Karbon Homes' story
Four million homes across the country are off mains gas grid, with many reliant on solid fuel systems for heat and hot water. While off-grid homes often conjures up romantic images of natural living, the reality is quite different.
Typically, it's more expensive to run the systems, which pushes many households into fuel poverty. The systems also aren't environmentally friendly and release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. As part of Karbon Homes' 'route map to 2050', put in place to tackle the challenge of reaching net zero, significant investment is in place to upgrade these heating systems to renewable, more efficient heating. Karbon has installed air source heat pumps in 100+ homes across rural Northumberland and County Durham. Alongside drastically reducing the carbon footprint of those homes, in many cases the upgrades have also resulted in customers seeing drops in their heating and hot water bills.
Claire and Stephen Riddell have an air source heating system installed in their Karbon Homes bungalow in the village of Otterburn, rural Northumberland. The couple can't speak highly enough of the technology. Stephen said: "The air source heat pump is absolutely fantastic. I sometimes wonder how something so simple can be so effective, we swear by ours. At the flick of a switch we have heating and plenty of hot water. Turned on for just a few hours on an evening, the house is warmed up lovely and stays warm through the night."
Air source heat pumps are a renewable and more efficient alternative to the traditional heating and hot water systems powered by fossil fuels. Karbon receives a Renewable Heat Incentive, payments for 7 years following installation, which contributes towards the additional cost of the innovative technology. The pumps work by absorbing heat from the outside air, boosting it to a higher temperature using a compressor, and transferring it to the heating system when needed. The pump can absorb heat even in low temperatures, making them effective all year round.
The systems are also being added to a number of Karbon's new build developments across the region, including 70 homes in Thorpe Willoughby, near Selby. Fitting this renewable technology helps provide high standard, energy efficient homes, that are both fit for the future and accessible to all. Future proofing is considered not only through the investment and installation of new technology, such as air source heat pumps, and modern methods of construction, but through a 'fabric first' investment approach to design, specification and construction.
Optimising the efficiency of the initial fabric of each home before considering the additional measures, is as important when it comes to making upgrades to existing homes, as it is when developing new homes. For an air source heat pump to work effectively, the property needs to be sufficiently insulated, so on many occasions loft, cavity wall and floor insulation are a precursor to installations.
Useful learnings from Karbon Homes
At a time when rising energy prices are pushing more households into fuel poverty, fitting more efficient heating systems has never been more important.
Educating residents is a really important part of the process. These aren't just assets, these are people's homes. Many, particularly those who are older, are often hesitant to take up the offer of a new heating system where use will bring lots of change to their lives, so outlining the benefits of the system is essential to ensure take up.
Alongside highlighting the benefits, being honesty and setting expectations around the installation is crucial. Installation work can be invasive, and will have an impact on daily life, albeit for a short amount of time.
The process of engagement does not end once the work is done, so completing the loop and ensuring customers have ongoing support, when it comes to the everyday use of the system, is imperative. These systems are unfamiliar and operate very differently to solid fuel systems. Customers won't experience the same levels of comfort then using an air source heat pump if they don't use the system correctly and misuse may also make initially running costs higher.
Ongoing support will help customers will feel confident using the heating system and reassure them that the upgrade is creating real benefit for them.
Karbon has engaged with specialist contractors to install the air source heat pumps, yet it doesn't rely on external contractors to manage the repairs and maintenance. Instead, it has invested in the training of their in-house property services colleagues, to ensure they are competent in undertaking servicing and repairs of the system.
Relying on contractors can affect the service that those customers with an air source heat pump receive from Karbon. Through this investment, all customer are treated equally and those with an air source heat pump aren't at a disadvantage when it comes to problem solving and repairs.
Karbon Homes' metrics
Reduction in carbon emissions over 10 years (23 tonnes).
Positive impact on the lives of customers.