Future heating - decarbonising oil-heated homes

Climate change is the biggest and most urgent challenge facing the world today. Decisive action is urgently needed, including to how we heat our homes. The UK and Republic of Ireland (RoI) governments have both indicated that decarbonising the emissions from oil-heated homes will be important priorities. OFTEC supports these policy goals and is working to help these governments achieve their emissions reduction targets.

Around 1.5 million households use oil heating in the UK and, except in Northern Ireland, they are located mainly in rural areas. A further 686,000 mainly rural homes rely on oil heating in the RoI. Compared to homes on the gas grid they are extremely diverse in character, age, design and construction and collectively they pose a unique challenge. For example, in the UK:

  • 97% of oil heated homes in Great Britain are energy inefficient (Average EPC Band E)
  • 46% were built pre 1919 with hard to insulate single-skinned walls
  • 51% are detached and typically larger than average
  • 47% have lower efficiency heating systems (over 12 years old)
  • Many have valued period features or planning constraints.

Oil-heated homes in the RoI share a similar range of challenges and constraints.

Understanding off-grid households is key

Just as the oil-heated housing stock is unique, so rural households also face different challenges to those in urban areas, including:

  • Higher average weekly expenditure
  • Less disposable income
  • Significantly deeper fuel poverty levels.

Rural households on the lowest incomes usually live in the worst housing and will inevitably face the highest costs to improve their homes. This includes a high proportion of oil-heated properties that have single-skinned walls and low energy efficiency, so the degree to which these households are willing and able to embrace the changes that are needed will be critical to success. Regardless of heat technology, energy efficiency improvements – for example better insulation – have a vital role in reducing emissions and should be supported by all governments to reduce heat demand.

Sustainable liquid fuels are the best low carbon solution for oil-heated homes

The solution most frequently advocated for decarbonising oil-heated homes is heat pumps, a low temperature electric system. However, the often extremely costly and disruptive retrofit challenges associated with successful heat pump deployment mean that without very generous financial support from government, consumers will be slow to embrace this technology – particularly those in hard to treat oil-heated homes.

If households won’t, or can’t, take action then targets will not be achieved and placing too great a burden on households may damage much-needed support for decarbonisation. OFTEC has concluded that simple, less costly solutions are far more likely to be successful than those that are more costly or disruptive, which is why we favour changing the fuel, rather than switching to a completely different heat technology. Consequently, OFTEC has proposed retaining existing oil heating systems and instead replacing the fuel with a sustainable low carbon liquid fuel manufactured from waste material.

Find out more

Following detailed research OFTEC has published a new strategy document for the UK which includes our policy recommendations for government.

A similar strategy document has also been produced for the Republic of Ireland.


Need to contact us?

If you need assistance or more information, you can call OFTEC between 9.00am and 5.00pm, Monday - Friday.

You can email: Malcolm Farrow

Phone OFTEC:
T: 01473 626 298, option 5 (UK)
T: 01 864 5771, option 5 (RoI)