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Cutting the costs of heating

PUBLISHED: 09:11 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:11 10 January 2017

Here's how to save money on heating (Thinkstock)

Here's how to save money on heating (Thinkstock)


Energy bills in winter can leave us feeling hot under the collar. Liz Hamilton of Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England looks at options that will bring down both heating costs and your blood pressure

January is a time for new resolutions. If you’ve resolved to lessen your environmental impact and save on energy bills by reducing your reliance on fossil fuels, there are several ways to go about it.

Solar panels

The government introduced Feed-in Tariffs in 2010 to encourage take-up of small-scale renewable low-carbon electricity generation for homes and businesses using photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on roofs. Since then, 800,000 systems have been installed on buildings in the UK. As take-up increases, we could see a reduced need for energy infrastructure, which intrudes on the countryside.

Once installed, PV panels use the sun’s rays to create energy with no carbon emissions. In the current scheme, Feed-in Tariffs are paid to solar-energy users for 20 years following installation, while spare energy exported to the national grid generates income to the homeowner. Tariff amounts are set to fall, but with the cost of PV panels falling too, they remain an attractive way of cutting fossil-fuel use. Solar panels may enhance a home’s value too.

At present, it’s impossible to store enough solar electricity to power a household at night, so reliance on other electricity sources is not completely eliminated.

South-facing roofs sloping at 30-35 degrees have the best potential for solar energy (even on cloudy days), but east- and west-facing roofs are worth using as long as they are not in shade. You also need to install an inverter, which converts the current from solar panels into A/C current for household use.

Some are put off solar panels because they can be unsightly. But a new Campaign to Protect Rural England leaflet Solar Design Tips: Your 10-point guide, produced with BRE National Solar Centre near Watford, shows how to install solar panels without harming the character of towns and villages, or the countryside. The leaflet, which can be downloaded at, gives examples of good design principles for panels installed on a wide variety of new and old buildings. New designs for solar panels fit more easily into built structures, while thin films can generate solar power in glazing applications. In many cases, solar panels don’t need planning permission, exceptions being in areas of outstanding natural beauty, in conservation areas and on listed buildings. Contact your local planning authority to check whether this affects you.

Renewable heat

Another government energy initiative is the Renewable Heat Incentive. It pays tariffs for seven years to homeowners generating heat and hot water using water-, ground- or air-source heat pumps, biomass boilers or solar thermal panels, although the last of these may soon be dropped from the scheme. Fuel used in biomass boilers must be from a recognised sustainable supply, while users with their own fuel supply can register as self-suppliers.

For more information about both tariff schemes, go to

Wood fires

On a chilly winter’s day, a log fire is a delight. Wood is classed as a carbon-neutral fuel if it is from a sustainably-managed site. As it burns, wood releases carbon dioxide but trees felled for firewood can be replaced by new trees which absorb carbon as they grow.

In woodland thinned to give trees room to expand, there is often a growth spurt which absorbs more carbon. In woods managed by coppicing, stems cut near ground level grow again from the base, although they need protection from grazing animals which enjoy the young shoots.

If you are thinking of planting trees, 
follow the Woodland Trust’s example and 
use saplings grown in Britain from British seed. Millions of young trees are imported into the country every year and may bring pests and disease with them. Both oak processionary moth and ash dieback arrived in this way.

For a given output of heat (a stove will heat a room more effectively than an open fire), wood produces far less CO2 than either gas or electricity, and its eco-credentials are enhanced if wood is grown locally, reducing transport emissions.

Which wood?

Ash is the best of all woods for fires – it burns well when freshly cut, unlike other species which are best after seasoning in a dry place.

Oak makes very good firewood once it has been stored for a year or more.

Other hardwoods, including beech, birch, hornbeam, holly, hazel and sycamore, will also burn well once seasoned. Apple wood burns well, with a pleasant scent.

Most conifers are less dense than hardwoods and burn quickly, producing less heat. Some, especially larch, also produce potentially dangerous sparks


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