There is a lack of awareness and reluctance among consumers to switch to renewable heating technologies, according to new research conducted by Ipsos MORI and the Energy Savings Trust.

Published in March 2013, the report was commissioned by the Department of Energy & Climate Change, and examined the UK public's willingness to take up more efficient heating systems including condensing boilers, micro-CHP, heat pumps, biomass, solar thermal and heat networks.

The research found that the most common trigger for homeowners to replace their system was a breakdown, followed by non-emergency situations where the system was still working but coming to the end of its life. Because the vast majority of boiler replacements are distress purchases, very few households would consider changing the type of heating technology they used.

Although off-gas rural areas have been highlighted by the government as prime targets to convert to renewables, the research found that less than 9% of rural homeowners would change systems, even if 100% grants or 20-year tariffs were offered. Commenting on these findings, OFTEC director general Jeremy Hawksley said: “The report shows a strong preference for tried and trusted technology like oil heating, and a scepticism of alternatives.”

Purchase price and running costs were considered the most important criteria for purchasing decisions. Interviews revealed that many homeowners did not believe an upgraded heating system would add value to a property. When asked which heating system homeowners would consider in the future, an oil boiler was most commonly mentioned by off-gas grid householders. Awareness of renewable heating systems was low, and more homeowners felt negatively than positively about air source heat pumps and biomass boilers, which were felt to be visually unattractive and too much hassle. Householders also questioned the credibility of air source heat pumps in cold weather.

The preference for oil is backed up by the latest boiler sales figures, which show a 53% increase for April compared to 2012 – the highest figure for oil boiler sales in April over the last five years. Looking at sales from January to April compared to the same time last year, the industry experienced a 28% increase, underlining consumer confidence in oil.