Biomass Boilers: Pros, Cons and Costs
Biomass boilers use a tried and tested way of producing heat by burning wood. This is a sustainable process that also has less of an impact on the environment so why are the majority of homes still using gas or oil?
To see if a biomass boiler is the best choice for your home, we’ve taken a look at the benefits, considerations and costs.
What are the Benefits of a Biomass Boiler?
As biomass boilers are fuelled by wood they can help to save you money in the long term and bring many more advantages:
Gas, coal and oil can take millions of years to form and we’re burning through the supply faster than it’s being produced so supply is becoming increasingly limited. As long as plants are being planted and growing, there will always be fuel for a biomass boiler.
When a plant dies naturally, any carbon dioxide it has absorbed during its life gets released into the atmosphere and this is no different to wood being burnt in a biomass boiler. Gas and oil boilers, on the other hand, are increasing the levels of carbon in the atmosphere which is having an impact on the environment.
Cheap to run
Compared to other fuels such as oil and electricity, biomass fuel is much cheaper per kW and also costs slightly less than gas. A biomass boiler would be very beneficial to homeowners with a constant supply of wood as having to think about the price of fuel could soon become a thing of the past.
Biomass boilers are efficient heating systems, reaching efficiency levels of around 90%, which is similar to gas and oil boilers.
Thanks to the Renewable Heat Incentive you could receive payments from the government for installing a biomass boiler in your home.
What is the Renewable Heat Incentive?
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was launched by the government in 2014 as part of a wider initiative to reduce the carbon emissions of the UK and meet renewable energy targets.
For your biomass boiler to qualify, the appliance must be MCS accredited and have been installed by an MCS accredited engineer. You’ll be paid 4.21p* by the government for every kilowatt-hour of heating that your home requires (up to maximum of 25,000kWh). You will receive quarterly payments every year for 7 years.
*This figure is estimated based on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which your property should already have.
Things to Consider Before Installing a Biomass Boiler
Biomass boiler take up a fair amount of space, needing more than a standard boiler as the fuel is physical. The boilers that are fitted with automated hoppers, which mean you don’t have to physically fuel the boiler, will need the most space, in the region of 10m².
You’ll not only need room to fit the boiler itself but also somewhere to store the fuel, especially if you stock up to save on delivery costs.
While biomass boilers are cheap to run thanks to the fuel and you could be earning money through the RHI, the appliance itself could cost about 10 times more than a more conventional gas system.
Depending on whether you get a manual or automatic biomass boiler the maintenance required will be significantly different. The manual models will require you to empty the ash on a weekly basis and the fuel needs to be topped up roughly every other day. Automatic boilers are self-cleaning and refuel themselves thanks to being fitted with a hopper.
Not only will you need to commit space to the boiler itself, you’ll also need to have plenty of space to store the fuel. A good place would be a garage or under a protective shelter outdoors which will keep the wood dry.
How Much Does a Biomass System Cost?
Biomass boilers do come with a fairly significant price attached to them which can range from £4,000 to £10,000 for a manual fed log boiler while automatically fed pellet boilers may cost between £9,000 and £21,000. When you compare these prices to the average £2,000 for a gas boiler, it can feel daunting but when you look at the long term costs, the story changes.
For starters, biomass fuel is much cheaper than oil and electricity and won’t even cost you as much as gas:
- Gas: 4.8p / kWh
- Oil: 6p / kWh
- Electricity: 13.4p / kWh
- Wood Chips: 2.9p kWh
- Wood Pellets: 4.2p / kWh
Should you live in an area where you have access to wood logs then you might not have to spend a single penny on fuel for your biomass boiler.
As well as being cheaper than gas and oil, biomass fuels aren’t subject to the import price fluctuations that other fuels are and gas prices are rising by 10% every year.
If you have the space, then you could save even more money by purchasing biomass fuel in large quantities as regular top ups can cause hassle and extra expense. If you don’t have much space to store but like the idea of storing enough fuel for the year, then cut down on the delivery fees by seeing if there’s a supplier in your area.
The estimated price of a biomass boiler is without the cost of installation which will add to this. To help you save money on the installation, we highly recommend getting quotes from at least 3 different installers which will help you find the best deal.
Is a Biomass Boiler Right for Your Home?
Biomass boilers may have a higher price attached to them than the gas or oil boilers we’re much more familiar with but any boiler is a long term investment, so it’s important to check how much you could be spending on fuel over the years. As we’ve seen, wood is not only sustainable and environmentally friendly, it’s the cheapest type of boiler fuel around.
If you have the space available in your home for the boiler itself and a supply of fuel then you could soon see your energy bills reduce. For those of you that live in an area where you have free access to wood then a biomass boiler is definitely worth considering.
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