Solar panels vs. a heat pump vs. a biomass boiler

Whether you’re building from scratch or simply carrying out a refurbishment, carbon neutrality is an important factor to consider when designing an efficient home.

This guide aims to outline the suitability of solar panels, heat pumps and biomass boilers according to the type of home you have.

Solar panels are suitable for you if…

you have a south-facing roof that remains mostly unshaded during the day. You can still get solar panels installed if your home doesn’t meet this criteria, but the more sun exposure you have, the more you’ll be able to earn through a feed-in-tariff.

Feed-in-tariffs are one of the biggest incentives for those considering solar panels. Once you have a feed-in-tariff, which is an initiative backed by the Government, your energy supplier will pay you for the energy you create.

A typical system costs £7,0001, but over a period of 20 years, the electricity savings and feed-in payments you’ll receive could amount to around £16,000.

A heat pump is suitable for you if…

you want to cool your home as well as heat it, as most heat pumps feature a reverse valve that can be activated to switch between summer and winter modes.

Heat pumps work by transferring warmth between low and high temperatures and work particularly well if you have under floor heating or large radiators, as the heat can spread over a large surface area.

If you don’t have much outdoor space, an air source heat pump can be fitted to the outside of your property, preferably on a sunny wall. For those with a garden, a ground source heat pump can be installed instead.

Often, a pump will recoup installation costs in efficiency relatively quickly, which will be most noticeable when replacing a coal or electric heating system.

A biomass boiler is suitable for you if…

you have a chimney or working flue, plus room to store materials for burning.

Biomass systems work by burning natural materials to generate energy. Although carbon is produced during this process, the amount is only ever equal to the total absorbed whilst the plants were growing. Therefore, this is a sustainable method as long as new plants are planted.

In a home setting, most people opt for wood-burning stoves as they look atmospheric and are cheaper to run than gas or electric appliances. They can be connected to central heating and hot water systems, and are thought to save a person nearly £6002 a year compared to electric heating.

Don’t forget the basics

Legally, you may be required to get planning permission from your local building authority if you wish to install a new technology.

Also, it’s always worth remembering that all heating appliances work best when a home is properly insulated. So, make sure drafts are blocked and insulation is added to the roof and walls of your property if not already in place.

1 Money Saving Expert, 2014. Solar Panels. [Online] Available at: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/free-solar-panels.
2 Energy Saving Trust, 2014. Biomass. [Online] Available at: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/domestic/content/biomass.
All information sources accessed on the 6th November 2014.

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