Choosing the right heat source

Choosing the right heat source for off grid developments

as published in Housebuilder and Developer 19th August 2020

In a world where we’re all trying to ‘do our bit for the environment’ choosing the right heat source for a property can be tricky. The issue can be made even more confusing when your new build or development is off-grid. Here Andrew Hounsfield, MD of Hounsfield Boilers, discusses the choices on offer from ground source heat pumps to oil-fired boilers.

Choosing the right heating and hot water system for a property is not an easy decision for housebuilders and developers. Unlike many other fixtures and fittings the choice is often not on designer appeal, but more on energy-efficiency and price. Getting the decision right is very important as approximately 2.38 million households¹ in the UK are classed as living in fuel poverty, meaning they can’t afford to keep their homes warm. This problem is greater in rural regions where it’s trickier to heat older style properties and access to mains gas can be sparse.

Government would like homeowners to make the switch to new energy sources to help the UK become carbon neutral by 2050, ideologically this sounds great, but is this practical for housebuilders and developers? Alternative heating sources come with an enormous price tag and although they may boost a property’s marketing credentials, would a developer really see a return on their investment?

Much has been made of new technologies, especially ground source heat pumps in rural communities, and although heat pumps may offer many benefits to new build properties, the initial cost of the system is immense. Recent figures from consumer champion, Which, state that it can cost as much as £18,000 to install ground source heat pumps. However for large developments, this figure can easily double, especially if you specify a top of the range heat pump. Which’s figures also reveal that investing in ground source heat pumps may not even save a homeowner any money, when compared to an A-rated oil-boiler heating system, in fact it’s believed that it could increase bills by £30-35 a year. Of course there are various grants available to support the uptake in ground source heat pumps, but even with Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments, adopting heat pump technology will prove very costly and developers will have to watch their bottom line to ensure they’re sitting on a safe investment.

The big problem with adopting alternative heat sources to an existing property is that the existing hot water or heating system is rarely compatible. Sometimes developers try to make the best eco choice, but then discover the heating and hot water system will require a dramatic overhaul, to make the two systems compatible. For example: Heat pumps are most effective when applied to underfloor heating, existing radiators rarely meet the needs of new heat pumps and often need to be upgraded. Solar panels can help reduce hot water bills, but often a new solar cylinder and solar heating coil will need to be added. Of course, houses whatever their energy source, need to be fully insulated to maximise efficiencies, otherwise all these upgrades will be lost. Naturally, older properties in rural areas are harder to insulate, so the cost savings for switching to alternative energy sources are questionable.

So, what is the energy-efficient solution?

For a long time oil boilers have been given a bad rap, thought to be very inefficient and detrimental to the environment; however the majority of oil-fired boilers, unlike gas powered boilers or electric storage heaters, have been 85% efficient for the last 30 years, many models now achieve energy efficiency ratings in the high 90s! Housebuilders and developers need to take a second look at oil. Yes, oil is a fossil fuel, and no doubt alternative bio-fuels will in time take their place, but for the short-medium term it offers rural regions a cost effective, efficient and reliable energy source.

Another very attractive benefit of oil is that it’s currently very cheap to buy. Oil prices are not governed by a cartel, unlike traders of electricity, and the rules of supply and demand prevail. Therefore savvy shoppers can often strike a great deal with oil suppliers, especially right now, due to the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, and more generally during the summer months when demand is weak.

Oil-boiler technologies are tried and tested and a good oil boiler will enjoy an energy efficient life span of between 25-30 years, whereas it’s unknown the true length of service with new alternative technologies. Oil boilers have been around since 1960s and continue to offer one of the most energy-efficient and cost-effective heating and hot water solutions on the market, which continue to make them ideal for rural settings.

Hounsfield Boilers are a supplier of long-life and energy efficient oil-fired boilers. Recently their new wall-hung boiler was shortlisted for ‘Domestic HVAC Product of the Year: Boilers and Heaters’ at the H&V News awards. To discover more, visit




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