Deciding how to best to heat your home is a subject that could get anyone hot under the collar. There’s a bunch of systems available to you and no one right answer for which is cheapest or most efficient. The type of heating which gives you the best energy deals will all depend on your property and your resources. No need to sweat, however, in this guide we’re going to try to run you through the basics of the main heating systems, and hopefully give you the information required to to make the right long term decision for keeping your home warm and toasty!
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Most UK homes have a connection to the mains gas supply. In most cases, you will already have a gas central heating system installed, and although all are similar systems, you can make significant changes to your energy costs by improving some small factors to yours. Installing a more efficient, modern boiler, or improving the insulation in your home is an easy way to lower your costs.
Gas boilers operate at a high level of efficiency, up to 90%, so you can get a good return on the energy you use.
Replacing your boiler is also fairly easy, although it can be quite expensive, costing in the region of £500-£2000. So while Gas is a cheap energy source, switching to gas isn’t inexpensive. This is doubly true if you aren’t already on the national gas grid. It’s a costly and long process to have your home added and the further the pipeline needs to be run, the more it will cost! So if you’re not connected to the grid, read on to see what systems could offer the best energy deals for you.
Gas as a fuel is not considered sustainable, and Gas reserves globally are falling. This means your prices are subject to the supply of natural gas, which is fluctuating and will reduce over time.
Over a million homes in the UK, particularly in Northern Ireland, are not connected to the national gas grid. Commonly these homes are heated by a similar system, which uses Oil as a fuel rather than Gas. An oil system heats the water in your wet heating system by burning oil which is stored in a container on the property.
These have to be refilled so there’s a bit more admin than in a Gas system. You’ll need to arrange a delivery by road, and a date and time that suits both you and your supplier to deliver. One major benefit of this is that, if you have the appropriate storage, you can buy up Oil when prices are low and use it later in the year when prices are higher, usually Winter time.
You will also have to consider maintenance costs of cleaning the Oil tank around once per year.
Any heating system which utilises the burning of plant based fuels is known as a Biomass Heating System. This fuel is generally logs, but wood pellets or chips are other media that could be used. Biomass Heating Systems encompass small hand fed log burners that heat one room all the way up to automated wood pellet boilers which can provide heating for multiple buildings.
Because they emit large amounts of smoke from burning it can be difficult to get building consent in smoke sensitive areas like Towns and Cities.
Biomass heating can offer savings as you will be able to claim on the renewable heat incentive, RHI. This allows you to receive a subsidy from the Government for every unit of renewable energy you produce, and can be claimed quarterly. Make sure to factor this into any energy comparison you’re making as it can have a big impact on the total cost of your energy budget.
In principle Biomass heating releases the same Carbon Dioxide emissions as are absorbed by the trees you burn whilst they’re growing, so it’s largely considered renewable and green fuel source. However the sustainability of this is refuted in some places, as it’s not clear whether the calculations effectively consider the growing times of any new trees planted as replacements. Extra reading is recommended on this if your carbon footprint is a big factor in your decision-making process.
Some heating systems can be reliant on energy provided naturally, rather than a fuel that you purchase. These offer the possibility of energy independence from fluctuating fuel prices.
Solar heating and Heat Pumps are the most common forms of renewable heating. Check out our guides on the types of Heat Pumps for a more in-depth look into their benefits.
Both these alternatives can be costly to install but they then become very cheap to run. This is because their systems don’t require combustion, meaning maintenance costs are low once up and running.
Dependent on where you are in the country, Gas is usually the easiest option. The national grid is extensive and the amount of Gas Safe registered suppliers is generally pretty high in any area.
Looking at things more long term, Renewables or Biomass could offer great deals as RHI payments can last decades. This means you can be safe in the knowledge you’ll be receiving money back on your heating at least long enough to pay off the installation costs.
If you’re outside the Gas Grid it’s important to explore other options such as Oil and Renewables.
Electrical Heating Systems, not explored in this article, are also an option for those off grid. The reason we’ve not delved into them here is that they are generally very costly and rarely offer a good deal. They are normally installed in properties like blocks of flats where a small system is needed, and most newly built off grid properties are now encouraged to utilise renewable energy sources.
Gas is almost always the cheapest, but your costs are also dependent on size of property and your insulation. Ground Source Heat Pumps can be slightly cheaper in terms of cost of energy but more costly to install, sometimes upwards of £10,000.
Off the Gas Grid, it’s a good idea to compare energy suppliers and systems, and marry that research up with a quote to be connected to the grid.
Long term it could be cheaper to invest in a renewable source that won’t be subject to price growth. The energy sources most likely to be affected by this are Oil, Gas and Electric.