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Alternatives to Gas Boilers: What Are Your Best Options?
Are you thinking about ditching your gas boiler? With 4 million UK households living off our coveted gas-grid, it’s conceivable that you may find yourself living where there’s no mains gas; or, perhaps you’re looking to outpace the impending gas boiler ban and get on board with green technology before the Government makes you.
Whatever the reason, there are many alternatives to gas boilers, and we discuss them all right here in the post; keep reading to find out more!
Table of Contents
What are the alternatives to gas boilers?
If you’re thinking of getting rid of a gas boiler or simply don’t want to buy a new one, there are many other ways to heat your home.
Some of these rely on fossil-fuels:
- Oil-fired boilers.
- LPG-fired boilers.
- Electric heating.
Others are renewable:
- Biomass boilers
- Air-source heat pumps
- Ground source heat pumps
- Water source heat pumps
- Solar panels
While fossil-fuel heaters are getting phased out in the next several decades, bear in mind that there’s currently no law on the books that forbids oil and LPG heating. And although the non-gas variants tend to cost more to operate, there are certain cases where they may be preferable to gas boilers. Let’s take a look.
What are the fossil-fuel alternatives to gas boilers?
1. Oil-fired boilers
How do oil boilers work?
Much the same as gas. These boilers burn oil in a combustion chamber to heat water, which then circulates your home’s network of radiators and hot water taps.
Just like gas-fired boilers, oil boilers come in conventional and combination varieties. These give you the option of heating lots of water at once to supply a large household, or having hot water on demand.
One key distinction is that oil boilers have their fuel source stored on site. There are pros and cons to this.
The notable advantage is that you don’t have to rely on a mains – you get your fuel delivered, and it’s stored until you need to fire up your boiler. So if you live in a remote or rural area with no connection to the gas grid, oil is the logical alternative.
On the other hand, if your property is small enough, fitting in a large tank of oil may be problematic. You may also be averse to storing large quantities of a flammable liquid so close to home.
How much does it cost to buy an oil boiler?
With installation, oil boilers cost in the neighbourhood of £2,500-£5,000. Seeing how a gas combi boiler from Warmzilla starts at £1,499, the oil alternative certainly seems more expensive. That said, if you’re off the gas grid, oil boilers are still reasonably priced compared to some other options we will discuss here.
How much does it cost to run an oil boiler?
Heating with oil costs about 5.2p/kW. With this figure in mind, we can see that an average home in the UK would spend about £780 annually; that’s based on a yearly consumption of 15,000 kW. Now, a 3-bedroom house, which is likelier in a remote, off-the-grid setting, will cost roughly £1,350 to heat with oil every year. That’s drastically more than the £900 it takes a gas boiler to keep a home of the same size warm. On a side-note, modern, condensing oil boilers are super-efficient; most have an efficiency of 92-93%, so only 7-8p. gets lost for every £1 you pay for the fuel.
To summarise: if you’ve no means of connecting to a gas mains, oil boilers are a moderately pricier, but reasonable alternative. If you do have mains gas, then there’s little reason to consider switching to oil heating (unless, of course, you have a grudge against your gas company). Keep in mind, too, that oil combustion emits more greenhouse gases than gas – 9,000 kg per year on average, vs. 6,400 kg per year by a gas boiler.
2. LPG-fired boilers
OK, so oil heating is dirtier AND more expensive. But what about Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG)? Won’t that work for off-grid homes? Let’s have a look.
How do LPG boilers work?
LPG boilers work just like their oil and gas equivalents. In fact, many gas boilers can be easily converted to run on LPG (please don’t try to do this yourself). As with oil, LPG is usually brought to the customer and kept in a storage tank. This portability makes LPG a grand option for those of us living without mains gas.
You may ask the obvious now: how does LPG compare to oil as a boiler-fuel? LPG has several unique advantages.
For one, LPG is cleaner than oil. When burnt, it gives off roughly 15-20% less Carbon Dioxide, and on an annual basis, you’re looking at 1,500 kg less emitted CO2. What’s more, these boilers operate at about 90% efficiency, so for every £1 you spend heating, only 10p gets wasted.
As well, LPG boilers cost way less than those that run on oil or gas. Oh, and as we mentioned, most gas boilers can be converted to accept LPG. So if you’re moving from the city to an off-grid area, you may be able to bring your gas boiler and modify it to run on LPG.
One major downside is the higher cost of fuel; your wallet will definitely feel a conversion from gas, or even oil, to LPG.
How much does it cost to buy an LPG boiler?
You can find one a lower-end unit for a measly £350, while a top-tier Worcester Bosch can still set you back over £2,500. Then there’s everything in between, and these mid-range LPG options are notably more economical than their gas or oil counterparts.
How much does it cost to run an LPG boiler?
As of 2020, the cost of heating with LPG is 6.64p./kW. With an annual power use of 15,000 kW, the bill works out to £996. With our 3-bedroom example home, however, the heating bill skyrockets to £1,725; noticeably more than oil, and substantially more than gas.
To summarise: if you’re living off the country’s gas grid and prioritise a cleaner fuel source over running costs, LPG heating may be right for you. Even financially, though, it’s not all bad news: LPG boilers cost less to buy and install, and your existing gas boiler may be converted to run on LPG if you’re moving someplace remote.
3. Electric heating
You may notice that we’ve kept electric boilers in the fossil-fuel section. It’s no accident – the UK’s power generation is largely done with fossil fuels. As such, we simply can’t call electric heating ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’. That said, electric heating appeals to many, so let’s find out why. But first:
How does electric heating work?
There are 2 ways to heat your home with electricity. You can use an electric boiler to heat water as you would with any other boiler. That said, these boilers have a limited capacity for heating water, so the option will not work with larger homes.
Alternatively, you may use electric storage heating. These systems work at night to exploit the cheaper rates, then store heat and gradually release it during the day.
Are there benefits to electric heat? Yes, there are. Unlike gas, mains electricity is more available throughout the UK, so even a remote rural area is simple enough to heat.
But the 2 major cons seem to outweigh the pros:
- Per kWh, electricity is considerably more expensive than other fuels; and
- The more efficient electric storage heaters leave your house cold in the evening.
How much does it cost to get an electric heater?
Smaller, 9kW combi boilers cost on average £1,500. Meanwhile, high-power, efficient premium models command a price of over £4,000.
If you’re looking for a storage heater, you can find a mid-range, 2kW model for less than £1,000. Just keep in mind that you’ll need several of these to keep all areas of your home warm – as you would with radiators.
How much does it cost to run an electric heater?
If you’re heating with an electric boiler, you’d be paying 14p/kW. So an average household would spend £2,100 on their annual heating needs. The 3-bedroom house would not get enough hot water to maintain comfortable temperatures, so we’ll leave it out of the equation – there are no electric boilers to heat such a large property.
So, our next option is electric storage heaters. With night-time tariffs, these machines could, in theory, give you heat all year for just £800. The problem with storage heaters is they release heat all day and cool off by the evening when you crave warmth the most.
To summarise: electric heat is a viable alternative to remote dwellers willing to splurge on electricity, or a smaller household with minor heating needs.
What is the green alternative to gas boilers?
If you have to replace a boiler anyway, there are plenty of good reasons to swap it for a green alternative. With the 2025 boiler ban and the 2050 net-zero emissions target approaching, you can expect fossil fuels to come under a lot of pressure from the Government soon. Here’s a look at a few viable green options.
Biomass boilers work the same way most boilers do: they heat water, which then circulates the radiator network and serves the taps. Unlike their fossil-fuel cousins, though, they run on a renewable, carbon-neutral fuel: wood. It’s renewable because the species used for biomass fuels can grow back at a pace that keeps up with consumption. And it’s carbon-neutral since burning wood gives off only the carbon the trees absorbed during their lifetime.
Like all other heating systems, biomass boilers have some pros and cons.
The most obvious pro is that the fuel source is cheap and clean. A wood pellet-fired device costs about the same to operate as a gas boiler. Wood chip and log boilers are even cheaper to run. As they combust their fuel, these machines emit on average 550-800 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere – a far cry from their fossil-fuelled variants.
Their 2 biggest, deal-breaking flaws are their size and maintenance demands. These machines can be 3-4 times as large as gas boilers, and you’ll need to find space for their fuel. And with burning wood come ash and soot that you’ll have to clean regularly.
Now let’s look at the costs.
How much does it cost to get a biomass boiler?
Like most things ‘green’, they’re not cheap. OK, in theory, you can find a hand-fed stove for £1,000 or less. Any respectable model, though, will set you back anywhere between £5,000 and £13,000, or even more. The price depends on the level of automation, fuel type, and whether or not you need a new flue with the boiler (a chimney alone won’t qualify).
The good news is that if you get your new biomass boiler up and running by 31 March 2022, you may qualify for the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI). The RHI is a Government scheme meant to put precious heating money back in your wallet if your heater works on renewable fuel. Upon enrollment, the scheme will reimburse you quarterly for 7 years.
How much does it cost to run a biomass boiler?
They cost about the same to run as a gas-fired boiler. So the dwellers of that 3-bedroom house would be looking at £900 or so in annual heating costs. That said, when paired with a good thermal storage tank, or solar water heating, the boiler’s output could be reduced, thus slashing fuel use.
To summarise: biomass boilers are costlier than most fossil-fuel boilers but are on the low-end of the scale in running costs. They give off way less CO2 emissions, and even those are carbon-neutral. On the flip side, these machines (and their fuel) take up lots of space and demand frequent upkeep.
All that being said, if you’re living off the grid in an isolated area, chances are you’ll have plenty of space to accommodate these giants and their fuel.
In light of the coming fossil-fuel phase-out, the Government touts heat pumps as the UK’s path to a net-zero future. Their other options are heat networks, fuel cells, and electric heat – far-fetched, space-age, and pricey means, respectively, if they’re to replace fossil fuel heat in the next few years. Curiously, the clean, green, carbon-neutral biomass boilers don’t seem to fit into the decarbonisation plans. So in the face of this credulity, we must ask: can heat pumps make a viable replacement for gas boilers?
First, let’s try to understand:
What are heat pumps?
It’s rather simple. If you’re in your kitchen now, you’ve probably got a heat pump humming even as you read these words; that’s right – your fridge. Yet another heat pump probably hangs off your building’s wall or sits on the ground below. You got it again – the air conditioner!
These systems have served us for decades. To date, we’ve used them mostly to acquire cold. But what’s cool about these contraptions is that can they readily reverse their cycle and produce heat.
Here’s what a heat pump does. It circulates refrigerant between 2 coils. In one, the liquid evaporates and absorbs the surrounding heat; in the other, it condenses and releases the heat where we tell it to. Simple as that!
There are 3 types of heat pumps:
- ground-source, and
- water source
Let’s examine each and see how they compare.
1. What are air-source heat pumps?
When in cooling mode, a heat pump takes heat from the indoor air and puts moves it outdoors, exactly like an A/c. In the heating mode, just imagine your A/c running in reverse – taking heat from the outdoors, and sending it into a home. Naturally, you’ll ask ‘but if I’m heating, isn’t it cold outside to begin with?’ And you’re right – the winter air temperature may hover around zero in the UK. Yet, a heat pump can still pluck heat from the frigid air, by simply cycling an even colder refrigerant.
An air-source heat pump comprises a fan – similar to an air conditioner – and a heat distribution system. Because air-source heat pumps supply cooler heat than boilers, they work best with either a network of large radiators or radiant flooring. These pumps are most efficient in well-insulated homes that have low rates of heat loss through walls and windows.
2. What are ground-source heat pumps?
Aka geothermal heat pumps, they work the same as their air-source equivalents. But, instead of drawing heat from the outdoor air, they get it from the ground. The method is more efficient, as soil retains rather balmy temperatures of 10-15C even as the air above it chills to below 0 C. This means that the pumps can harvest more heat with less effort.
Unlike the air-source units, these geothermal heat pumps produce high heat, can be used with standard radiators, and supply hot water to your taps.
3. What are water-source heat pumps?
As their name suggests, water-source heat pumps take in heat from the water. Apart from this, they function just like a geothermal unit.
To run this device, you must be close to a natural body of water, such as a river, lake, or well. Due to this constraint, water-source heat pumps are not practical for most homes.
Now that you’re familiar with the 3 variants of heat pumps, let’s see what it costs to get and run one of these things.
How much does it cost to get and run a heat pump?
That depends on the pump’s efficiency, your home’s heating needs, and the insulative properties of your walls and windows, and the source of heat.
Air-source heat pump costs
Air-source heat pumps tend to be the cheapest, as they require the least infrastructure and labour to install. They’re simply an A/c unit that can run in reverse. With installation (remember those bulky radiators needed to keep you warm with low heat?), these systems cost anywhere between £7,000-£12,000.
Typical air-source heat pumps produce about 3 kW of heat for every 1 kW of electricity – this factor is known as the Coefficient of Performance (COP). So with an average home needing 15,000 kW in heat every year, the power consumption would equal 5,000 kW. With electricity costs at 14p./kW, the total for the year is £700; not too bad. In our example 3-bedroom house, however, the heating costs will nearly double to £1,200.
Keep in mind: these numbers are not cut-and-dry. Your home’s insulation efficiency and rate of heat loss will also factor into your annual heating bill.
Ground-source pumps are easily double, or even triple, the cost of their little air-source cousins. Because you have to dig underground to install the piping network, you’d be looking at a supply-and-install total of £15,000-£40,000.
Running a ground-source heat pump can cost a bit less, even though they supply hot water to your taps. That’s because their COP is higher than that of air-source pumps, at 4 on average. With a COP of 4, heating a 3-bedroom house could cost £800-£1,000 per year.
Again, you can probably drive this number down even more with well-insulated walls, triple-pane windows, and a higher COP model.
Water-source heat pumps take less effort to install than their ground-source counterparts. While total costs will range wildly depending on the model and your local water source, these units have an average price tag of £10,000-£15,000.
The running costs should be similar to those of GSHPs, thanks to these units’ stellar COP.
Don’t forget: the RHI scheme we mentioned earlier will reimburse you for the energy your heat pumps generate. So, if you’re considering ditching your gas boiler for one of these renewable heaters, do it before 31 March 2022, which is the RHI enrollment deadline.
Even in our cloudy nation, solar heat and power systems are quickly gaining steam. Per the Solar Trade Association, close to a million UK homes already have solar panels on their roofs. With rising electricity rates and falling panel prices, the trend is likely to persist.
Here’s what’s great about solar systems: with correct pitch and orientation, their photovoltaic (PV) panels can absorb the Sun’s rays in any weather. The power they produce can not only supplement your electricity needs but also heat water; and if you already have a regular gas boiler, you can hook up your solar system to it without too much fuss.
Just bear in mind that while your PV panels will help reduce your overall heating costs, you will pay a large chunk of money to get them installed in the first place. And you’ll need 300 ft2 of these panels to make the expense worthwhile.
As of 2020, the solar thermal panel costs in the UK range between £3,000 and £6,000, depending on the system size, model, and placement. One thing to consider is that solar panels will generate less heat on colder, shorter winter days; so treat them as a secondary heat source for those months.
To wrap up, let’s go over all of our gas boiler alternatives, and see which one may suit your needs best.
- Oil boilers
Are you living in a remote location, off the gas grid?
Then an oil boiler is a logical pick. Oil boilers let you heat at only slightly higher costs than gas while relying on stored fuel.
On the downside, you have to bother with fuel deliveries and keeping a flammable substance on your property. As well, oil gives off a sizeable amount of Carbon Dioxide as is burns; way more than gas or even LPG. So if you’re at all concerned about your carbon footprint, oil boilers may not be the best choice for you.
- LPG boilers
Very similar to oil boilers in terms of portability, they let you live off the grid. On the upside, LPG boilers cost less, and most existing gas boilers can be converted to use LPG. Another benefit is the lower CO2 emissions compared to oil. On the downside, you’re looking at higher fuel costs and having to store flammables near your home.
- Electric heaters
Electric boilers rely on a very expensive source of power to operate, and most units are not designed to heat large homes. The alternate, electric heat storage devices, cost less to run, but supply heat for only a portion of the day, leaving your home cool in the evening just as you’re ready to go to bed. Perhaps their only advantage is their portability. In a small house off the gas mains system, an electric storage unit may serve as a handy, economical heat source.
- Biomass boilers
Comparable to gas boilers in running costs, these heaters are truly green, as their fuel source is renewable and carbon neutral. Sadly, biomass boilers may be out of reach for many, chiefly city dwellers, who just don’t have the room to fit them in their homes. For folks living in off-grid areas with plenty of on-site storage space, biomass boilers may be a worthwhile, albeit costly investment.
- Heat pumps
Heat pumps are a viable, green(ish) alternative to gas boilers. But they have one major flaw – they cost a fortune. While the more economical air-source units come with a lower price tag of £7,000-£12,000, they work best in newer homes that don’t leak heat. Their more robust ground-source equivalents cost more, possibly setting you back as much as £40,000 for a high-capacity, top-efficiency unit. Water-source heat pumps are more affordable but are only practical if you live close to a natural body of water.
All that being said, efficient heat pumps, paired with well-insulated walls and windows, can incur lower running costs than gas boilers, and save you money over time. Just be willing to spend more upfront.
- Solar panels
Solar panels are taking the world by storm. Just this year, California became the first US jurisdiction to mandate solar panels on all new build homes. Granted, those folks get more sun than us, but luckily solar panels work on cloudy days too. With over 800,000 UK household already using solar panels for power and heat generation, you can expect this technology to become even more accessible and cost-efficient in years to come.
If you’re thinking about scrapping your gas boiler for solar panels, though, think again. While they’re a brilliant source of heat during long summer days, they are much less useful during winter. So, instead of relying on them as a primary heat source, you can install solar thermal panels and hook them up to your conventional boiler to supplement your heat and power needs.
One last thing you shouldn’t forget: solar panels need roof space. Make sure you get a professional to assess your property and confirm whether you can install a sufficiently sized solar system that’s worth your money.
Not ready to ditch your gas boiler just yet? Have a look at Warmzilla’s selection of regular, system and combi units here.