Heating and SustainabilityThe biggest issue facing house designers and builders in the modern age is how to ensure the construction accords with the worldwide need to exist within limits of sustainability. This involves ensuring that all resources used are made from renewable resources, instead of eating away at the eventually limited worldwide supply of the fossil fuels that we use to create gas and electricity, and that the emissions from the building can be minimised, and to aim for a zero emission target, or a non-carbon contribution.

Sustainable Heating Systems: Some Options

There are several options for installing, or even replacing, a more ecological heating system within a building. Some of the most common are as follows:

Solar Heating

There are two types of solar panel heating systems, which are based on different technologies. Solar Water Heating systems, also known as Solar Thermal systems, just supplies hot water. Solar Photovoltaic or Solar PV systems generate only electricity. Using the resource of the sun’s energy, we have the technology to heat our water supply within our houses. Some municipal swimming pools in the UK are now harnessing this technology to keep swimmers warm in the water in winter. This advance greatly reduces our dependency upon imported fossil fuels, and improves the crucial diversity of energy supply, is immediately and readily available – except for those dark, dreary winter months – as well as curbing urban air pollution.

But the second system, Photovoltaic, is an expensive technology, which would take generations of savings off electricity bills before it paid for itself. Also, at times the solar system needs connection to an electrical system to boost power, storage of power within this system are not fully developed yet, and in the UK the heat from the sun is insufficient to give year-round energy to the system. Most experts are recommending combining a photovoltaic system with a secondary source, such as the wood pellet stove, to provide all year cover of electricity.

Wood Pellet Stoves

Another possibility is the installation of a Wood Pellet stove. These have been developed and manufactured in Nordic countries, and rely upon softwood pellets – typically made of manufactured wood by-products, such as sawdust. This is an effective exchange of fossil fuels in favour of bio-fuel (see our page on this site : www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/bio-energy), and encourages continued replanting of forestry. There are environmental issues however in doing this, such as habitat loss. Also, it is yet unknown what the emissions contribution is from burning chemically complex non-softwood pellets. This could have environmental and health hazards.

Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP)

This is a system that utilises the natural solar heat that exists stored within the ground. A high-quality ground loop and heat pump system collects the heat, converts it to energy, then can store or utilise it as energy. This is innovative, and a literally ground-breaking technology and here in the UK is in operation in parts of Scotland. However, it is both an expensive system to install, and has a natural limit in that only a maximum of 70% of the necessary heating energy for a building can be obtained this way.

The Way Forward …

It is probable that anyone considering which sustainable type of heating system for an environmentally-friendly building would opt for a combination of the systems mentioned above. There are others, and do bear in mind that new technologies are continually in development. Also it is strongly advisable to check with a Local Council as some do have grants available and/or tax incentives for adding a sustainable heating system to houses in their area. Bear in mind that it is our imperative need to halt harm to our environment and the fragile eco-system we live within, and developing and using systems such as these to heat and power our lives are crucial, as well as examples of tremendous human ingenuity.