likely that housing associations will see even greater sustainability obligations in the coming years.  We already work with several housing associations including Hebridean Housing Partnership in Scotland, which installed over 250 Ambion systems following a series of trials which showed that the technology dramatically lowered heating costs for its one bed properties, and Merthyr Housing Association in Wales, which has installed 33 systems following a trial which saw a reduction in electricity costs of over 60% compared with previous electric panel heaters.

So, while we are expecting further guidance from the government in the form of the Heat and Buildings Strategy, with the Future Homes Standard potentially less than five years away, steps can be taken now to ensure housing associations are prepared for the low carbon future.