Heating Fuel Switch can save energy and money
Have my neighbours done this?
What is it?
Switching to an alternative heating fuel
What will it save me?
It may be cheaper and more convenient depending on your current fuel. Comparison of fuel costs (March 2013)
- solid fuel 5.3p/kWh
- wood 6.6p/kWh
- mains gas 7.7p/kWh
- off-peak electricity 7.8p/kWh
- oil 9.0p/kWh; LPG 12.5p/kWh
- on-peak electricity 13.5p/kWh
How do I get it?
Consider this if you use an expensive fuel when you need to replace your existing heating system
What does it cost?
Could be expensive unless you need to replace heating system for other reasons
What are the technical details?
There are a range of options for selecting the best fuel for heating a house and each has benefits and drawbacks. The choice is mainly between fuels that are constantly available like gas and electricity and others that need to be delivered and stored. These are bought in bulk and paid for on delivery. Bulk storage has limitations and risks from fire or theft.
- Mains gas if already available is likely to be the cheapest option and one of the cleanest for providing heating whichever other fuels are available. Even if it isn't immediately available, it may be possible for the local gas main to be extended to the property. An energy supplier will provide the fuel and the infrastructure to make it constantly available and generally charge you just for what you use. You can also switch suppliers to take advantage of better prices at any time.
- Electricity is similar although much more expensive than gas, but easier to run through a house to a range of different appliances. Off-peak or cheap rate tariffs are available for use with storage heaters but these are difficult to control. Alternatively, use a particularly efficient heating appliance such as a heat pump. These can deliver 3 to 4 times more heat energy than the heat pump uses in electrical energy, making the running costs comparable with gas or as a replacement for other fuels.
- Heating oil fluctuates in price more than any other fuel and is subject to more global influences, making it quite expensive to buy and occasionally difficult to obtain. However, modern oil fired heating boilers are as efficient as gas boilers and available for all applications but a little noisier and need a suitable space to locate an external storage tank accessible to a tanker for deliveries.
- LPG (Liquefied petroleum gas) is probably the most expensive fuel for home heating, particularly if it's supplied in bottles rather than in bulk. There are restrictions on where a bulk storage tank can be fitted which needs to be accessible to a tanker for deliveries.
- Solid fuel is available in different types depending on the appliance requirements, ranging from house coal for open fires to anthracite and manufactured smokeless fuel got boilers. Some areas prohibit the use of solid fuel under smoke control regulations. Fuel is generally delivered in 50kg bags and stored in bunkers and need to be carried into the house, boiler hoppers need to be filled and ash cans emptied.
- Biomass which is mainly based on timber products is an effective alternative to solid fuel. Wood logs need as much manual handling as coal, but wood chip and wood pellets can be automated. These can be stored in a large external hopper connected to a boiler by a “screw feed” mechanism. The rate at which fuel is delivered to the boiler can be controlled by a thermostat to maintain steady combustion and delivery of heat. This type of system is often connected to a large heat store to allow the biomass boilers to store hot water when it's not needed in the radiator circuit.
The best time to consider alternative fuels is when the existing heating system needs to be replaced. Rather than stick with the same fuel regardless, look into the longer term costs and availability of the different fuels and choose a system that may cost more now but will save much more and be more reliable in the long term.