ON bitterly cold winter mornings more than 60 years ago, as a child I would watch my father shivering as he screwed up pages from the previous day’s Daily Express and laid them at the bottom of the firegrate.
You could see his breath on the icy air as he carefully placed a few sticks of wood and lumps of coal on top of the paper.
Then, at last, he’d strike a match, light the paper, and huddle over the hearth while waiting for the fire to take hold and for the flames to bring us some blessed warmth.
That was the messy, smoky routine each morning for millions of families in the days before domestic gas central heating – indeed, central heating of any kind – was widespread. Often, an open fire in one room would be the only source of heat in the entire house.
Think of that as you set your central heating timer today, or simply flick a switch to send warmth throughout every room within minutes. And enjoy it while you can.
Because Boris Johnson is planning to phase out gas boilers in new homes under his madcap renewable energy masterplan.
It’s not clear when the ban will be implemented. Last month, it was claimed the date had been moved forward from 2025 to 2023, but this was later changed to saying that an announcement would be made ‘in due course’.
Okay, you may say, if the boiler ban applies just to new builds, it’s going to be a long time before everyone is affected, so does it matter?
Well, yes, it does. Because Johnson’s so-called ‘green’ industrial revolution is increasingly being called out by critics for its costly, pie-in-the-sky, soak-the-poor insanity. It was most astutely dissected in a recent Daily Mail article by Stephen Glover.
The Prime Minister’s plan to ban sales of internal combustion-engined cars from 2030 is bad enough, while building more bird-mincing wind turbines is crazy.
But it beggars belief to ban gas boilers, which make home life tolerable for millions in our cold, damp climate, and replace them with heat pumps, a technology largely untried in Britain. All for no apparent reason other than showboating the Government’s low-carbon credentials.
Gas central heating is installed in 22million out of 29million homes in the UK. It’s convenient, clean, quiet, unobtrusive, simple to use, generally safe and relatively affordable. And to those of my generation who once huddled round flickering coal fires, it’s still a wonderful boon.
The main replacements being proffered are ground source heat pumps or air source heat pumps. Both basically work by transferring natural heat from the soil or the outside air, raising its temperature with an electric-powered compressor-condenser system, then distributing the heat into a property.
It’s difficult for the layman to judge the claims and counter-claims about these devices, especially when it comes to cost-benefit, efficiency and ultimate emissions figures. They may be ‘green’ at the point of use, but the electricity that powers them may not be.
And neither system seems as good as gas-fired heating in terms of providing high temperatures quickly and consistently whatever the weather. To get the most out of heat pumps, you’ll need underfloor heating or oversized radiators and a house insulated to the highest standards.
Ground systems seem suitable only for new-build properties – where the cost will be included in the price of the house – or for existing properties whose owners are able to shell out between £8,000 and £30,000.
For a horizontal ground array, a large garden is required so that long trenches about 5ft deep can be dug to bury piping for the circulating water/antifreeze mixture at the heart of the system. For example, a sizeable garden like that enjoyed by Lord Deben (aka John Selwyn Gummer), the £1,000-a-day head of the Climate Change Committee, the quango helping to foist all this on us.
If there’s only a small plot, a vertical heat pump will have to be installed. That means two or three boreholes being drilled at the back of your house, possibly 50ft to 400ft deep.
As for air source pumps, they are feasible for new and existing homes. They involve no digging, but are generally not as powerful as ground pumps and are more vulnerable to weather fluctuations.
So the vital question is: Can such alternative heating technologies match or surpass the performance of existing gas systems in all aspects? If not, why should buyers of new homes put up with second-best?
Another mooted alternative is keeping our current piped gas systems, but replacing natural gas – methane – with hydrogen. However, this has technical and safety drawbacks that are nowhere near being solved.
No matter what system we end up with, you can almost guarantee it’s going to cost us more in one way or another.
Apart from the dubious necessity of all this, it’s a lamentable retreat from progress. Over many decades, the trend for our society from a scientific and technological point of view has generally been upward, making people’s lives easier.
Now, because of a virtue-signalling exercise predicated on the disputed and often dubious claims of the climate-change industry, we’re faced with a huge step into the unknown.
Surely British scientific ingenuity can come up with some way of holding on to our tried, tested and trusted heating infrastructure, instead of potentially disimproving lives?