What are the Best Heating Options for Homes Without Gas?
A gas boiler is often the most cost-effective way of heating a home. However, around 4 million homes across the UK aren’t connected to the gas network, so what are the alternatives?
Until now, a common solution for off-grid homes has been to turn to oil or LPG. However, a renewable heating system, such as heat pumps or solar thermal, would be a much more efficient alternative to oil heating.
What are the heating options for homes without gas?
While gas boilers are by far the most common home heating system across the UK, they’re not the only option. So, for anyone off the gas network, there are several alternatives to choose from:
- Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG)
- Electric boiler
- Air source heat pump
- Ground source heat pump
- Solar thermal
It’s also possible to combine a traditional heating system, such as an oil boiler, with a renewable heating system, known as a hybrid heating system.
Oil boilers work in a similar way to gas boilers, with the same boiler types available (combi, regular and system), the only differences being that they burn oil rather than natural gas and a storage tank for the oil is needed.
As well as being an accessible way for anyone living off the gas network to heat their property, there are a few more advantages to oil:
- Freedom to choose who the oil is supplied by and you can choose to switch supplier at any time
- Can be a more efficient alternative to gas
While there are advantages to installing an oil boiler in to a house with no gas supply, there are some disadvantages that might make you want to consider an alternative heating system:
- Cost of oil is rising in the UK
- Property needs enough space for an oil tank to store the oil
- Oil is a fossil fuel and burning it releases carbon into the atmosphere which is a cause of climate change
- Oil supplies are likely to run out within the next 40 years
Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is a type of gas but unlike natural gas isn’t directly fed to the boiler, instead stored in a tank like oil. If you’re considering LPG, it does have a couple of advantages over oil:
- Produces less carbon than oil when burnt
- Can be used for an oven or hob, as well as the boiler
While LPG is a significantly cleaner fuel to oil, it still produces carbon so isn’t exactly environmentally-friendly. If you’re conscious of the impact your home is having on the environment, greener renewable heating systems are also available.
Renewable alternatives to oil and LPG
Oil and LPG are popular options for off-grid homes but they’re not environmentally-friendly and can both be impractical to store.
The alternative heating methods for homes, outside of oil heating and LPG include other types of boiler – electric and biomass – as well as renewable heating systems such as solar thermal and air source or ground source heat pumps.
Electric boilers are 99-100% efficient as they don’t waste any of the electricity used to heat the water for central heating and hot water. This is unlike gas and oil which often have an efficiency of around 92%, meaning that for every £1 spent on heating your home, 8p is wasted.
Electric boilers work much like a kettle and store the hot water either in a hot water cylinder within the unit or an externally installed tank.
Rather than using fossil fuels such as gas or oil, biomass boilers burn pellets, chips or logs of wood. While this might seem like a rather dated way of heating a home, modern technology has brought the idea into the 21st century.
The downside of biomass boilers is that burning wood emits carbon into the atmosphere but only as much as the tree absorbed during its life. So, unlike oil and gas, it is a carbon neutral process.
Air source heat pumps
Replacing an old G-rated oil boiler with an air source heat pump could potentially save you £460 – £545 a year on energy bills, which is a huge saving.
Air source heat pumps work by extracting heat from the air outside – even during the winter in temperatures as low as -15°C – for central heating.
A fan is fitted outside that rotates to bring in the outdoor air, which then passes over an exchanger coil that has a refrigerant within it, this fluid eventually boiler and turns into vapour which, when compressed at a high temperature, produces heat.
While heat pumps can still work in bitterly cold conditions, they’re most efficient during the summer. No matter the time of year, air source heat pumps don’t heat water to the same level as a boiler and for that reason are most compatible with underfloor heating or larger radiators.
Ground source heat pumps
Underground temperatures sit at 10-15°C all year round and ground source heat pumps are able to take this heat and use it for central heating.
A ground loop pipe is buried around 15-150 metres underground circulating a water and antifreeze mixture that absorbs heat. After being heated by the ground, the liquid travels to a heat exchanger where its temperature is increased further before it is then circulated around the home to the central heating system.
Solar PV panels generate renewable electricity for a home but solar thermal panels are a way of heating the water in a hot water cylinder for central heating and domestic hot water.
Installed on the roof, solar thermal panels include tubes with fluid that absorbs heat from solar energy. After taking in the sun’s heat, the hot fluid circulates down to the hot water cylinder where the heat is transferred to a heat exchanger to warm up the water.
If your home has a hot water cylinder, a solar thermal system could benefit your home in a number of ways:
- Low running costs
- Reduced heating bills
- Potentially earn money through the Renewable Heat Incentive
- Little to no maintenance
Solar thermal systems aren’t suitable for all homes though as a hot water cylinder is needed, so if you have a combi boiler, solar thermal won’t be possible.
Heating system costs
The upfront costs of renewable heating systems, such as heat pumps, are considerably higher than boilers but the lower energy bills, little maintenance and longer lifetime could see you make a return on that initial investment.
|Heating system||Potential cost|
|Oil boiler||£1,300 – £4,500|
|LPG boiler||£350 – £2,500|
|Biomass boiler (manually fed)||£4,000 – £10,000|
|Biomass boiler (automatically fed)||£9,000 – £21,000|
|Electric boiler||£1,750 – £4,050|
|Air source heat pump||£4,000 – £11,000|
|Ground source heat pump||£8,000 – £12,000|
|Solar thermal||£3,000 – £5,000|
The potential costs in the table above, don’t include the cost of installation which will also need to be considered. In order to get the best possible price for the installation of a new heating system, we highly recommend comparing multiple quotes. Using Boiler Guide, you can get free quotes from up to 3 heating installers based in your local area for you to compare.
While there’s a clear difference in the upfront costs between boilers and renewable heating systems, it’s really important to also consider the everyday running costs.
Depending on where you live in the UK, the cost of oil and LPG will vary. On average, however, oil is priced at around 55p per litre, while LPG sits at 65p per litre. As fossil fuels, that are likely to run out in the next 40 years, the prices of oil and LPG are ever rising. Remember that you’ll space for a tank to store the fuel and arrange to have it delivered too.
While electricity (needed to power a renewable heating system) isn’t exactly cheap itself, as more energy suppliers turn to renewable generation, the price could begin to come down.
|Existing heating system||Potential annual energy bill savings with a ground source heat pump||Potential annual energy bill savinds with an air source heat pump|
|Oil boiler (G-rated)||£900 – £1,100||£460 – £545|
|Oil boiler (A-rated)||£570 – £665||Increase of £45 – £55|
Remember that through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) you could be eligible to receive payments for heating your home using a renewable technology. Something you can’t receive if you have an oil, LPG or gas boiler. So even if the table above shows an increase in your energy bills, the RHI payments should soon cover that difference.
Hybrid heating systems
As we mentioned earlier, a more conventional heating system such as an oil boiler, can be paired with a heat pump to make a hybrid heating system. A hybrid system offers the familiarity of a traditional boiler while also giving the benefits of a renewable heating system.
While a heat pump can be the sole provider of a property’s central heating, they’re most efficient during the summer months. So with a hybrid heating system, the boiler can still be used during the winter and the system will automatically switch between the 2 depending on which would run the most efficiently at that point in time.
Currently, a hybrid heating system is only compatible with heat pumps as the renewable technology. However, a solar thermal can still be fitted alongside a boiler to help reduce energy bills, as well as the impact your home has on the environment.
Oil, LPG or renewables?
If you have the budget to cover the initial costs and installation, a renewable heating system is the best choice for a number of reasons:
- Potential to reduce energy bills
- Will help to make your home more environmentally friendly by reducing your carbon footprint
- Longer lifetime so it won’t need to be replaced as soon as an oil or LPG boiler
- No need to store the fuel in a tank (fuel for a biomass boiler will also need to be stored)
- Eligible to receive payments through the Renewable Heat Incentive
- Normally need very little maintenance during their lifetime
- Supplies of oil and gas are likely to run out in the next 40 years
So while oil boilers have been common place in properties off the gas network for some time, a renewable heating system, such as a heat pump, is well worth considering.