Five minutes about … renewable heat for social housing 

With Government targets mandating that social housing providers begin the process of decarbonising heat in their buildings, understanding the available opportunities and the processes will make it easier to meet the challenges.  

Photo by Ben Allan on Unsplash

In this feature, Lee Caufield, Baxi’s head of residential specification, looks at the potential benefits of taking a phased approach to net zero.

The ongoing cost of living crisis and rising fuel prices make life difficult for the housing industry. Social housing providers face a tricky balancing act as they battle fuel poverty while forging towards decarbonisation. In addition to securing low-carbon heating for new builds, around 28 million homes will need to be retrofitted with upgraded systems. And as well as being at maximum efficiency, these systems must deliver top performance and user-friendliness for homeowners and tenants. 

Silver bullet solution

Adding to the complexity of the task, each project will have its individual needs, meaning there can be no silver bullet solution. Limited budgets may also affect the feasibility of immediate upgrades, especially in existing housing stock that is often inefficient to heat.  

Check out this insightful interview about renewable heat for social housing. Baxi's head of residential specification, shares valuable approaches to decarbonising heat and making homes more energy-efficient.

For this reason, it’s advisable to adopt a holistic, systemic approach that will consider both budget considerations and the end-user. Evolving legislation, such as Part L of Building Regulations and tighter Government targets, mean that inaction is simply not an option. The important thing is to start the process – small steps can lead to big achievements when it comes to decarbonisation and the affordability of heat.  

With that in mind, let’s consider some of the available approaches. 

Approach One: Get the building fabric up to standard 

A fabric-first approach is fundamental to bringing down emissions and energy bills by ensuring existing systems work more efficiently and the properties themselves are as efficient as possible. 

One example might be ensuring the windows are modern, well-insulated and draft free. Are the walls and loft adequately insulated? Is water quality in the existing heating system being well maintained? Does the end user know how to use the controls and TRVs? 

Approach Two: Start planning for low-temperature heating 

Once the properties have maximised building envelope performance, prepare for the upgrades that align with Part L of Building Regulations. Making small upgrades now may mean that more considerable upgrades won’t need to be made later. 

Take time to educate end-users on the simple actions they can take to reduce energy demand and costs.  For example, according to the Energy Saving Trust, a 1ºC increase in thermostat temperature could increase heating costs by up to 10%.  

Approach three: Upgrade today with energy-saving add-ons 

Consider improving the efficiency of existing systems with simple add-on accessories that are non-serviceable, easy to use and guaranteed to reduce emissions and running costs. Adding a Flue Gas Heat Recovery (FGHR) to a Baxi Assure 500 Combi 2, for example, can reduce annual carbon emissions by as much as 268 kg1 in a 3-bed semi-detached house. It collects otherwise wasted heat for cold water preheating, saving between 37 and 50% of the gas used to heat hot water annually. 

Similarly, and using the exact modelling, fitting an in-flue outdoor sensor (IFOS), which meets weather compensation requirements for Boiler Plus, could cut annual carbon emissions by 213 kg. 

Approach four: Bigger, long-term improvements 

When the time is right, making bigger improvements to the heating and hot water systems will accelerate the decarbonisation journey. This could involve installing ultra-efficient air source heat pumps (ASHPs), either as a standalone solution or in a hybrid system, or, in multi-occupancy residential developments, using a heat network to heat the individual dwellings.

Again, it’s important to consider all the options. For this reason, it’s advisable to partner with a manufacturer with a portfolio of products that includes energy-efficient and low-carbon renewable solutions to ensure that the right approach is taken for each project.  

Steps social housing managers can take now 

As the climate crisis continues and the Government’s net zero goals creep ever closer, housing providers are at the forefront of making housing in the UK more efficient through proactive eco-friendly upgrades.  

By partnering with heating industry experts such as Baxi, social housing managers can rely on specialist technical and legislative advice and support whatever stage, they are at on their decarbonisation journey. Working together, we can plot and navigate a pathway that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. 

For more on the decarbonisation of heat in social housing, download Baxi’s complete guide here