What are the Alternatives to an Oil Heating System?
For many years, oil has been seen as the go-to fuel for off-grid properties. However, there are many alternatives to oil heating that could make your home more efficient and lower your heating bills.
Why consider alternatives to oil heating?
Oil is an effective way of heating your home but it isn't perfect. As a fossil fuel, oil releases carbon into the atmosphere when burned and there's only a limited supply which is causing costs to gradually increase.
By choosing one of the alternatives to oil heating you could free up some space, lower your heating bills and shrink your carbon footprint.
So, how do you know when it's time to consider a new heating system?
A well maintained modern oil boiler has the potential to heat a home for up to 15 years. Having said this, it's worth considering a replacement after around 8 years. This is because as boilers age they can show signs of wearing down which could see you having to call on a heating engineer more often.
If you notice any of the following then you should think about a new heat system:
- Energy bills are on the rise
- Regular breakdowns
- Noisy in operation
- Simply doesn't heat your home as well as in the past
To keep your oil boiler running for as long as possible, you should arrange an annual oil boiler service by an OFTEC engineer.
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What are the alternatives to oil heating?
When it comes to finding an alternative to your oil heating system, you have no shortage of options. From turning to gas or installing a renewable heating system, alternatives to oil heating include:
- Connecting to the gas grid
- LPG boiler
- Air source heat pump
- Ground source heat pump
- Biomass boiler
- Electric heating
By connecting to the gas grid, you'd make it possible to install a gas boiler. This can often be a challenging and potentially expensive option for off-grid homes but would remove the need to store fuel.
Get connected to the gas grid
Gas is typically more affordable than oil and far cheaper than electricity. So, for these reasons alone, it could be worth looking into the possibility of connecting your property to the gas grid.
The gas grid is an extensive pipe network delivering natural gas to properties right across the UK. To connect your property to the gas grid, you will need to hire a Gas Distribution Network (GDN) company. The best place to start is by contacting your gas supplier who will be able to offer the best advice in how to proceed.
Properties that aren't connected to the grid are often in remote areas and the further you are from the nearest gas supply, the more expensive connecting to the gas grid is likely to be.
Install an LPG boiler
While natural gas isn't accessible for properties off the gas network, LPG is a possible alternative to oil as it's stored onsite.
LPG boilers burn the fuel to produce hot water for central heating and domestic water, in the same way as an oil boiler does. There are a few advantages to favouring an LPG boiler though:
- Often cheaper than oil boilers
- More environmentally friendly than oil, producing 15-20% less carbon
- The units tend to be smaller in size
- Can also be used as a fuel for ovens and hobs
- A Gas Safe registered engineer will be needed to install, repair and maintain an LPG boiler and they're much easier to find than OFTEC technicians
One benefit that oil does have over LPG however is the running costs. Oil is available at a slightly lower price of 55p per litre, compared to 65p per litre for LPG.
Find out which came out on top in our comparison: Oil vs LPG.
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Install a heat pump
Up until this point, we've only discussed alternatives to oil central heating that also rely on fossil fuels ( natural gas and LPG). They aren't your only options however.
Renewable heating systems, such as heat pumps, are low-carbon alternatives that provide heating using sustainable fuel sources. This means that unlike oil, the supply will never run out.
The most commonly installed types of heat pump heat the home using either the outside air (air source heat pumps) or underground heat (ground source heat pumps).
All heat pumps need electricity to work, which can be expensive. However, they're capable of generating 3-4 kilowatts of energy for every kilowatt of electricity used. That's an efficiency of around 300% to 400%.
By installing a heat pump, you will not only be making your home more efficient and environmentally friendly but safer too as they don't burn fuel.
Air source heat pump
Air source heat pumps extract heat from the air outside to provide central heating. They're able to do this all year-round, even the coldest of conditions - some models still work in temperatures as low as -25 °C.
To heat the home, an air source heat pump has a fan which brings in the air. This air then passes over an exchanger coil which contains a refrigerant fluid that boils and evaporates, turning into vapour. This vapour is then compressed at a high temperature to produce heat for central heating and domestic hot water.
There are two types of air source heat pump:
- Air-to-air heat pumps: heat the property using a series of fans that can also be used for cooling during the summer months.
- Air-to-water heat pumps: heat water that is then circulated to a wet central heating system, hot water cylinder or underfloor heating.
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Ground source heat pump
Temperatures underground sit at a consistent 10-15 °C all year round and ground source heat pumps are able to extract this renewable energy for central heating and hot water.
Ground source heat pumps are made up of 3 parts:
- Ground loop: buried underground in either a horizontal trench or vertical borehole - the available space in your garden will determine which is most suitable for your home. Circulating around these pipes is a mixture of antifreeze and water which absorbs the heat.
- Heat pump: when the liquid reaches the heat pump, the temperature is increased further as the heat pump compresses the gases before transferring the heat to a heat exchanger.
- Heat distribution system: Once heated, the heated water is circulated to the central heating system or to a hot water cylinder.
- A new gas boiler
- Gas pipe from the gas meter to the boiler
- New radiators
- Replacement pipework throughout the property
- Removal of existing heating system
Ground source heat pumps are one of the more expensive alternatives to an oil central heating system and are only suited to properties with a fairly large amount of outdoor space.
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Install a biomass boiler
Biomass boilers are another renewable heating system but operate more like conventional oil and gas boilers as they burn fuel. Rather than burning fossil fuels, however, they burn biomass fuel.
Biomass fuel is made up of plant-based organisms and typically comes in the form of wood chips, logs and pellets. This means that the fuel must be purchased in bulk and stored at your property.
When it comes to how the fuel is fed into the boiler, this will depend on whether the boiler is manually-fed or automatically-fed. A manual biomass boiler requires you to move the fuel into the boiler from the storage tank yourself. An automatic system, on the other hand, will do this automatically.
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Switch to electric heating
Most heating systems need electricity to operate – even oil boilers. Rather than being used to power the unit, electric heating systems convert the electricity into heat. And you have no shortage of options when it comes to finding the right electric heating system for your home. Some options include:
Electric boilers operate in a similar way to oil boilers but rather than burning a fuel, and producing waste gases, around 100% of the electricity is converted into heat. In addition, there are fewer moving parts which greatly reduces the risk of a breakdown.
Rather than heating the air in a room, infrared panels directly warm the objects and people in the room. This is an incredibly efficient way of heating a room and as each panel is independent of one another, they respond quickly when you turn the heating on.
Cheaper electricity tariffs are available through the night, which is when night storage heaters generate heat. This stored heat is then released during the day to warm up the property. While they take advantage of cheaper tariffs, storage heaters can run out of heat to release into the home by the evening when it's needed the most.
A major downside to electric heating systems is that electricity is an expensive fuel. This is because electricity production is considered carbon intensive. And traditionally this has been true as fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity. However, an increasingly large amount of electricity is being generated from renewable sources – solar and wind – which could, in time, help to lower the cost of electricity.
To ensure the electricity being used to heat your home isn't carbon intensive, you could switch to a renewable energy supplier. Alternatively, you could generate your own renewable electricity by installing solar PV panels.
Interested in solar panels? Visit our sister website Solar Guide to get free quotes from installers near you.
Install a hybrid system
If there's still some life in your current boiler or you don't want to replace your oil boiler completely, a hybrid heating system gives you the best of both worlds.
A hybrid heating system is made up of an oil or gas boiler and a renewable heating system, such as a heat pump. The system will automatically switch from using one heating system to the other based on which will be the most effective and efficient at that moment in time.
Oil boiler with solar thermal panels
Fitting solar thermal panels can take some of the strain of your boiler when it comes to generating domestic hot water. Solar thermal panels absorb heat from the sun and use that heat to warm the water stored in a cylinder.
One of the best reasons to install solar thermal panels is that they have zero running costs. Which means that you could be getting 40-70% of your hot water for free for up to 25 years. Then the rest of the time, your oil boiler will take over.
Oil boiler with a heat pump
As well as solar thermal panels, it's possible to install a heat pump alongside an oil boiler to form a hybrid heating system. Typically, a hybrid heating system includes an air source heat pump as they are simpler to install but a ground source heat pump can work too.
When the air outside is warmer or the desired room temperature is lower, an air source heat pump is an efficient way to heat the home. At this time, you'll be holding onto the oil you have stored and reducing your impact on the environment. Then, during colder periods when demand for heating is likely to be higher, the boiler will automatically heat the home.
How to connect to gas grid
Your property was once connected to the gas network
If you know that your property has been connected to the gas grid at some point in the past then reconnecting can be a straightforward and relatively inexpensive process.
Above ground floor flat
Living in a flat above the ground floor can bring about its own set of challenges when connecting to the gas network. Even if close neighbours have a gas supply. This is because the pipes would have to go through other properties and the higher up they go, the lower the gas pressure will drop.
In this situation, particularly for smaller flats, electric heating is often the simplest option.
Close neighbours have a gas supply
Should your neighbours heat their homes with natural gas then the opportunity could be there to connect your property. If this is the case then the costs are less likely to exceed £1,000.
Rural property far from towns and cities
The costs and connection challenges begin to rise the further your property is from a gas supply. So, if you live in a remote area many miles from the nearest gas supply, connecting to the gas grid would be a very expensive option.
Connecting your property to the gas grid is likely to have some significant costs attached to it. Even if the gas supply connection is a relatively straightforward job, a completely new central heating system will need to be installed.
However, by switching to natural gas heating you could be making considerably long term savings. Gas is an inexpensive way to heat your home which could see you make annual savings in the region of £200 to £800.
How much do the alternatives cost to install?
As there are so many alternatives to oil heating, the potential costs vary greatly.
Conventional oil and gas boilers tend to be the most affordable while renewable heating systems have the higher price tag. Then there's the electric heating systems, the total price of which will vary depending on how many heaters or panels you need.
To put the potential cost of a new central heating system into perspective, the installation of an oil boiler can come to £2,5000 to £4,500. This is a result of the boiler needing to be installed alongside an oil storage tank.
|Alternatives to Oil Heating||Potential Cost (before installation)||Gas boiler||£500 – £2,500|
|LPG boiler||£500 – £2,500|
|Electric boiler||£1,000 – £4,000|
|Air source heat pump||£4,000 – £11,000|
|Ground source heat pump||£8,000 – £12,000|
|Biomass boiler (manual)||£4,000 – £10,000|
|Biomass boiler (automatic)||£9,000 – £21,000|
|Infrared panels||£150 – £500+ (per panel)|
|Storage heaters||£150 – £200+ (per heater)|
Remember that cheaper isn't always the best option. A £500 gas boiler for example is unlikely to heat your home reliably for as long as a more premium model. And while renewable heating systems may appear expensive they don't need to be replaced for twice as long as conventional boilers.
How much do these systems cost to run?
Looking at the potential running costs of a new heating system is an important consideration to make. While one alternative to oil heating may be more expensive to have installed, you could potentially save money in the long term.
|Fuel||Average Cost in England, Scotland and Wales (pence per kilowatt-hour)||Oil||4.81|
|Electricity (standard rate)||16.36|
|Electricity (off-peak economy 7)||9.76|
|Electricity (on-peak economy 7)||20.03|
While the initial costs of renewable heating systems may seem daunting they can actually help to lower your heating bills. Modern oil boilers, on the other hand, achieve efficiencies in the region of 93%. So this means that not all of the fuel they burn is turned into usable energy.
In the case of biomass boilers, you could potentially heat your home for free by sourcing wood logs yourself from a local woodland.
Another benefit of installing a renewable heating system is that you could be entitled to Renewable Heat Incentive payments.
RHI payments are made by the government to homeowners generating their own heat using their own renewable system. Payments are made on a quarterly basis over a 7 year period. The amount you receive will depend on the heating system you have installed, when you had it installed (tariffs are adjusted each quarter) and how much heat is being generated.
|Renewable Heating System||Tariff (pence per kilowatt-hour of renewable heat)|
|Air source heat pump||10.85|
|Ground source heat pump||21.16|
Note: The Renewable Heat Incentive is due to close in March 2021 when it's set to be replaced by the Clean Homes Grant.
Get free quotes for oil boiler alternatives
Time to make a change from your old oil boiler? We can connect you with local heating engineers who are qualified to install all of the various alternatives to oil heating.
Simply take a few moments to complete our online form – letting us know about the work you need completing – and we'll match you with up to 3 suitably qualified installers. Each installer will be in touch to give you a free no-obligation quote for the work.
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