The Traditional Off-Gas Options
For the 15% of people in the UK that are not connected to the gas grid, heating the home can be expensive and options limited. Usually these are older properties with poor efficiency and many use expensive forms of heating, like bulk LPG or heating oil, which can make the cost of heating the home twice that of someone with a mains gas supply. With a growing range of options now available for off-grid homes, you really should take a look at your options if you currently spend too much on your fuel bills. In the following blog I want to show you the options available to you.
New LPG or Heating Oil Boilers
Switching from an old, inefficient LPG or oil boiler to a modern condensing one will offer you similar savings to a standard on-grid boiler, so it is certainly worth considering if your boiler is getting old. The higher cost of LPG and oil over gas means that even with a new boiler however, there are likely to be cheaper options for your home; we recommend you look at other heating options before opting for a straight switch.
Wood Burning Stoves and Coal Fires
It is perhaps surprising to some how many people still heat their home with wood or smokeless coal. In fact, using a wood burning stove can be a cheap and effective means of heating a home, but it does come with impracticalities. The home tends to be unevenly heated, and in the case of larger properties, some rooms may need additional electric or Calor gas heating, and the hot water will require another heating system – such as an immersion tank. We thoroughly recommend looking at biomass boilers, which can utilise the same fuel to evenly heat your home via a central heating system and heat your water.
There are several methods of heating your home with electricity, but do bear in mind that electricity is currently about 3-4 times the price of heating your home with gas. In the sections below we briefly discuss the different solutions, although for more information on any of them please click on the titles and you will be taken to the individual technology pages.
If you can’t use gas and can’t install a heat pump or biomass boiler for whatever reason, then infrared heating panels are the cheapest way of heating your home. Unlike conventional heating that takes advantage of convection heating to warm the air in the home, infrared radiation travels unimpeded from the infrared heating panel until it hits a solid object where it gets absorbed – warming that solid object up. Infrared radiation is the reason you feel warm when the sun is shinning even in the middle of the winter. For this reason, infrared heating is a much more effective way of warming a space rather than using conventional convection heating (if you have no access to mains gas).
Electric boilers work by heating the water in a tank with an element. They can have similar efficiencies to gas boilers, but because the cost of electricity is around three times the price of gas, they tend to be much more expensive than equivalent gas boilers. However if you can install these along with solar PV (where you will produce free electricity from the sun), they are a solution worth considering.
You can look at our more detailed page on storage heaters here. Modern storage heaters tend to be a more cost effective means of heating than an electric boiler, because of the cheaper night rate electricity that these heaters utilise. Plus they are much cheaper to install and maintain compared to gas central heating. On the downside, they do not allow the same level of control over your heating when compared to a central heating system and they will still suffer with spiralling energy prices.
With the renewable heat incentive for off grid heat pumps and biomass boilers, and energy prices sky high, it is a great time to think about renewable energy for your property. You can read up on the RHI here.
Heat pumps are a very reliable means of self generation. Utilising heat differentials which exist all year round, they offer an excellent option for off-grid homes. Although the initial cost of installation is high, when combined with the heat incentive payments and spiralling energy costs, they begin to look a lot more attractive. You will need to make a considerable upfront payment however, so they aren’t for everyone.
Biomass boilers, although initially a little pricey, really do pay back and then some, with the RHI. Based on the ‘heat demand’ on your Energy Performance Certificate, some homes could see very favourable returns over the seven year payment period. I carried out a Green Deal assessment a couple of weeks ago and the home will make £7,000 per year for 7 years based on installing a biomass boiler – the biomass boiler needed though would cost £20,000 to install, however the returns could well justify the initial expenditure.
Although Solar thermal does not have to be installed off grid to qualify for the RHI, it is an option to help complement your existing heating – it can be used to heat your hot water, reducing the strain on your wallet when the energy bill turns up at the door. As with any renewable, you are likely going to have to pay money up front and see returns over the seven years of the RHI.
Solar PV produces electricity directly from sunlight – therefore by itself it isn’t going to be able to heat your home, however used in conjunction with either infrared heating panels, electric boilers, storage heaters or air source heat pumps, the free electricity you produce will obviously mean that heating your home with electricity suddenly becomes affordable. You will also benefit from the Feed-in tariff, which will pay you for every kWh of electricity you produce (currently £0.1292 / kWh).
What’s right for my home?
So there are plenty of options available to you even if you are not connected to the gas grid. We thoroughly recommend getting a personalised Green Deal assessment, so that you can find out exactly what is right for you. Plus an assessment is a prerequisite for various forms of funding, including the RHI – so book yours here now.
Installing heat pumps
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