Three-quarters of Brits in dark about boiler pollution

Families with children are among the keenest to move to clean heating

By George Smeeton

Information on this page correct as of:

A poll, commissioned from YouGov by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), has found that only one in four people (26%) know that natural gas boilers are a source of nitrous oxide (NOx) air pollution, which can contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

In some places, such as London and other major cities, gas combustion can be responsible for a fifth of all NOx emissions. Once aware that boilers are a significant source of NOx pollution, the poll revealed 55% of all adults and 60% of households with children are more likely to want to switch to cleaner heating alternatives.

The poll also showed that 39% of people said they don’t know how much carbon a gas boiler emits per year, and the majority of the rest (31%) underestimate the amount of CO2 by 50% or more.

Furthermore, 89% of people don’t know that a gas boiler emits more carbon than a new car, with 45% wrongly thinking that boilers are about the same or less polluting than a new car (and 44% saying they didn’t know). Only 11% correctly identified gas boilers as the bigger emitter – boilers actually emit almost double the amount of carbon dioxide as a new car every year, on average.

Just over two-thirds of adults (69%) are interested in moving away from natural gas heating if made easy to do so. This figure rises to three quarters of families with children (75%), indicating that a system of support for households to make a switch could catalyse widespread upgrades to heating systems.

The findings come ahead of the publication of the Government’s delayed Heat and Buildings Strategy, which is expected to set out plans to decarbonise homes and buildings in the UK, including measures to increase the uptake of low-carbon heating. Recent reports suggest that the Government is considering ways of protecting families from higher costs associated with the transition, and a number of other financial measures may also be proposed, while firms such as Octopus Energy are already working to halve the costs of heat pumps, a low carbon alternative, in 18 months.

Commenting, Jess Ralston, Analyst at ECIU, said:

“Emissions from gas boilers are currently a blind spot for Brits. Some may be alarmed when they learn the dirty secrets of these outdated systems – particularly how their emissions pollute the air that we breathe while contributing to climate change.

“Continuing to use fossil fuels to heat UK homes leaves us vulnerable to price shocks resulting from volatile oil and gas markets, while holding Brits back from the job opportunities associated with switching to clean heat.

“With this poll showing people’s obvious desire to move away from fossil fuels once aware of their impacts, the wider public deserve to know all the facts about how they heat their homes. The next time families come to replace their boiler, this could enable them to make the choice that they evidently want to make – and bring our heating systems out of the dark ages and into the modern day.”

The importance of education on climate change and measures needed to secure public buy-in to changes to people's way of life was highlighted by the recent UK Climate Assembly and the Commons BEIS Select Committee.