What is district heating?

Discover how district heating works and find out everything you need to know before moving into a home on a heat network.

Discover how district heating works and find out everything you need to know before moving into a home on a heat network.

Sofia Hutson
From the Energy team
4
minute read
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Posted 1 JULY 2021

What is district heating?

District heating is a way of providing heat for multiple buildings on a large scale, heating homes and businesses from a central point rather than through individual boilers.

These ‘heat networks’ are a good way of reducing emissions by using low-carbon fuels. In fact, the Climate Change Committee estimates that about 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 for the UK to cost-effectively meet its emissions targets. But district heating has its downsides too – one of the main ones being that you can’t switch energy suppliers to get a better deal.

How does district heating work?

Heat in the form of hot water or steam is generated in one location before it’s distributed to groups of buildings. The centralised boilers can use renewable materials or more traditional fossil fuels before pumping heat where it’s needed through insulated pipes. The process is less carbon-intensive than using individual boilers.

Some systems recycle waste heat from other sources, which can make district heating a highly efficient and low-carbon heating option.

What should I do If I’m moving into a district-heating supplied home?

Before you move into a district heating home, you should ask some questions about your energy supply:

  • Does my rent cover the cost of heating? District heating is often covered by rent payments, but it’s always best to check.
  • Will I have to pay any maintenance fees? Some housing associations might charge separately to maintain the district heating system.
  • Can I have the details of the district heating supplier? These will be useful if you need to raise a problem or make a complaint. It’s also worth trying to find out who is best to speak to at the company.
  • Can I have a copy of the energy performance certificate? This will tell you how much your heating should cost.
  • Is the district heating supplier part of the Heat Trust? The Heat Trust and similar schemes are designed to hold providers to account and protect consumers.

What are the benefits of district heating?

District heating allows individual homes to be heated by greener fuels that may not be suitable in smaller properties. The systems are more environmentally friendly than individual boilers too. If energy is produced in a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, electricity is also generated.

If you’re on a heat network you won’t be responsible for maintaining your own boiler.

What are the disadvantages of district heating?

Once properties are fitted with the systems, you’re tied into an energy supplier, which may prevent you from getting the best deal. And if you’re not happy with the service you’re getting, it can be difficult or impossible to disconnect from the network.

District heating customers have fewer consumer protections than other energy consumers. Heat networks aren’t regulated by OFGEM or the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, so customers have to rely on providers to join a voluntary scheme to protect their consumer rights.

Can I complain to a district heating supplier?

That depends. If you’re renting a property and the bills aren’t in your name, you should raise your complaint with your landlord or housing association first. Otherwise, you can speak to your supplier directly to make a complaint through their usual channels.

If your complaint hasn’t been resolved after eight weeks you have two options:

  • If your supplier is part of a consumer scheme, take a look at their complaints procedure.
  • If your supplier isn’t part of a consumer scheme, you may be able to take your complaint to the Housing Ombudsman.

Frequently asked question

Can I change my heating supplier if I’m already using district heating?

Some landlords won’t allow residents to disconnect from the district heating system. Others charge a penalty for doing so. So, if your home is on a heat network, chances are you’ll have to make do with your supplier. If you’re having any problems with your service you should raise a complaint with your landlord/housing association/local council or energy supplier, depending on your situation.

To escalate complaints further, you can contact the Heat Trust or a similar consumer scheme. If that option isn’t available, you may be able to escalate your complaint with the Housing Ombudsman.

What is the Heat Trust?

The Heat Trust is an independent, non-profit organisation designed to protect heat-network customers’ needs. They provide a dispute-resolution service and work with suppliers to improve customer service in an otherwise unregulated market.

What’s the difference between district heating and communal heating?

The principle is similar, but communal heating provides heat to a much smaller number of buildings.

How can I find out who my district heating supplier is?

If you’re unsure about who your district heating supplier is, you should contact your landlord, housing association or local council for help.

Can I switch my tariff?

You can, but before you change tariff it’s worth considering how much heating you need throughout the year. If you use more energy than you’re given on your allowance, you may be charged a penalty.

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