“I’m installing an eco-heat pump and wearing a bobble hat in the bath to stay warm”

Emily Brookes feels like she is living in the 1800s as she drags logs into her house for the wood burner. Each month she spends £85 on logs and £150 on electricity to heat the home she shares with her husband, son and dog in Kemble, Gloucestershire.

As electric radiators run throughout the old property, the alternative to Emily’s current way of doing things would be significantly higher electricity bills. “We got such a shock when we moved here in March 2021 and saw the smart meter reading for January 2020 reach £400. We were used to paying £55 for electricity and £60 a month for oil in our old home. It was then a double blow to see the electric radiators weren’t even that effective. We had to quickly look for a solution.”

Emily, 37, is one of four million British households that are off the gas grid, according to the Energy Saving Trust. About half of these are in rural areas where fuel poverty rates are highest. 

“We tried to get on a fixed tariff but that proved problematic because the energy company takes into account the last 12 months’ bills – which covered the previous owners’ usage that was incredibly high and therefore expensive,” she explains.

As the Government wants all properties to ultimately install eco-heat pumps, an alternative way of heating that doesn’t use fossil fuel energy sources such as oil and gas, Emily and her husband decided to take the plunge with an air source heat pump (ASHP). This works by extracting heat from the air and transferring it into your home.

It is a mammoth task that will cost them around £20,000. “The heat pump needs a different type of radiator and pipework to work so we have to replace everything. We also have to insulate the loft and cellar, and stud out one particular wall (where you build an extra wall on top of the wall using wood and plaster and put insulation in between).”

The couple will benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme which is due to end in March 2022. The government pays householders a grant of between £6,000 and £10,000 over several years depending on your property’s EPC rating. 

“The RHI application form is long and requires input from so many people – the builder, plumber etc – so it’s really quite stressful” explains Emily. “It looks like we will receive £7,000 over several years. And we’ve had brilliant recommendations, general advice and support from the Facebook group called Heat Pumps UK and Ireland.” 

The RHI will be replaced by a new government grant called the Boiler Upgrade scheme in April 2022 which will offer homeowners upfront payments of £5,000 to install an eco-heat pump.

While the house is renovated, the family carefully manages their energy consumption. “I am concerned about the upcoming price cap rise – even though we use electric radiators, anything happening in the energy market is bound to affect us somehow.”

The family is strict about their usage. “We currently have the log burner running all day which gives heat to the lounge and my son’s room above. We don’t use two downstairs rooms at the moment because we can’t afford to heat them! We also have two small oil-filled radiators, one in my office and one in our bedroom, on a timer to take the chill off at night.”

Emily also packs on plenty of layers. “There’s jumpers, blankets and, when I have a bath, I wear a woolly hat!”

The family is trimming their costs as much as possible. “I meal plan to ensure we stick to the weekly food budget. I’m using my car less because I’m working from home. We’ve also cut back on going out to eat and popping to the pub,” she says.

Emily worries about their savings. “The most difficult thing is we haven’t been able to save anything for a good few months now which is a worry. With all our savings going on the heat pump it means any emergency like a car issue or house issue and we would have to borrow.”

While nervous about using the new technology she is hopeful about her eco-pump. “We hope we will be warmer without spending a fortune on heating – and we’ll be using renewable energy.”