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Fabric First or prioritising heat pumps?

The top two biggest uses of energy are for transportation - and for heating, most of which is heat and hot water for our homes. So making improvements in home heating is a crucial issue for every reason, including alleviating fuel poverty, one of CCE’s principal goals.

Overall, Britain’s housing stock is notoriously badly insulated. The benefits of better insulation - lower bills and/or warmer, healthier rooms - are felt immediately. So for many years, campaigners and policy-makers have taken the view that the first priority for home heating is fixing the problem of bad insulation by upgrading the fabric of the home. This principle even has a slogan - “Fabric First” - and has been government policy for a long time.

Wool insulation being rolled out in an attic

However, earlier this year, and somewhat out of the blue, there’s been a change. Another key government policy is to get most of us to replace our gas boilers (by far the most common source of home heating) with electric Heat Pumps. That’s because burning gas inevitably emits CO2, whereas electricity can be decarbonised. Heat pumps are considered vital for reaching net zero emissions.

But even with very large government grants of £7,500 per household for a new heat pump, progress on this policy has been very slow indeed, for reasons that include the fact that very few people installing a heat pump will save any money on running costs. So the government has removed the Fabric First rule which previously required you to fix your poor insulation before you’d qualify for the grant.

A heat pump fixed to an external wall

There are important arguments on both sides:

  • In favour of Fabric First: it’s not much good changing a heating system at great expense and potentially higher running costs, if the home is still leaking heat in ways that could be improved cost-effectively. The best way of saving energy - and money - is by helping people not use so much, provided they are still kept warm.

  • In favour of prioritising heat pumps: they may cost more, but they reduce CO2. People don’t change their home heating systems very often, and if a household is ready and willing to switch to a heat pump, then making them jump the extra hurdle of getting better insulation first, might put them off.

Issues like this illustrate that the path to net zero isn’t without dilemmas to be faced and priorities to be resolved. Which side do you come down on?

Thanks to CCE member, Nick Perry, for writing this blog. If you'd like to submit a blog post, please email us at

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