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As the government extends the life of gas boilers, what does that mean for housing associations?

In recent years, there has been a growing debate surrounding the use of gas boilers in the United Kingdom, with concerns over their environmental impact taking centre stage.

While it is crucial that we address these concerns and transition to greener alternatives, the government has stated that it is also essential to recognise the unique challenges faced by families in the UK.

In this article, Housing Association Magazine’s Joe Bradbury explores how the extension of gas boiler use can have short-term advantages for social housing providers and the communities they serve.

It’s important to recognise the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital editor of Housing Association magazine

Cost-effective heating solutions

Gas boilers have long been a reliable and affordable source of heating for many households, including those in social housing. Even with the increased cost of gas, for many low-income families and individuals, the affordability of gas heating can be crucial in ensuring their homes remain warm during the winter months.

Compared to alternative heating solutions, such as heat pumps or electric heaters, gas boilers often have lower upfront installation costs, and this affordability allows social housing providers to allocate their resources more efficiently, providing better services and support to their residents.

In the longer-term though, the continued use of gas for home heating will do nothing to aid our road to net zero. It will also mean housing associations will have to work harder in other areas to demonstrate their own net zero ambitions.

Energy efficiency improvements

While gas boilers are rightly criticised for their carbon emissions, it's essential to recognise that advancements in technology have led to more energy-efficient models.

Newer gas boilers are designed to reduce energy waste and minimise environmental impact. By investing in modern, high-efficiency gas boilers, social housing providers can reduce energy consumption and lower carbon emissions, compared with older, antiquated forms of heating such as solid fuel and oil.

Upgrading a house’s gas boiler also provides an opportunity to look at the energy efficiency of the building. Retrofitting older properties with more energy-efficient gas boilers can help reduce energy bills for tenants, making their homes more affordable and comfortable.

Longer-term though, gas is simply not sustainable and while housing associations may benefit from this extension in the use of gas boilers, they will need to build plans to transition to electric heating over the next 10-15 years.

Reliability and versatility

Gas boilers are known for their reliability and versatility. They can provide consistent and efficient heating in a variety of housing types, from individual apartments to single-family homes.

This versatility is particularly valuable for social housing providers, as they often manage diverse housing portfolios.

Additionally, gas boilers can provide both heating and hot water, which is essential for meeting the needs of residents.

By ensuring a reliable supply of hot water, social housing providers can help to enhance the quality of life for their tenants, especially in the colder months.

Job creation and economic stimulus

The extension of gas boiler use could also have a positive short-term impact on the UK economy, particularly in terms of job creation.

The gas heating industry provides employment opportunities for a wide range of skilled workers, including plumbers, heating engineers, and technicians.

By supporting the continued use of gas boilers, social housing providers contribute to sustaining these jobs and stimulating economic growth.

Moreover, the manufacturing and maintenance of gas boilers create a supply chain that generates economic activity across various sectors. This economic stimulus can have a ripple effect, benefiting communities and local businesses.

The counter argument though is that we should be investing in the jobs of the future and helping existing gas installers to acquire the additional skills needed to install heat pumps.

If we look ‘across the pond’ to America, that is exactly what President Biden is doing with his Inflation Reduction Act which directs new federal spending towards reducing carbon emissions and creating the green jobs of the future.

Mitigating fuel poverty

Fuel poverty remains a significant concern in the UK, with many low-income households struggling to afford their energy bills.

Extending the use of gas boilers can help mitigate fuel poverty in the short-term, by providing cost-effective heating solutions.

Helping keep energy bills lower for tenants means more money in their pockets for other essentials, such as food and clothing.

In summary

While extending the use of gas boilers can bring undeniable benefits to social housing providers in the UK, it's crucial to emphasise that this extension should not detract from the importance of transitioning towards renewable heating solutions, with heat pumps being a particularly promising option.

Gas boilers offer a short-term cost-effective and reliable heating solution, which can improve energy efficiency, create jobs, and help mitigate fuel poverty. They provide an essential lifeline for social housing providers and the residents they serve, especially those facing financial constraints.

However, it's equally important to recognise the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability.

The extension of gas boilers should be seen as a temporary measure to ensure that residents have access to affordable and reliable heating while the transition to greener alternatives, such as heat pumps, progresses.

Heat pumps offer a sustainable and environmentally friendly heating option that can significantly reduce carbon emissions.

In essence, the extension of gas boiler use should serve as a bridge to a more sustainable future, rather than a long-term solution.

Social housing providers should continue to invest in renewable heating technologies, such as heat pumps, as they become more accessible and affordable.

Striking a balance between immediate needs and long-term environmental goals will ensure that both social housing residents and the planet benefit from these important decisions.

Joe Bradbury is the digital editor of Housing Association magazine