Burning fossil fuels has been the staple for heating homes across the world for millennia. However, increased pressure on homeowners to reduce carbon emissions has seen a shift to renewable sources of energy and an investment in improving energy efficiency. One option for many homes is to install a Biomass heating system. There are several industrial-sized biomass heating systems, alongside biomass electricity generators in many UK cities, but companies are improving and refining the systems for use in the average UK home.
Biomass boilers are very similar to conventional gas boilers that you will be familiar with, providing you with space heating and hot water for the entire home, but instead of using gas (or oil) to produce the heat, they combust sustainably sourced wood. There are three Main Types of Wood Fuel:
Every four weeks or so, the biomass boiler will need to be emptied of the ash. This can be put straight onto a compost heap to help fertilize the soil. Biomass boilers are designed to work all year round; however, you may choose to turn them off in the summer and use an alternative heating source, such as solar.
MCS-approved pellet fired, or gasification biomass boilers are comparable with the most efficient conventional gas boilers and, through the Renewable Heat Incentive, they produce a very healthy return (provided the heat demand on your EPC is sufficient). Therefore, provided you have space to house the fuel and the boiler itself and you are happy that you are going to have to ‘feed and clean’ the boiler on a regular basis, then a biomass boiler is certainly worth considering.
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Obviously, they are very expensive to buy upfront, so this too is something you must bear in mind. If you have access to cheap finance, then installing a biomass boiler could be a no-brainer!
Biomass boilers start at about £7,000 for a 12kW domestic version, which is sufficient to provide heat and hot water for a 4-bed house. A comparably sized gas boiler will only cost around £2500 to install. A bigger biomass boiler with an auto-feed hopper may cost closer to £12,000.
In terms of the cost of fuel, the average price of wood pellets is around 4.2p/kWh which is very much in line with mains gas, while oil costs a little more at 6p/kWh. However, the price of wood pellets is likely to become more attractive going forward since gas prices have continued to rise in recent years, and this trend looks to continue. Biomass boilers are completely independent of the fluctuating import prices of foreign fuels such as gas and oil.
However, if you are lucky enough to have a free supply of wood, then you can heat your home at zero cost. Maybe it’s time to consider planning your own patch of woodland or buying one which has permission for sustainable felling and clearing. The other option for those in urban areas is wooden pallets; these are often available for free from building yards and depots. However, care needs to be taken with these as some have been treated with chemicals and painted which will then release noxious fumes when burned.