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Net Zero: What Does it Mean for Homeowners?

Net zero
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The term ‘net zero’ is becoming ubiquitous within green homes discourse, and will end up affecting most, if not all homeowners in the UK, as the mission to cut carbon emissions progresses.

The UK government has set a target that the UK will be net zero by 2050. Around 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions comes from heating our homes, according to the Committee on Climate Change, so homeowners will eventually be required to make changes to their homes to improve their energy efficiency. 

There is optimism within the energy industry that the UK is on course to meet the net zero target, and homeowners will likely play a significant role. Here’s how net zero objectives could affect you and your home. 

What is Net Zero?

Net zero is the process of achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and the carbon removed from it. Once the former is no greater than the latter, net zero will be achieved.  

Reaching net zero will not be easy. It will require significant reductions in the emissions that come from our homes, from our gas boilers for example, which will mean homeowners will have to make changes to improve their home’s energy efficiency, such as installing a heat pump or hydrogen-ready boiler.

It will also require industries to make significant changes to their operations to lower their emissions. The car industry will need to shift towards developing electric vehicles, and energy suppliers that generate electricity from burning fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas will need to adopt low-carbon alternatives. Agriculture will be affected too, with farmers required to transition to low-carbon food production methods through changes to farm management practices. 

(MORE: How will hydrogen heating work in homes?)

Net zero

Heat pumps can reduce the emissions that come from our homes (Image credit: Allan Corfield Architects)

Why is the UK Striving For Net Zero by 2050?

Scientific evidence tells us that greenhouse gas emissions, stemming from human activity, are a significant contributor to climate change. The UK government declared a climate emergency in May 2019.

Then in June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to approve legislation committing to reduce the UK’s net emissions of greenhouse gases by 100% (relative to 1990 levels, the earliest available data point for annual global decarbonisation) by 2050. In 2018, UK emissions stood at 57% of 1990 levels.

What Does Net Zero Mean for Homeowners?

It is expected that the majority of existing UK homes will need to be retrofitted in some way to help reach net zero by 2050.

In the government’s Energy White Paper, published in December, ministers said that a major programme for retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency would be introduced, but this has not yet been launched.

Campaigners like the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) have long advocated for a national retrofit strategy to make our homes greener, healthier, and more affordable to run.

There are currently no compulsory measures to drive homeowners towards retrofitting, but there are several improvements you can make to improve your home’s energy efficiency. These include:

Net zero

Tripled glazing windows can improve your home's energy efficiency (Image credit: Origin)

What Financial Help is Available for Homeowners?

To help homeowners afford the initial upfront cost of energy-efficient improvements, the following government schemes are available:

  • Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive - applications are open until March 2022 for financial support towards heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal panels
  • Clean Heat Grant - this will replace the domestic RHI in 2022, enabling homeowners to apply for £4,000 towards installing low-carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps, from March 2022.

Will Gas Boilers be Banned?

Banning natural gas boilers is an unavoidable check point on the road to net zero. This could mean millions of British households will either need to replace their boilers with heat pumps or install boilers that are capable of running on hydrogen gas.  

It is widely expected that gas boilers will be banned from new build homes in 2025. The cut-off date is expected to be confirmed in the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy this summer.

As for existing homes, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) released rallying calls in May for no new gas boiler installations in any UK home from 2025. 

However, a report published in The Daily Mail shortly after these statements were made suggested that government ministers are instead more likely to impose a cut-off date of 2035.

How is the UK Government Striving to Achieve Net Zero?

Since the 2019 net zero announcement, the government has been moving to advance green initiatives, and has recently published a string of plans designed to accelerate the push towards net zero.

In November 2020, the 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution was published which, pertinently to homeowners, pledged to install 600,000 heat pumps in homes every year by 2028. 

The strategy also pledged to develop the first town powered entirely by hydrogen by 2030 - with milestone targets along the way: starting with a hydrogen neighbourhood in 2023, moving to a hydrogen village by 2025. 

(MORE: Heat pumps rollout faces challenges)

Earlier this year, the Sixth Carbon Budget set the 'world's most ambitious' targets to combat climate change, with the UK confirming it will bid to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. And the first-ever meeting of the Net Zero Expect Group took place last month to drive forward government targets and develop new policies. Their findings will be published ahead of the UN climate summit COP26 taking place in Glasgow in November.

In May, the government also announced a £166.5 million funding package to develop technologies in carbon capture, greenhouse gas removal and hydrogen.

Net zero

Wind power will be used to produce enough electricity for every home in the UK by 2030, the government says (Image credit: Getty Images)

Moreover, the government has made pledges relating to:

  • Offshore wind - wind power will be used to produce enough electricity for every home in the UK by 2030
  • Future homes - the Future Homes Standard will come into effect in 2025 and ensure that new homes are futureproofed with low-carbon heating systems and high levels of energy efficiency.
  • Existing homes - the Heat and Buildings Strategy will detail plans to improve the energy efficiency of our homes
  • Hydrogen - the Hydrogen Strategy will be published this summer, establishing cost-effective ways to introduce hydrogen into the gas grid
  • Heat networks - three heat network schemes aiming to increase low-carbon heating production were granted £30m from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in May.

Is Net Zero Possible?

Net zero by 2050 is a bold target that will require significant changes from homeowners as well as industry. 

There is a glimmer of hope though. Government data from March 2021 shows the UK’s emissions have fallen by 48.8% from 1990 levels, and both the Committee on Climate Change and IEA assert that net zero by 2050 is possible. 

But BEIS says that major challenges lie ahead in persuading homeowners to install heat pumps, which could cost up to £35,000 per home. At an online event for the industry in May, BEIS conceded that it was “uncertain” what the “optimal solution” was to encourage behaviour change among consumers.