Alternatives to Gas Boilers: What are Your Options?
Exploring the alternatives to gas boilers could potentially see you reduce your heating bills as well as your carbon footprint. While gas boilers are very much the heating system of choice for UK homes, we explore some of your other options.
Why consider any alternative to a gas boiler?
Finding an alternative to a gas boiler is a necessity for homes that are off-grid. Being off-grid means that the property isn't connected to the gas network and they've historically turned to an oil or LPG boiler. However, these heating systems aren't good for the environment due to the carbon emissions they produce as they work to heat the home.
Properties that are connected to the gas network may also opt for an alternative to a gas boiler for environmental, financial, or lifestyle reasons.
What are the alternatives to gas boilers?
There are no shortage of options when it comes to finding an alternative to the gas boiler. From boilers that run on alternative fuels, such as oil, LPG and electricity to low carbon heating systems, including heat pumps.
Traditional alternatives to gas boilers
For properties that aren't connected to the gas network, the traditional alternatives to using gas for heating have been oil, LPG and electricity.
Oil or LPG Boilers
Oil and LPG are similar to natural gas in the sense that they're both fossil fuels. Where they differ is that oil and LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas) can be stored onsite. And being able to store these relatively inexpensive fuels at the property is why they've proven popular with off-grid homeowners. Read more about the pros and cons of LPG vs oil here.
All boilers need some electricity to operate but electric boilers use electricity as the fuel. By not burning any fuel, electric boilers are much safer than gas and oil boilers and are much less likely to run into a fault. However, they're unable to meet high demands for heating and hot water so are best suited to smaller homes and flats. Read more about the pros and cons of electric boilers vs gas here.
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Low carbon alternatives to gas boilers
Low carbon heating systems don't produce carbon as they work to heat the home. Making them much kinder on the environment than gas boilers. Many of these low carbon systems are renewables which mean they produce heat using sustainable fuel sources including the sun, air and ground.
Biomass boilers bridge the gap between the alternative boiler types and renewable heating systems. They operate in the same way as conventional boilers, by burning fuel, but rather than burning fossil fuels, they burn biomass - biological material that comes from plant-based organisms (wood logs, chips or pellets).
While burning gas or oil releases more carbon into the atmosphere, burning natural materials is a carbon neutral process. This is because the tree only releases carbon it had absorbed during its lifetime. Vast amount of waste wood is sent to landfills every year so instead using that waste for fuel will reduce the amount of waste that we're producing.
There are manually-fed and automatically-fed biomass boilers so if you choose a manual one then you will need to fill it with fuel as and when needed. While an automatic will save you from this job, they can take up even more space.
Unfortunately for biomass boilers, they require a lot of maintenance, more than any other heating system. The ash left behind from burning wood will need to be cleaned out on a regular basis.
Air Source Heat Pumps
The air outside contains heat even when it might not feel like it. An air source heat pump extracts heat from the air outside – some models doing so in temperatures as low as -25C – and use it to deliver heating and hot water.
There are two kinds of air source heat pump: air-to-air and air-to-water. They generate heat in the same way but deliver it differently. Air-to-air heat pumps heat the space via a network of fans and can provide cooling during the summer. Meanwhile, air-to-water heat pumps heat more conventional wet central heating systems (radiators and underfloor heating).
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Heat from the sun is warming up the ground on a daily basis. And from 1-2 metres underground, the temperature sits at a consistent 10-15C. A ground source heat pump is able to extract this heat and use it to deliver central heating and domestic hot water.
A network of pipes are buried underground and a refrigerant liquid is circulated through them which absorbs the heat. The liquid then travels back up to the heat pump where it's heated further and then before circulating around the central heating system. Hot water can also be provided via an immersion heater within a hot water cylinder.
Solar Thermal Panels
During daylight hours, solar thermal panels absorb heat from the sun and use that energy to heat a wet central heating system. Within the panels are tubes of fluid which take in heat from the sun, this energy is then passed through a heat exchanger before warming the central heating system or water in a cylinder.
Infrared Heating Panels
All the heating systems we've discussed in this article are connected to conventional heat distribution systems – wet radiators. Infrared heating panels differ in that rather than heating the space, they directly warm up the people and objects within the room.
Infrared heating panels don't produce any emissions, won't circulate dust around the room (great news for asthma sufferers) and they're incredibly quiet.
Solar Powered Electric Heating
Electric heating systems, including electric boilers, storage heaters, infrared heating panels and immersion heaters can all be powered for free with solar PV panels.
If you're interested in a solar PV system, you can get free quotes by visiting our sister site Solar Guide.
Hybrid Heating System
A hybrid heating system is the combination of a gas boiler and a heat pump. By having a hybrid heating system installed, you'll experience all the benefits of a renewable heating system while also having the familiarity of a boiler.
The system will automatically switch between the two systems, depending on which delivers the most efficient performance at that point in time.
How much do alternatives to gas boilers cost?
A gas boiler can cost between £500 and £2,750 with an additional £500 – £1,000 needed for the installation. Oil and LPG boilers are of a similar price although a storage tank will need to be installed too which will add to the cost.
Typically, renewable heating systems are more expensive than conventional boilers. Biomass boilers in particular can be costly if you're opting for a model which automatically feeds fuel into the boiler.
|Alternatives to Gas Boilers||Potential Cost||Oil boiler||£1,000 – £3,000|
|LPG boiler||£500 – £2,500|
|Electric boiler||£650 – £2,500|
|Biomass boiler||£4,000 – £21,000|
|Air source heat pump||£4,000 – £11,000|
|Ground source heat pump||£8,000 – £12,000|
|Solar thermal system||£3,000 – £5,000|
|Infrared heating panels||£150 – £500 per panel|
|Hybrid heating system||£5,000 – £10,000|
While renewable heating systems are typically the more expensive alternative to gas boilers, they can heat your home for twice as many years. This is because a boiler replacement should be considered after around 10 years while heat pumps and solar thermal panels can run reliably for up to 25 years. That's two gas boiler replacements in the time that a single renewable heating system can be installed.
Looking to make your heating system as green as possible? Take a look at our article on Green Boilers.
Comparing the cost of gas to alternative fuels
As well as comparing the upfront costs of a new heating system, it's important to consider the long term running costs too. The fuels used by these heating systems all have different prices attached to them which are prone to change on a regular basis.
Natural gas – alongside other fossil fuels – is an inexpensive option. One of the reasons why it's used to heat so many homes. Electricity, on the other hand, is relatively expensive.
|Fuel used for Heating||Average Cost (p/kWh)|
|Electricity (Standard Rate)||16.36|
Renewable sources of energy, such as solar, the air and the ground, are free sustainable sources of energy that have no costs attached to them. And while solar thermal panels absorb solar energy without needing to be powered, heat pumps require electricity.
The downside to heating a home with electricity is that it's currently more expensive than gas, oil and LPG. This is because fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity, which is considered carbon intensive.
However, as the use of renewables continues to increase, the price of electricity could begin to fall over the coming years. Similarly, as supplies of fossil fuels begin to run dry, their price is gradually increasing.
Fortunately, in the case of heat pumps, they're so efficient that for each kWh of electricity used they can produce up to 5 times as much heat.
Future alternatives to gas boilers
While gas is an effective fuel for home heating, it releases carbon into the atmosphere when burned. Increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere is a leading cause of climate change. And with so many properties relying on gas boilers, home heating accounts for around a fifth of all UK carbon emissions.
To lower those carbon emissions, renewable heating systems will have a big role to play in the future of home heating. However, replacing all gas boilers with low carbon heating systems would not only be expensive but also impractical for many properties.
Rather than replacing all of the gas boilers, a more practical solution would be to switch the gas to a low carbon alternative. This way, the extensive gas network can still be used while carbon emissions are reduced. A leading contender is hydrogen.
Hydrogen is a low carbon alternative to natural gas that only produces heat and water vapour when burned with no carbon whatsoever. It could be gradually added to the gas network, forming a hydrogen blend with natural gas at first before natural gas is removed altogether. Even a hydrogen blend with only 20% hydrogen would help to drastically lower carbon emissions.
The only trouble with hydrogen is that it's currently expensive to produce and making it can be carbon intensive. So any carbon produced during production would have to be captured through Carbon Capture Storage (CCS).
Find out more about the potential of hydrogen in Hydrogen Boilers: An Alternative to Gas Central Heating.
Get quotes for alternatives to gas boilers
At Boiler Guide, we have a network of installers who specialise in installing the alternatives to gas boilers. So, if you're interested in replacing your gas boiler, then take a few moments to complete our online form and we'll connect you with installers near you.
You'll receive free quotes from up to 3 installers for you to compare and there's no-obligation to accept any of them. By comparing quotes from multiple installers, you can be confident that you're moving ahead with the installation of a new heating system at the most competitive price.
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