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Plumbing and Heating and Curiosity

Curiosity and willingness to make changes - are not necessarily the first things the spring to mind when you think about plumbing and heating. Boilers have made major leaps over the decades, but underneath they still burn fossil fuel to generate heat, normally via an intermediary agent water.

Our great grandfathers used coal and even some of us are old enough to have seen a coal iron lying around. Oil was next and then the natural gas infrastructure caught up and became the standard. Around 85% of households in the UK are using natural gas for heating.

However, ask us Brits to change and try on new technologies and we turn away. Ask Joe public about solar water heating and they'll say there's not enough sun. Ask Joe about biomass boilers and he won't know what you're talking about. Same goes for heat pumps or CHP (Combined Heat and Power systems).

Tradition and natural resources have combined to put the lid on any interest in alternative and sustainable energy technologies of really taking up market share in the UK. Discovery of large oil fields in the North Sea in the 1980s has turned the UK to the 6th largest oil producer for a decade. We were oil and gas independent and the price of gas for heating was cheap and within our control.

During the 1990s the oil has been cheap, dipping to around $10 per barrel of oil. The cost of gas which is linked to the price of oil was accordingly cheap. There was little incentive to look at other heating solutions.

Fast forward to 2008, in July the price of oil crossed the $140 per barrel before taking a small dip. Energy companies have been raising the cost of gas for heating and recent estimates put the price of gas for heating reaching 1,000 per annum for a typical household early next decade.

Enter alternative energy solutions. They don't use fossil fuel (or only a fraction of the incumbent technologies). Solar thermal for example is using a free energy source, the sun, to heat water. A qualified plumber will be able to fit a standard solar thermal system within less than two days. The solar thermal system will heat up around 50-60% of your domestic hot water, saving you a great deal of heating gas, and reducing the pressure on your boiler. During the summer months, with good levels of sunshine and very long days the solar system provides virtually all the hot water you'll need. It is not uncommon for households with solar thermal system to have their boiler idle virtually throughout the entire summer. During the winter, the solar thermal collectors generate enough heat to preheat the water and save around 20%.

The level of penetration of solar thermal systems in the UK is extremely low compared to other countries. And I'm not talking about Spain and Greece. Even Holland has about 5 times more solar collectors on their roofs per capita when compared to the UK, with Denmark around 20 times.

There is something about wanting to make a stand to change our behaviour and make a difference. We don't have to turn ultra-green in order to see the benefit of changing our old habits. One could easily discount the zealous eco-fighters and global warming campaigner as was-mongers. But one just needs to look at one's gas and electricity bill to realise there are ways out there and they are proven to provide heating, reduce your heating bill and reduce your carbon emissions. Now that's worth making a change for!


This page has been written with contributions from experienced plumbers from Oxfordshire and heating engineers from Tunbridge Wells. Several of the company's experienced heating engineers from Northamptonshire have worked on similar issues as well as some of our Gas Safe engineers from Chiswick and our Bromley plumbers.

Posted : Monday 1st September 2008