Switching from Oil to Wood Pellets to Heat Your Home

biomass woodpellets

Switching from Oil to Wood Pellets to Heat Your Home is Easy.

If you are ‘off grid’ and currently rely on oil (or liquid propane gas [LPG]) it’s worth considering switching to a wood-pellet boiler to heat your home and hot water – particularly if your boiler is old and due for replacement, the switch could be considered a ‘no brainer’. Although the up-front costs are high, you will (i) save around a third on your fuel bill and (ii) you will receive the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive payment (RHI).

The RHI tariff is now also available for domestic boilers and the annual payment on the size of boiler to heat an average home (around 25kw) should be £2,500 to £3,000. The domestic tariff runs for seven years. So although the cost of buying and installing a domestic boiler for an average-sized home can range between £7,000 and £12,000, the boiler is likely to have ‘paid for itself’ within three to four years.

At the moment biomass options account for just 0.5% of the boiler market, but with the leaps in oil prices seen in recent years, as well as uncertainty about supply in the longer term, a growing number of households are looking into the advantages offered by wood-pellet biomass boilers, particularly now that the installation costs will be off-set, over time, by the RHI payments.

The Government has helped ‘up the market’, not just in terms of the RHI, so that there is no likelihood of being out of pocket, but by linking the RHI to a quality assurance benchmark, the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) which also works in partnership with the Renewable Energy Consumer Code.

In order to receive the RHI payments, both your new biomass boiler and installer will need to be accredited by MCS. This will ensure that the biomass stove or boiler you are buying carries consumer protection and quality assurance (in line with rigorous European and international standards).

A crucial first step when considering switching to wood-pellet biomass, is to get professional advice from a company working with MCS-accredited installers and products. If you do not already have an installer in mind, these websites could be a good starting point as they are jam-packed with relevant information and can help put you in touch with the relevant industry experts: the MCS website; Biomass Energy Centre; Biomass Compare; You Gen.

MCS, together with your proposed MCS-accredited installer, can provide you with accurate information and advice about the wood-pellet boiler technology and how it works, which kind will be most appropriate for your home, plus the costs and savings involved. Your proposed installer will make a site visit to assess what kind of boiler is feasible and suitable for your home.

MCS is linked to a requirement to insulate your home to fairly high standards, so that the heat generated by your wood pellet boiler is used efficiently. This results in yet another advantage in making the switch because of the resulting saving on fuel costs.

Some points to consider when switching from oil to wood pellet biomass boilers:

– Pellet burners will need a full height chimney (which can be lined to make it suitable for wood fuel) or a flue can be installed;
– Boilers that incorporate some wood pellet storage facility (built-in hoppers) means the average pellet boiler will take up more space than the average oil boiler. It may be possible to position a boiler in an outbuilding or garage; your installer will be able to advise you during the site visit).
– Whichever kind of biomass boiler you consider, you will need to think about the space needed for fuel storage (and access for larger deliveries if you the boiler has a hopper).
– Whether you require it as a primary or secondary source of heating.
– If installing one yourself in a self-build, get in touch with your local authority to make sure you’re complying with building regulations.

If it is just a room you want to heat, then a wood-pellet stove will be sufficient. This will be similar to your traditional wood burner, except the wood pellet versions tend to be cleaner, producing much less ash. If your house is relatively small and you want your stove to be your primary source of heating (and provide hot water) then consider installing one with a hot water cylinder that can be attached to your existing radiators. Check with your installer whether additional changes to your plumbing system are necessary, or whether it can be attached to the system as it is (a heat exchanger and buffer system may be needed as many biomass boilers work at a higher temperature than normal boilers). You will need to manually load the feed-in system with the pellets (how often will depend on the particular system you choose). In this respect it is not as automated and ‘hands-free’ as an oil system, but the larger wood-pellets boilers can compete in terms of automation and convenience, as explained below.

The overall cost of a room-based boiler (stove with hot water cylinder) with installation: £8,000 to £10,000.

For larger houses, a utility boiler will be more appropriate (installation £15,000 to £20,000). You will need about 7 cubic metres of space near the boiler to store the fuel. These systems can be fully automated so you are able to set temperature and time controls for your heating and hot water, making them more akin to the convenience of your traditional heating system. Having a large built-in hopper (or it being connected to a nearby pellet store) allows the fuel to be replenished automatically (holding up to a year’s supply, depending on the size of the hopper/store) whereas the manual the stove system will require a certain amount of manual loading.


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