Changing our approach to heating our homes is necessary to create the step change and deliver truly environmentally conscious buildings, however is abandoning existing, more traditional technologies in favour of a purely renewables focused design always the best approach? Here, Jerry Studden, managing director of Alpha Heating Innovation explores the potential for marrying old and new for an eco-considerate design.

David Cameron’s address to the Clean Energy Ministerial was devoted entirely to the success and development of generating power from renewable sources, citing the current forecast of global demand increasing by 40 per cent in the next twenty years. Using clean energy to power our homes is a long-term goal, as demonstrated by the recent surge in investment in wind power, however, more immediately millions of UK homes still heat their homes using gas-fired boilers and for the recent future this will continue to be the main source of heating houses.

Bearing this in mind, we need to maximise efficiency levels using a combination of existing and renewable sources to try and feed consumer’s current fuel demands as efficiently as possible. Thankfully, high efficiency condensing boilers are now commonplace in many UK homes, which is why innovation has gone several steps further to create technologies that work with existing technologies like boilers to increase fuel and energy savings.


One of the major steps in changing our approach is to treat the building holistically –using a boiler as the hub of any heating system and adding low-carbon or renewable technologies as a bolt-on network. Creating such a network needn’t be a complicated and prolonged job for heating engineers in a retrofit situation, or be too complex for specifiers or architects to design into a new build. In order for such a system to work, ease of installation and compatibility with the building fabric is key. Taking this into account, there are two main additions that can bring down energy costs and meet standards set out in the Code for Sustainable Homes flue gas heat recovery and solar thermal.

The former, flue gas heat recovery, has been around for some time as an additional box that is connected to the top of a condensing boiler. However, in recent times, this technology has been integrated with a high-efficiency boiler, such as on Alpha’s InTec GS. This integration provides a sleeker, more spatially considerate boiler for domestic homes, whilst still reducing gas consumption and emissions. The technology has also advanced to cope with the addition of a thermal store, for those households that have higher than average hot water demand. Such systems, like Alpha’s FlowSmart help the boiler deliver large volumes of hot water to multiple outlets.

For example, if a family home has two bathrooms, a utility room and kitchen and several outlets are used simultaneously, water pressure and temperature can quickly run down. This type of system works by sending cold mains to be heated by the reclaimed flue gases before diverting it to the copper coil for further heating from the surrounding hot water. A specialist blending valve then brings the water down to 30ºC before it enters the boiler. Operating in this way allows a sustained supply of hot water at around 18 litres per minute plenty of pressure for the average domestic shower. This also saves around 25% less gas because the boiler does not need to work as hard to heat and deliver the hot water.

The potential to drive down emissions rates from traditional technologies like boilers doesn’t end there either. For an all-encompassing solution, a solar thermal panel can be added to the mix. Whereas traditional solar thermal systems work with a traditional system boiler to maintain a stored supply of hot water, innovation has developed to eliminate the need for the boiler to fire up to replenish the stored hot water should the temperature or volume fall. This essentially turns the boiler into a support system requiring it to fire up only when the stored hot water has been exhausted.

Systems like SolarSmart only use the collected solar energy to heat the stored hot water and can be easily connected to the rest of the heating system. Plus it can be retrofitted to any Alpha high-efficiency boiler, making it ideal for both new build and refurb situations.
Renewables constitute such a wide range of technologies, but not all are compatible with the combi-boiler heating system that supplies heat to most of the UK’s homes. Those detailed above provide a real solution to the immediate need to reduce the emissions from homes and build towards a more sustainably heated housing stock.