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Will the combination of the Green Homes Grant and the RHI herald a heating revolution?

With the announcement of the £2bn Green Homes Grant, which opened for applications at the start of October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak has enabled homeowners and both social and private landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their home or housing stock.

Landlords, including local authorities and housing associations in England, can apply for vouchers worth up to £5,000 to make their properties more energy efficient. The vouchers cover up to two-thirds of the cost of the improvements, up to a maximum of £5,000 a property and can be spent on insulation, new windows, renewable heating, solar power and other measures that improve the overall efficiency of the property.

However, the work must be completed by the end of March next year, which must surely limit the number of properties that can be tackled over the coldest part of the year.

It is also not possible to get the Green Homes Grant for newly built homes which haven’t yet been occupied, so social housing landlords will need to focus on empty properties or find temporary accommodation for any tenants that won’t be able to stay in the home whilst the work is underway.

There’s no time to lose as both schemes end on the 31st March 2021

Max Halliwell NEW Max Halliwell Communications manager for Heating and Ventilation

Look at the fabric

As a representative of a heat pump manufacturer, you might expect me to focus on the significant benefits to both tenants and landlords of renewable heating and in particular, air source heat pumps.

However, we would always advocate making sure that the fabric of the building is as energy efficient as possible first, so that the heating technology can work as efficiently as possible.

It’s what we call a ‘Lean, Mean, Green’ approach and by this, we mean be ‘Lean’ and reduce the need for overall energy consumption first. Look at the fabric of the building by stopping heat loss and leaks, and improving the overall insulation.

Next we propose a ‘Mean’ approach, where any energy used in the property is used as efficiently as possible.  Low energy lightbulbs are an easy example but any electrical appliance should be looked at to ensure that it is as efficient as possible.

The same applies to the heating system but this is where the ‘Green’ approach kicks in.  It is still easy to just replace an existing oil or gas boiler and a modern boiler will increase the efficiency of the heating system over an antiquated boiler.

However, this is simply not sustainable into the future and does nothing to decrease the carbon footprint of either the home, or the housing association.

UK investment

And this is where air source heat pumps really come into their own as they are now a reliable, proven technology and, in the case of our own Ecodan for example, are built in the UK and designed specifically for UK conditions.

Over the last decade and more, we’ve fitted tens of thousands of heat pumps from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Skye.  In modern, upgraded homes and in ancient, listed buildings, and in both single properties and whole apartment blocks.

At our Scottish factory, we have invested heavily in R&D actually going as far as building two comparable houses in the car park.  One has a modern gas boiler and the other has an Ecodan heat pump and both homes are tested and tested on their performance.

Whichever renewable heating system you choose, it is worth looking at performance, reliability and operating noise levels as these will have a real impact on acceptance with tenants, keeping them warm and happy throughout the winter.

At Mitsubishi Electric, we always stress the need to look at Seasonal Efficiency rather than the standard performance levels written in the sales blurb.

For us, this is a bit like miles per gallon (mpg) with a car. We all know that the car manufactures show off the highest mpg possible, but this is always from a laboratory test, in optimum conditions.  Once you get your car on the road, at all speeds and in all weathers, that is where you really see what the performance is.

The same is true of any heating system so always ask about the seasonal efficiency won’t you? 

Shh, people are sleeping

Another key area that will affect adoption of renewable, energy-saving air source heat pumps is noise, to ensure tenants and their neighbours aren’t disturbed, which is why permitted development exists.

In the residential environment, sound is important because low sound increases the flexibility of where a heat pump can be positioned.

As heat pumps are adopted in more homes, noise will become an increasingly important factor and many are sited close to windows, where the unit’s apparent low noise during the day, can become a different matter in the quiet of the night.

Permitted development requires sound levels to meet certain limitations, with the sound pressure level not exceeding 42 decibels, dB(A) when measured at a point one metre away from the neighbour’s nearest door or window.

That is exactly why we as a manufacturer have looked beyond performance and focused heavily on developing some of the quietest units ever available, which we have appropriately named ‘Ultra Quiet’.

These provide reliable, renewable heating and hot water production for a wide range of installations. The system is available in 8.5kW and 11.2kW sizes with market-leading sound levels that are three times quieter than previous models making passing permitted development requirements much easier.

Listen at your leisure

To help people understand the full benefits of air source heat pumps, we’ve created a series of podcasts all about renewable heating with our Ecodan Ambassador, architect and TV Presenter, George Clarke and in one of the latest, we look specifically at the social housing sector.

George and I talk about social housing in the UK, 'affordable warmth', and the need to educate the entire sector, from government, developers, housing associations, and residents about heat pump technology.

We also consider the case for new-build developments versus retrofitting the UK's existing social housing stock to be more sustainable and energy-efficient.

In another, more recent podcast, I talk with Rob Hicks, Innovation Manager at Sovereign Housing Association and we discussed Sovereign's decision to invest in sustainable heating technology to meet their long-term, 'affordable warmth' objectives for residents.

In the podcast, Rob reflects on the housing association's ten-year relationship with Ecodan, and the educational challenges they overcame when introducing new technology.

With the government recognising how important air source heat pumps will be for the future of low carbon heating in the UK and forecasting one million sales a year by 2030, the time could not be better to look at improving the heating future for tenants.

Not only could you benefit from £5,000 per property, if the work is completed before the end of March, the property could also be eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive, earning quarterly payments for the next seven years.

But there’s no time to lose as both the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Green Homes Grant end on the 31st March 2021.

Max Halliwell, communications manager for Heating and Ventilation