Cashing in on the offer of a better place to live

Were you hoping to get a new gas central heating boiler on the Government?

If so be prepared for disappointment. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in cutting your bills with some solar panels on the roof, then you might be in for a pleasant surprise.

This month marks the launch of the Government’s £2 billion Green Homes Scheme, announced in July as part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s stimulus programme to revive the post-lockdown economy.

Amid all the publicity surrounding ‘Rishi’s dishes’, which offered discounts on meals in pubs and restaurants, the home improvement scheme seems to have been largely forgotten about. But those who do take part will receive much more than a tenner off the price of a steak and chips: the maximum grant available is £10,000, and most people will be eligible for help worth up to £5,000.

The Government has now revealed details of how the scheme will work. Help will be available for people wanting to improve insulation in their homes, or to install double glazing.

But one notable omission is that funds will not be available for homeowners who want to replace their old, inefficient central-heating boilers with a newer, more efficient gas boiler.

Officials claim that the improvements will enable households to save up to £600 a year on their energy bills. Homeowners will not be able to apply for the vouchers until later this month, but the Government has revamped its Simple Energy Advice website to explain how the system works.

Grants are available for up to two-thirds of the cost of improvement work, up to a maximum of £5,000, although people receiving state benefits can get up to £10,000, covering the full cost of the work.

Eligible work is divided into two categories, ‘primary’, which mainly covers insulation and and low-carbon heating systems, and ‘secondary’ which includes new windows and doors, as well as improved heating controls and water-tank insulation.

However, to qualify for a secondary measure, it is necessary to commit to a primary measure first, and the grant for the secondary measure will be capped at the level of the grant for primary measure.

So for example, if you decided to spend £1,500 on loft and cavity wall insulation, the Government would give you £1,000 towards that cost.

If you then spent a further £10,000 on new windows and doors, you are eligible for a further £1,000, taking your total grant to £2,000.

However, if you spend £10,000 on a ground-source heat pump, which is classed as a primary measure, the Government will reimburse half the cost, saving you £5,000. Or if you are on benefits, it should be possible to claim the full amount back.

Solid-wall, cavity-wall, under-floor and loft insulation are all classed as primary measures, along with measures for flat roofs and loft conversions. Park homes are also eligible for the grants.

Providing the home is suitably insulated, grants are also available for low-carbon heating systems, including air-source and ground-source heat pumps, which instead of burning fuel, make use of natural heat sources.

While heat pumps have the obvious cost-saving advantage of not needing gas, oil or coal to power them, they are expensive to install.

Sense

Much depends on the size and design of your home, but typically a ground-source pump costs between £10,000 and £18,000 to install, with an air-source one about between £5,000 and £8,000. However, with the Government contributing two-thirds of the up-front costs, and the possibility of saving thousands of pounds on your gas bills, an air-source pump in particular could start to make sense.

The grant can also be used to install biomass pellet boilers, which are fuelled by wood chippings. Again, the downside is the cost, with such boilers typically costing upwards of £10,000.

Unlike heat pumps, you will still need to buy fuel for your biomass boiler, although the pellets should work out cheaper than more traditional fuels. If you’re used to a gas boiler, though, it is worth bearing in mind that you will need somewhere to store the pellets.

Perhaps more accessible to most people are solar thermal panels, which make use of energy from the sun for hot water.

They are unlikely to meet all of your needs, though, so you will still need a separate heating system, but you could potentially see a noticeable cut in your energy bill.

It is estimated that such panels can meet between 40 and 60 per cent of a typical family’s demand for hot water in the summer months, although this tails off considerably during the winter. They will not be able to power your heating system.

The good news for those who do take advantage is that anybody who installs a low-carbon heating system is that they will also be able to claim the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive payments as well, although the cost of the grant will be deducted from this money.

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