When you’re looking to change your home heating supply, you’ll come across the term Biomass fairly regularly. But what is Biomass, and how can you use it to keep your house toasty and your showers warm? If you can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to Biomass heating, read on to get the low down…
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Biomass heating systems are based on the burning of organic matter to create energy. In it’s industrialised form this can be a wide range of fuels such as animal or plant waste, high energy crops like Maize or Rape and various types of wood.
In a domestic setting Biomass heating is almost always fed by types of wood. In the few million years humans have been burning wood for heat, we’ve advanced our efficiency a little bit. Open fires are fairly rare these days and largely inefficient, but Biomass heating systems all work on the same basic principle.
Wood burning stoves are mainly used for heating one room or space, and are commonly log fed, meaning the owner puts logs into the stove as it’s burning. On a slightly larger scale, some stoves have a back boiler system which also heats water in a boiler, to be used for the hot water and radiator systems in the house.
Newer innovation has seen the rise of automated pellet boilers, which burn sustainably sourced wood pellets. These are more efficient, and burn very readily. The automated system feeds the pellets over time, to keep the fire burning and consistently heat your home. These will generally also heat the wet heating system.
With many types of Biomass heating system, it can be hard to get your head around what set up will offer you the best energy deals. It’s all dependent on your homes requirements.
Stoves are great for heating one room, so can be useful in smaller properties or homes with one main living area.
You may encounter some difficulties in installation if you don’t have the capability to build a flue, as is the case in some flats. Your new stove could also be subject to an air quality standards check if you live in a smoke control area, for example a large town or city.
If you’re thinking of attaching a back boiler too you’ll need to check with your plumber that it’s compatible with with your current wet heating system, particularly if you have a combi boiler.
Biomass boilers are a great alternative if you want to install a new whole house heating system that runs on Biomass.
A Biomass Boiler works in a similar way to most boiler systems, like Gas or Oil. The burning of the fuel heats water which is then fed into a wet heating system to be circuited around your home, heating radiators or underfloor heating, as well as hot taps. Because the fuel, in this case wood pellets, is significantly larger than pressurised gas the boiler itself is usually much bigger, so the extra space required needs to be taken into account when you compare energy sources.
A boiler will need to be emptied less often than a stove, but you’ll still need to clean out the ash approximately once a month.
The key benefits of a Biomass Boiler are:
Payments on the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme are paid to you quarterly, providing you install a renewable heating source and continue to use fuel sourced from a Biomass Suppliers List accredited company. The funding varies depending how efficiently insulated your home is, and what energy source you’re transferring from. When you’re doing your energy comparison homework, be sure to read through Ofgem’s guidelines on RHI, as this could really affect your calculations on the cheapest option!
Automated Pellet Boilers usually come in between £10,000 and £15,000, If you include the fuel storage area. Costs for the pellets themselves vary depending on supplier and bulk, but you can expect to pay around £300 per tonne.
The savings can be significant when transferring from inefficient older systems like LPG or Electrical heating, but the Energy Saving Trust recommends that newer Gas and Oil systems may work out cheaper per year.
If you’re looking to switch energy in order to reduce your carbon footprint however, Biomass is a great transition fuel that can cut your emissions by 2-4 Tonnes per year on a Gas system, and up to 10 Tonnes per year when compared to a coal fired system.