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Alternatives to Oil Heating

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Oil has always been the go-to fuel for most off-grid UK properties. However, despite oil heating being one of the most efficient heating solutions, the volatility of oil prices and the government’s plan to phase out oil boilers are driving more people to alternative heating methods. Luckily, there are many clean and efficient heating solutions that you can install in place of your oil boiler.

This guide will explore some renewable and non-renewable heating alternatives that you can install in place of an oil boiler. But before then, let’s have a look at some of the reasons why you should ditch oil heating for better heating alternatives.

Why you should stop using oil heating for better alternatives

There is no doubt that oil is one of the primary heating solutions that have dominated the UK heating industry for a long time. However, it is no secret that oil heating is a greasy and old-fashioned technology with many shortcomings. Here are a few reasons why an oil boiler is not a feasible heating solution for you.

The government’s impending ban on oil boilers

In a bid to meet its 2050 carbon neutrality goals, the UK government announced elaborate plans to ban gas and oil boilers in newly built homes from 2025 onwards. Although this government directive only targets newly built homes, it has serious implications for homeowners already heating their homes using oil boilers. The reason is simple. It would become more difficult to source replacement parts with time, meaning you may be forced to install an alternative heating system a few years down the line.

Need for an on-site oil storage tank

An oil heating system needs to have an underground or external oil tank that will hold the oil reserve for heating during the cold season. The oil tank is not only an additional expense but will also take up precious space in your garden or backyard. These oil boilers are often unsightly and will stick out like a sore thumb in your garden.

Frequent and expensive system maintenance

Oil boilers and oil storage tanks require frequent inspection and maintenance by an OFTEC technician to keep the system running smoothly. This is usually because the oil in a storage tank is prone to contamination by water and bacteria. When the oil is contaminated, it breaks down into sludge that eventually makes its way to the burner, causing the boiler to malfunction.

Continuous maintenance, carried out at least twice a year, is the only way to remove the sludge and prevent it from clogging up important components of the oil boiler unit. It is, however, a costly venture as it involves replacing filter elements, burner nozzles, and pump strainers.

Oil leaks

As oil storage tanks are exposed to the harsh elements all year round, they tend to rust and rot, thereby causing oil leaks. Raptured oil lines and filter gaskets can also result in significant oil leaks inside your home.

Oil leaks result in wastage of fuel which you paid for, and come with steep property repair costs due to sustained damages. Moreover, you are required to cover the cost of cleaning up the oil as it can have serious environmental consequences.

There is also the fact that oil leaks will leave the smell of oil lingering around your property even after an extensive cleanup. The strong smell of oil means your home won’t be the best place to be around after an oil leak incident.

Oil delivery issues

Even if your oil boiler is in peak condition and is operating normally, there will always be the risk of late oil delivery. If your oil supplier delays refilling your oil tank, you may end up without heating oil, something you wouldn’t want happening, especially in the middle of winter.

Signs that your oil boiler needs replacing

If your existing oil boiler is around 8-10 years old, then it might be time to replace it with a cheaper, more efficient, and low carbon emission heating solution. Here are some signs that may indicate it is the right time to carry out the replacement.

  • The boiler is regularly breaking down.
  • The boiler is between 10-15 years old
  • Your heating bills are increasing each month
  • The boiler is noisy when running
  • The boiler is corroded and has a lot of sludge buildup
  • The boiler is not heating your property as good as well as it did in the past

What are the alternatives to oil heating?

There is no shortage of options for alternatives to oil heating. Some of the leading heating solutions that you can adopt in place of your oil boiler include:

  1. Connecting to the gas grid

Natural gas’s efficiency, availability, and affordability make it the go-to heating solution for more than two-thirds of UK households. Natural gas is delivered to the millions of UK homes through a network of pipes called the national gas grid.

Since natural gas heating is cheaper and cleaner than oil heating, you should connect your property to the gas grid. But before attempting to connect to the gas grid, you need to hire a Gas Distribution Network (GDN) company to analyze the feasibility of the project and give you the estimated cost. Generally speaking, the further your property is from the nearest gas supply, the more expensive the cost of connecting to the gas grid.

Here are some scenarios where it would be advisable to connect your property to the gas network.

  • The property was once connected to the gas grid.

If your property had previously been connected to the gas grid, it would be easy and inexpensive to reconnect it to the gas network.

  • Your neighbours are connected to the grid.

You probably live within the gas grid if your neighbours heat their homes using natural gas. Connecting your property to the gas network would be straightforward and would likely cost less than £1,000.

  • Your flat is not high above the ground floor.

Living within the gas grid does not guarantee that it would be feasible to heat your home using natural gas, especially if you live several floors above the ground. This is usually the case since the gas pipework has to be laid through several properties, causing disruptions and damages. Additionally, at higher floors, the supplied gas pressure would be low, and it won’t be able to fuel your boiler.

Advantages of natural gas heating

  • Achieves up to 97% energy efficiencies
  • It is cheaper than oil heating
  • It is storage free as the gas is supplied directly to your boiler
  • Lower carbon emission than oil
  • It is dependable as supply is not disrupted during peak seasons

Disadvantages of natural gas heating

  • High upfront costs
  • High risk of gas leaks which can cause health issues and start fires
  1. LPG heating

If it isn’t viable to heat your home using natural gas, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is the next best alternative. LPG is a mixture of hydrocarbon gases compressed to liquid form and stored in special tanks. LPG boilers are generally used in wet central heating systems where they use LPG fuel to heat the water in your central heating and DHW system.

To switch to LPG heating, you will need to purchase an LPG fired boiler and rent an LPG storage tank from a reputable supplier. Your supplier will be making regular deliveries to your property and refilling your LPG tank when the fuel is about to run out.

Advantages of LPG heating

  • LPG boilers are cheaper than oil boilers
  • It produces 15-20% less carbon emission compared to oil heating
  • You don’t have to purchase the supply tank as you can rent it
  • LPG boilers are usually smaller than oil boilers
  • LPG does not contaminate the environment even when it spills
  • You can use LPG to fuel other household appliances such as ovens and stoves

Disadvantages of LPG heating

  • LPG is slightly more expensive than oil
  • It requires a storage tank which can take up space
  • Requires annual servicing and maintenance 
  1. Join the local district heating network

District heating is a localized, cheap, and lower carbon emission heating system currently serving about 2% of UK households. District heating is whereby hot water from a centralized supply facility is distributed to several buildings through a network of insulated pipes. The hot water is usually heated at a central point using heat energy harnessed from several sources, such as waste heat from a power plant or heat recovered from industrial complexes.

If there is a local district heating network in your area, you should consider connecting to it as it would have several benefits such as:

  • Reduced dependency on fossil fuels
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Improved energy efficiency 
  1. Multi Fuel Stove

A multi-fuel stove is a stand-alone box heater that burns fuel such as coal and wood to heat hot water for central heating and radiate warmth to the room they are installed in. It is usually installed within a fireplace and has one air vent located below the fire and another above the fire. When the stove burns wood fuel, it draws oxygen from the primary air vent above the fire. On the other hand, it draws air from the secondary air vent below the fire when burning coal fuel.

Multi-fuel stoves are more efficient and provide more heat than an open fireplace. This is usually because it burns the waste gases from primary combustion to produce even higher temperatures. They also radiate heat as they are made of steel or cast iron, thereby effectively warming the room they are installed in.

  1. Heat pump

The heat pump is a renewable heating and cooling energy source that is more efficient, cleaner, and safer than fossil fuels and electricity. They usually derive heat from the surrounding environment and transfer it into or outside the house to bring heating or a cooling effect. There are two types of heat pumps; air source heat pumps and ground source or geothermal heat pumps.

Heat pumps don’t “generate” heat. Instead, they draw heat from one location and transfer it to another location through a highly compressed refrigerant fluid. Heat pumps are known for their high efficiencies that range between 300-400%. Such high efficiencies mean that these pumps can generate between 3-4 kilowatts of energy for every one kilowatt of electricity used.

Air source heat pumps

An air source heat pump extracts heat energy from the external air and transfers it into your home to provide central heating. The heat pump works even in cold conditions and can still heat your home even when external temperatures are as low as -25°C.

While in operation, the air source heat pump draws air from outside using a fan. The air then passes through a liquid refrigerant that extracts heat from the air. The liquid refrigerant is then compressed to increase its temperature, and the stored heat is used to warm the water in your central heating or underfloor heating system.

Air source heat pumps can switch between heating and cooling a home by reversing the flow of the refrigerant using a reversing valve.

Components of an air source heat pump

Air source heat pumps have the following main components.

  • The outdoor unit: consists of a coil and a fan located outside your home. The fan blows external air over the coil (which can serve as a condenser or evaporator) to facilitate heat exchange.
  • Indoor unit: this is usually a replica of the external unit, and contains a fan and a coil. The coil transitions between a condenser and evaporate while the fan is responsible for moving air around your home.
  • Liquid refrigerant: this is the substance that transfers heat between the inside and outside of your home.
  • Compressor: the compressor pressurizes the liquid refrigerant and moves it through the system to bring heating or cooling to your home.
  • Reversing valve: it alters the refrigerant fluid flow, allowing the system to switch between heating and cooling.
  • Expansion valve: it regulates the flow of the refrigerant fluid, thereby controlling its pressure and temperature.

Ground source heat pump

Ground source heat pumps harness heat energy from the ground surrounding your home and use it to heat water in your central heating and DHW system. Ground source heat pumps are usually more efficient in heating than air-source pumps since underground temperatures are consistent and range between 10-15°C. They are, however, more expensive and require extensive ground space for installation.

Components of a ground source heat pump

  • Ground loop: It is a coil or loop buried horizontally or vertically in your garden. The coil is filled with a water-antifreeze mixture which extracts heat from the surrounding soil.
  • Heat pump: the heat pump compresses the water-antifreeze mixture to release heat which is then transferred to the heat exchanger.
  • Heat distribution system: circulates hot water to your radiators or your hot water storage cylinder.
  1. Electric heating

Electric heating is a highly efficient but expensive system that uses electricity to provide central heating or hot water for domestic use. It consists of different solutions, including electric combi boilers, infrared radiant heaters, underfloor heating, and storage heaters.

Electric combi boilers

An electric combi boiler is a compact boiler unit that uses electricity to provide instantaneous hot water for central heating and domestic use.

Infrared radiant heaters

Infrared heating is a fairly modern heating solution that uses infrared technology to directly warm objects and people in a room.

Electric underfloor heating

Electric underfloor heating is a system of electric wires or an electrical mat usually installed within your home to provide heating. When the system is switched on, the underfloor heating system heats the floor, warming the room from the ground up.

Storage heaters

Storage heaters use cheaper night-time electricity tariffs in zone 7 districts to generate and store heat which is then used to warm up the property during the following day. They are, however, highly inefficient and prone to heat losses.

  1. Biomass boiler

A biomass boiler is a renewable heating system that burns biomass fuel to generate heat. These boilers use plant-based fuels such as wood chips, logs, and pellets to provide heat used to warm water for central heating and domestic use. Biomass boilers need to have a ready supply of fuel, meaning you will have to purchase it in bulk and store it on your property.

There are typically two types of biomass boilers: manually-fed and automatically-fed units. Manually-fed biomass boilers require manual refuelling when the wood fuel runs out. Automatically-fed biomass boilers, on the other hand, can automatically refuel themselves.

  1. Hybrid heating systems

Hybrid heating systems combine an oil boiler with a renewable heating solution such as an air source heat pump or solar thermal panels. In a hybrid heating system, the renewable energy source will provide a significant portion of the heat in your home. The oil boiler will only fire up when external temperatures are too cold for the heat pump to effectively heat your home or when it is cloudy, and the solar thermal panels cannot generate enough heat.

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