What are the Alternatives to an Oil Heating System?
For properties that aren’t connected to the gas network, an oil boiler is the most popular solution. However, there are many alternatives to oil heating systems that are more efficient, compact in size and kinder on the environment.
Why is oil a popular choice?
Around 4 million UK homes aren’t connected to the gas network which means that homeowners need to find an alternative way to heat their homes. As oil boilers perform as efficiently as natural gas, as well as being available for a similar price, oil has been the preferred alternative.
Why consider an alternative to oil?
First and foremost, oil is a fossil fuel that releases carbon into the atmosphere, even more so than burning natural gas.
- Reduce the carbon footprint of your property
- Oil supplies are running low which means that its price tag is ever increasing
- From a practical perspective, additional room is needed to store the oil
- Any leaks from the tank or piping is bad for the environment
- More often than not, an alternative fuel to oil will be needed for cooking
- Oil boiler installers don’t need to be OFTEC registered which means that there’s no governing body to protect property owners.
The UK is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to achieve this, an alternative to oil heating systems (as well as natural gas) needs to be found.
Fortunately, there are many alternatives from renewables to electric heating systems that are much more efficient while still being able to meet demand for central heating and domestic hot water.
What are the alternatives to oil heating systems?
One alternative to oil is natural gas, however, the problem there is that not every property is connected to the gas network – a common reason why a property turns to oil in the first place.
Fortunately, there’s an ever increasing number of alternative heating systems to choose from:
- Air source heat pumps
- Ground source heat pumps
- Solar thermal
- Electric heating systems
- Hybrid heating system
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) While natural gas isn’t accessible for properties off the gas network, LPG is a possible alternative to oil as it’s stored on site. 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, as well as the boiler
- A Gas Safe registered engineer will be needed to install, repair and maintain an LPG boiler and they’re much easier to come by than OFTEC technicians
A 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.
Renewable heating systems
Renewable heating systems are an environmentally friendly way of heating a home using renewable energy that can be harnessed from the sun, air or ground. This is in contrast to oil which is a fossil fuel that releases carbon into the atmosphere as it’s burned. Unlike renewable energy sources that will theoretically never run out, oil supplies are running low.
Air source heat pump
Air source heat pumps are able to extract heat from the air outside in even the coldest of conditions – some models still work in temperatures as low as -25 °C.
A fan brings in the air and 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.
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.
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. They also need electricity to work, which can be expensive, however, a well insulated system is highly efficient, generating 3-4 kilowatts of energy for every kilowatt of electricity used, that’s an efficiency of around 300%.
Solar thermal uses solar energy to heat the water stored in a hot water cylinder. This means that your heating system doesn’t have to work as hard to keep the water warm.
Much like a solar PV system that generates electricity using energy from the sun, solar thermal systems capture the energy using panels, typically installed on the roof of a property. The number of panels needed will depend on the hot water demands of the home.
As efficient as solar thermal is, it’s unlikely to be able to meet demand for hot water on its own – especially as they only generate energy during daylight hours. The average solar thermal owner finds that the system is capable of providing 40-70% of the property’s hot water, the rest can be provided by pairing solar thermal heating with a boiler.
Boilers have been a familiar feature of UK homes for a number of years, so when it comes to finding an alternative heating system, biomass boilers have an advantage. Most renewable systems are unfamiliar technologies that the owner will need to adapt to, so a biomass boiler could make the adjustment easier.
Rather than burning fossil fuels like oil or gas, biomass boilers burn wood pellets, logs and chips as well as other biological material from plant-based organisms.
Interested in a renewable heating system?
Hybrid heating systems
Installing a heat pump doesn’t have to mean completely removing your current boiler if it’s still in working order. A hybrid heating system combines a renewable heating system, such as a heat pump, with an oil or gas boiler.
That way, you’ll still have the familiarity of your boiler but also a highly efficient renewable energy system. The system will automatically switch between the 2 depending on which would be the most efficient for the demand. So, for example, if there’s low demand for heating, the heat pump will be called in to action but increased demand would need the boiler.
Electric heating systems
While many of the above heating systems need electricity for power, electric heating systems are able to convert electricity into heat that can be used for central heating and/or hot water. Some electric heating systems include:
- Electric boiler: 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.
- Infrared panels: similar to radiators but rather than heating the air in a room, infrared heat directly warms the objects and people in the room.
- Night storage heaters: 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.
Due to the way the majority of electricity is generated in the UK, by burning fossil fuels, it is considered carbon intensive, which is why it’s fairly expensive – especially in comparison to oil.
While it might be expensive, the advantage electricity has over oil is its efficiency. Modern oil boilers tend to achieve a maximum of 93% efficiency, meaning that for every £1 spent on heating your home, 7p is wasted. Electric boilers, on the other hand, are 99-100% efficient and respond to calls for central heating and hot water much faster.
How much do alternative heating systems cost?
When it comes to having a new oil boiler installed, there are several factors you have to consider that will have an impact on the final price:
- Oil boiler
- Oil storage tank
With all of the above in mind, a typical oil boiler installation could end up costing between £2,500 – £4,500. Compared to some alternative heating systems, this can feel very reasonable as renewable heating system in particular tend to be much more expensive.
|Heating System||Potential Cost (without installation)|
|LPG||£350 – £2,500|
|Air Source Heat Pump||£4,000 – £11,000|
|Ground Source Heat Pump||£8,000 – £12,000|
|Solar Thermal||£3,000 – £7,000|
|Biomass Boiler (Manual)||£4,000 – £10,000|
|Biomass Boiler (Automatic)||£9,000 – £21,000|
|Electric Boiler||£1,000 – £4,000|
While the initial investment might be relatively high, you could potentially see a return on your investment through lower energy bills and government payments through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
Renewable heating systems: savings & payments
By installing a renewable alternative to an oil central heating system, such as a heat pump, you could be making some significant savings on your annual energy bills.
|New A-rated Oil Boiler||Old G-rated Oil Boiler|
|Air Source Heat Pump||Increase of £45 – £55||£460 – £545|
|Ground Source Heat Pump||£570 to £665||£900 to £1,110|
In addition to potential savings, renewable heating systems are also eligible to receive payments through the RHI – which you wouldn’t receive for having an oil boiler.
- Detached 3 bed house in England
- Loft with an unknown amount of insulation
- Cavity walls with insulation
|Type of Oil Boiler||Quarterly Payment||Annual RHI Payment||Total RHI Over 7 Years|
|Air Source Heat Pump|
|Replacing a modern oil boiler||£205||£820||£5,740|
|Replacing an older oil boiler (5+ years old)||£215||£860||£6,020|
|Ground Source Heat Pump|
|Replacing a modern oil boiler||£425||£1,700||£11,900|
|Replacing an older oil boiler (5+ years old)||£450||£1,800||£12,600|
|Replacing a modern oil boiler||£220||£880||£6,160|
|Replacing an older oil boiler (5+ years old)||£230||£920||£6,440|
A lot more needs to be considered to determine potential RHI payments when it comes to solar thermal panels, this is the criteria we’ve used:
- 3 bed house
- South facing panels
- Installed on the roof at a 30 degree angle
- 20% shading during the day
|Type of Oil Boiler||Quarterly Payment||Annual RHI Payment||Total RHI Over 7 Years|
|Replacing a modern oil boiler||£58||£230||£1,610|
|Replacing an older oil boiler (5+ years old)||£58||£230||£1,610|
Based on a home located in England or Wales, built between 1976 – 1982, unknown amount of loft insulation and cavity walls with insulation. The calculations are intended as a representation only.
When does an oil boiler need replacing?
A well maintained modern oil boiler has the potential to last up to 15 years. Although, as they age, boilers can show signs of wearing down which could see you having to call on a heating engineer more often.
8 years after the installation is a key time to begin thinking about a replacement oil boiler. 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 it used to
To keep your oil boiler running for as long as possible, you should arrange an annual oil boiler service by an OFTEC engineer.
Looking for a new heating system?
Whether it’s time to replace your oil boiler or you simply want an expert opinion on the most suitable alternative to an oil heating system, we can connect you with heating engineers based in your local area.
Our online form only takes a few minutes to complete and will give us all the information we need to match you with local heating engineers. You’ll be hearing from up to 3 engineers who will each give you a free quote for the work along with their expert opinion. Having multiple quotes means that you’ll be able to compare them to ensure you’re getting the most competitive price from the best suited engineer.