Decarbonising our homes: A network of sustainable solutions

Authored by Stuart Wood, Product Manager – Sustainable Heating, at Polypipe Building Products.

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the heating sector in the UK accounts for almost one-third of the UK’s annual carbon footprint. Furthermore, 17% of the emissions caused by heating buildings come from homes, meaning heating our homes produces carbon emissions equivalent to the use of all petrol and diesel cars. To address this, last year the government updated Part L of the building regulations in a bid to achieve a 31% reduction of carbon emissions in new and existing homes, as a precursor to the Future Home Standard which is due to come into force in 2025.

The new legislation has led to many in the industry looking towards renewables, such as heat pumps. However, while the switch to heat pumps is a positive step, they can be expensive for residents to run. This means that specifiers should be exploring other solutions, such as heat networks, that can not only decrease carbon emissions but will also lead to decreased energy bills for residents by minimising the amount of both gas and electricity consumed.

The drive for district heating

District heating networks could be the perfect solution for many new and existing developments as well as multi-occupancy buildings. They are not a new invention – in fact, they have been used in the UK since the 1960s – but the scale at which they have been adopted is not substantial enough. When it comes to the uptake of these networks, we are still far behind the rest of Europe where heat networks meet about 12% of the EU’s heat demand. District heating is common in the Nordic and Baltic regions, and Copenhagen has the world’s most extensive district heating system, servicing over an incredible 98% of buildings, making it miles ahead of any city in the UK.

The Government believes that district heating networks are able to reduce residents’ energy bills by 30% and has made it clear that it wants to see a wider uptake of these networks to reduce CO2 emissions and meet the targets laid out in the Future Homes Standard. Currently, only about 2% of the UK’s heat is delivered by heat networks, but it is believed that this should increase to 20% by 2050.

If we were to reach this goal, it would have a significant impact on both the carbon and financial costs of heating homes across the UK.

The road to decarbonisation

District heating networks are a system where heat is generated from a central energy source from which heating and domestic hot water can be distributed through an underground network of insulated pipes to several properties. These can be homes in new housing developments, multi-occupancy buildings, or a combination of both.

Decarbonising our homes: A network of sustainable solutions

Decarbonising our homes: A network of sustainable solutions

Heat networks can be coupled with renewable technologies such as wind, solar and hydro to provide a cleaner, more sustainable energy system. This means that homes – or multiple homes – can be connected to a reliable and efficient heat source, even if they are not on the gas network, which decreases the reliance on fossil fuels.

In addition to this, district heating networks operate at lower temperatures than gas boilers meaning they offer a more energy-efficient and cost-effective way to heat and cool a property. By ensuring that these low-energy systems are connected with flexible insulated pipes, specifiers can also reduce the number of required connections, which minimises the possibility of heat loss occurring and further improves the system’s efficiency. Inside the home, district heating networks are also an ideal solution to be paired with lower energy heating systems such as underfloor heating systems. This is because they emit heat via a greater surface area and, therefore, can run at lower temperatures which means they place less demand on the central energy source.

As technologies advance, the industry is constantly finding new ways to provide energy for these networks. Waste heat can be harnessed from thermal power stations and industrial sites. One existing example of this is that heat from the London Underground is currently being used to provide heat and hot water for homes and businesses in Islington.

A lower cost solution

As we know, district heating networks are not a new thing – in fact, there have already been several successful district heating projects in the UK. Government research has found that district heating networks can cut carbon emissions from new housing developments by up to 70% and create energy bill savings of at least 30% when replacing electric heaters with heating networks in tower blocks. This means that heat networks are not only a good solution for the environment, but that the cost of delivering heat to residents could be as little as 24p/kWh per day compared to an equivalent figure of 34p/kWh for electric heating, according to the latest figures from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

When you consider the current energy crisis and the need to address climate change, these are significant results. If we know that district heating networks can positively impact carbon emissions whilst also providing a more affordable and energy-efficient living environment for residents, as an industry we must embrace them as a solution.

Turning up the heat

Ultimately district heating networks are already becoming more commonplace in the UK’s housing stock. But we need to push this further. Residents will not only benefit from the efficient operation of a system, but they will also benefit from economies of scale, which will help them to heat their homes at a lower cost in comparison to using individual heating systems.

The government has already set out its commitment to publishing the Future Homes Standard by 2025 and it is clear that we all need to make significant changes if we truly want to decarbonise domestic heating. So, while there is a lack of clarity around when fossil fuel heating systems will be phased out in existing homes, if we have the solutions already, we have to use them because the benefits could be astronomical.


Polypipe Building Products is the UK’s leading manufacturer of plastic piping systems and low-carbon heating solutions for the residential market. We design, develop, and manufacture over 20,000 product lines which are stocked in plumbers and builders’ merchants nationally.

Polypipe Building Products works with national and local developers, plumbing and heating engineers, general builders and groundworkers to deliver above and below ground drainage systems, rainwater solutions, as well as hot and cold plastic plumbing products.

We provide innovative products and services to our customers, including UFH site support and our Approved Engineer network. With Polypipe Building Products, we’ve got you covered.

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