The cost of heating a rural property can be prohibitively expensive. Traditional construction materials, combined with properties located in often exposed locations, mean utility bills for farm-based properties can far exceed those for similarly sized urban counterparts.

With no sign that the cost-of-living crisis is going to recede anytime soon, and with strict emissions targets in place, we look at what support is available with countryside properties in mind.

The Scottish Farmer: Solar panels have gone from modest installations to now including large-scale arrays.Solar panels have gone from modest installations to now including large-scale arrays.

For many, the first consideration will be reviewing insulation levels in the property. Grant funding and support are available to achieve this through the Scottish Government’s Warmer Homes Scotland programme.

The programme is aimed at both property owners and private sector tenants. Tenants in long-term lets on farms where tenants have lived in their homes for more than six months are also eligible, although other criteria have to be met.

In the majority of cases, the Scottish Government will meet all the costs, although where a tenant or property owner is required to make a contribution, an interest free loan is available to cover this.

The Scottish Farmer: Ground source heat pump arrays being installed on farmland.Ground source heat pump arrays being installed on farmland.

Improvements under this scheme can include wall and loft insulation, draught-proofing, central heating, and renewables.

Built heritage watchdog Historic Environment Scotland (HES) says traditional buildings can be insulated in a variety of ways, with a range of materials available for use on older properties whether they are listed or unlisted, although the type of insulation used must suit the original fabric of the building.

The organisation adds that beginning the process with small changes to behaviour and the property can have the most impact. For example, installing draught proofing in the first instance before adding wall insulation.

The Scottish Farmer: Wind turbines are being used to supplement energy consumption on farm.Wind turbines are being used to supplement energy consumption on farm.

When it comes to roof insulation, HES recommends at least 270 mm of material to be fully effective.

Floors may not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at insulation, but cold floors absorb heat and introduce cold air from below the floorboards.

With many rural properties using oil or LPG heating systems, Home Energy Scotland points to a range of renewable heating options, with heat pumps attracting a lot of media attention with regulations on heating systems in new-build properties coming into force.

The organisation says unless the customer can buy oil or LPG at the very cheapest time of the year to cover the entire annual use, heat pumps should save money on running costs assuming a well-designed system is installed.

A heat pump captures heat from outside and moves it into the property. Although it uses electricity to do this the quantity of heat delivered into the home is much greater than the quantity of electricity used to power the system.

Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs) tap into the earth's vast reserves of energy, drawing warmth from the ground's relatively consistent temperature – even in the extreme temperature variations in Scotland.

Emma Bohan of IMS Heat Pumps said heat pumps stand out, offering a sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective alternative to traditional heating systems.

The Scottish Farmer: Rural properties located in exposed areas are particularly vulnerable to heat loss.Rural properties located in exposed areas are particularly vulnerable to heat loss.

She said: “By replacing conventional heating systems with GSHPs, farmers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and energy bills. Studies indicate that GSHPs can slash heating and cooling costs by up to an impressive 70%. This translates into substantial savings for farmers, empowering them to reinvest in other areas of their operations and further enhance their sustainability efforts.

“Recognising the potential of GSHPs, organisations like Business Energy Scotland (BES) extend a helping hand to farming SMEs.

“Their SME Loan Scheme provides funding options specifically designed for renewable energy projects, including GSHP installations. This financial assistance alleviates the upfront investment burden, making GSHPs an even more attractive proposition for Scottish farmers.”

Emma, who is also vice-chair of the GSHP added: "Ground source heat pumps are a fantastic solution for Scottish farmers - providing heat for the home and buildings, from the ground that they have made a living from through the generations.”

Another option that benefits rural properties is biomass. This is a renewable energy source, generated from burning wood, plants, and other organic matter, such as manure or household waste.

Biomass heating systems burn wood pellets, chips, or logs to provide warmth in a single room or to power central heating and hot water boilers.

Dean Wigglesworth of Home Energy Scotland says insulation is key for rural properties. He said: “Insulating as much as possible will reduce heat demands and therefore allow for a wider range of heating options.

“In terms of insulation, this very much depends on each house. Relatively simple interventions such as loft and cavity wall insulation are hugely beneficial.

“Many rural homes are of traditional construction so either internal or external wall insulation techniques can be used. In addition, there are a large number of 1.5 story, rooms in roof properties, and insulating here will have a significant impact.”

In terms of heating systems, Mr Wigglesworth said: “Air source heat pumps work perfectly well in traditional buildings that have been retro insulated. Where pipe runs to radiators are more complex, High Heat Retention Storage Heaters can be an effective way of managing heat.”

“The main advantage of heat pump technology is the extremely efficient nature of the systems as many heat pumps operate in excess of one unit of electricity to 3.5 units of heat.

“Coupled with good levels of insulation this results in a very low running cost. As this is a low carbon heating solution this assists with net zero ambitions.

“Solar is an excellent technology, requiring very little maintenance, is easy to install, and provides free electricity to homeowners. This technology combined with heat pumps and battery storage can be extremely effective.”

Not all heating systems are hi-tech solutions, however. Mr Wigglesworth said wood burning stoves remain widely used in rural areas.

He said: “They are effective at providing supplementary heat to the home. Burning kiln dried material is most effective as there is a higher calorific output and therefore is the most efficient, but burning higher moisture content material is not efficient.

“As there is physical effort involved in storing and moving material this also needs to be considered.”