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Options in UK for moving away from oil

 
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I've recently moved to a property that is currently, heated by oil. Dreadful, expensive oil.

By luck possibly, the boiler is in need of replacement, being very, very old and I'm wondering if I have an opportunity here to future proof myself / give myself the scope to be adaptable. I'd like eventually to move away from oil entirely, but does such an option exist that I could use to work within an oil system now, and that I can either modify or add to later, with most likely a wood stove? Appreciate the mechanics of the systems are likely quite different but I have no choice but to try and make these changes in stages.

I can roughly map out in the house, how a wood stove heating system might work - and there are already two wood burners here, with my view being to add a proper wood cook stove as well. But heating entirely from wood is, in truth a bit idealistic for me given I don't have a permanent supply of wood. That could change later (who knows). But I am buying in wood anyway, have a small amount that does need management and really don't want to be forced into full reliance on oil.

There is no gas where I am so I'm just trying to think how I can replace the boiler that I need to now, but have an eye on future changes and removal of full reliance on buying in oil.

Thanks!
 
pollinator
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Location: Derbyshire, UK
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Wood pellet stove's can usually replace oil stoves fairly easily, keeping very similar plumbing- but you usually need somewhere to store the pellets (and they do have to be purchased, which might not make it more desirable than oil). They can also be expensive.

Or wood stoves with boilers, linked up to a thermal store. The oil boiler can also contribute to the thermal store- the heat of which can be used for radiators and/or hot water. You could also add solar panels to it, or solar-thermal panels. The more wood you use (and the more the sun shines) the less oil you'd need, until hopefully you're using none!

I'd also recommend you insulate as much as is practically possible! The less you have to heat the house, the easier it is to heat!
 
pollinator
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Location: Denmark 57N
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Careful about trying to go to wood the government seem set on banning all wood stoves and forcing people to buy only kiln dried wood to put in them. I would agree oil is horribly expensive, we have a backup oil furnace here but it's so "backup" we don't even keep oil for it!

You could replace it with a pellet boiler or a modern wood boiler using little wood burners means there is no heat overnight and no heat if you are not home, whereas a modern version at least continues to run for 5-6 hours on one filling, both of those options will probably fit straight onto your existing set up BUT they may need a hotwatertank if the one you have is internal in the oil boiler (ours is) Straw furnaces would be an option but not if you have neighbours they are very very smokey. I think you will just have to cost it out, actually heating a house (and hotwater) with wood I find takes about 10-12 cubic meters a year that was a 1870's 3 bed bungalow heating the present house takes about 40kg of pellets per day but it's huge 6 beds and 3 receptions so that is probably a very high number! I did once use coal when I lived in a rental house in  Durham, that was about a ton a month, totally ludicrous.

 
gardener
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They make combination wood/oil furnaces in Canada and the US - my stepdaughter just replaced her old one with a new one. I don't know what is available in the UK.
 
Mj Lacey
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Careful about trying to go to wood the government seem set on banning all wood stoves and forcing people to buy only kiln dried wood to put in them. I would agree oil is horribly expensive, we have a backup oil furnace here but it's so "backup" we don't even keep oil for it!

You could replace it with a pellet boiler or a modern wood boiler using little wood burners means there is no heat overnight and no heat if you are not home, whereas a modern version at least continues to run for 5-6 hours on one filling, both of those options will probably fit straight onto your existing set up BUT they may need a hotwatertank if the one you have is internal in the oil boiler (ours is) Straw furnaces would be an option but not if you have neighbours they are very very smokey. I think you will just have to cost it out, actually heating a house (and hotwater) with wood I find takes about 10-12 cubic meters a year that was a 1870's 3 bed bungalow heating the present house takes about 40kg of pellets per day but it's huge 6 beds and 3 receptions so that is probably a very high number! I did once use coal when I lived in a rental house in  Durham, that was about a ton a month, totally ludicrous.



Thanks. Not sure they would manage an outright ban - so much of the UK is warmed by woodburner, certainly in rural spots like where I am. Also, thats still a few years off.

The oil is here and I have no choice but to use it. There is no gas in my area, so wood, or wood derivatives are the only alternatives really. For me, regardless of future regulation I like that wood means I would have a back up, that I can fuel myself (if things got dire) and would stack to provide cooking space also, as well as directly warming the space without the oil. When a viable alternative is made available to replace the oil, either by way of my finances improving or the nasty stuff being removed I can then replace that too. I would like some redundancy - two is one.
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Careful about trying to go to wood the government seem set on banning all wood stoves and forcing people to buy only kiln dried wood to put in them.



It helps to live as far away from government bureaucracy as you can get. We chose to live in a rural unincorporated area which does not belong to any city so as to be free to do whatever we want.
 
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Location: Southampton, UK, Zone 9
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If I were in your position I would consider these options:

Solar panels which heat hot water - then use this as traditional central heating. The down side is that it's not much use when the sun doesn't shine! You don't say where you are in the country, but the south and east tend to be sunnier.
Electric heating - either from a ground source/air source heat pump to underfloor heating, could be supplemented by solar panels.
You could also look into infra-red panel heating which seems to be promising at the moment. This heats the surfaces of the room so it won't feel 'warm' in the same way as a radiator or wood burner.
A wood-fired mass heater. However this is only really of use if you've got an open-plan house because the infra-red rays won't go round corners.
You might also want to look into how efficient your wood burners are - there can be a massive difference between modern and old ones.

Obv start by insulating as much as you can first though!

Heating using wood in this country is expensive, as is oil. Wood burners seem to be something of a luxury item rather than a practical heating option. I guess with the other options it depends how much you are able to spend upfront and how much work you're willing/able to do to the house (for example underfloor heating requires taking up the floor first).

There may be grants available to you - worth checking on the Energy Saving Trust website.

Great that you're not going for gas; this is not the fuel for the future, and is likely to start being phased out so the country can keep to its carbon emissions targets.
 
pollinator
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Location: Basque Country, Spain-42N lat-Köppen Cfb-Zone8b-1035mm/41" rain: 118mm/5" Dec., 48mm/2" July
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I must confess I'm a bit shocked by this conversation.

In the Basque Country and in Spain, wood heat even in fairly inefficient traditional setups is infinitely cheaper than heating with oil. How much does wood cost in the UK? It's really quite surprising to hear that it could possibly be on a par with heating oil.

Here, people in rural locations routinely replace oil-powered boiler systems with modern, ultra-efficient wood gasification boilers. They work on a similar principle to a rocket heater in that the combustion is very high temperature and so complete that they are almost completely smokeless and produce very little ash. They would hopefully (and deservedly) survive any climate-change-related future bans on less clean-burning fuel sources. And they are extremely efficient, using very little wood.

An internet search for "wood gasification boiler" turned up many options such as this one (chosen completely at random, no endorsement implied).

Of course, there is a LOT of information on this site about our permies favourite heating method, the rocket stove or rocket mass heater, some style of which would doubtless work for your situation at least technically. They are super-efficient and cheap to build, though you need to educate yourself first and should probably also get a few handy friends involved. I can't find the reference now, but I think I read about a European company that was building essentially rocket mass heaters by a different name, but that were eligible for the required permits, unlike homemade ones usually. Since RMH systems produce so little smoke, it is reported that some people have installed them and the local authorities were none the wiser since there was really no noticeable effect on the environment.

Masonry heaters are "traditional," especially in Eastern Europe and Russia, and can probably be fully permitted, but are expensive to build requiring a skilled builder and I don't know how they would work in a boiler system.

Anyway, my main point is that biomass/wood based systems are very renewable and sustainable, and nowadays the best of them are very clean-burning and super-efficient, using much less wood than traditional systems. They usually pay for themselves quite quickly. Unless the price of wood is absolutely outrageous, which I'm curious about...

 
Jenny Barnes
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Location: Southampton, UK, Zone 9
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Greg Mamishian wrote:It helps to live as far away from government bureaucracy as you can get. We chose to live in a rural unincorporated area which does not belong to any city so as to be free to do whatever we want.



Ha, good point but we live in the UK, not much chance of that here!
 
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With pellet boilers our experience is that they can be a pig in a poke. There is no way you can find out how reliable the things are. The sales people will tell you any old guff, tell you they aren’t technical and besides the things are guaranteed.

It turns out you can take all of this with a pinch of salt. Whilst there is an accreditation scheme run by the MCS all this is about is showing that in lab conditions the boiler doesn’t produce too much co2. It says nothing about build quality or reliability. There is no objective verification and it seems that things are certified which aren’t worth anything. Many installing companies have gone bust as the subsidies petered out. Insurance backed guarantees cover you for a princely two years. Not much cop if your boiler gives out after three.

In our small village I know four people with biomass boilers. Three bought ones made by the same company in Sweden that made ours. None of us is happy. In our case we have been in the cold a number of times and last winter spent more on maintenance than fuel.

Pellet systems are temperamental. They don’t like dust, they don’t like humidity. How you are meant to keep things down to 20% humidity in Welsh mountains is beyond me. Virtually all our problems have been down to the fuel delivery system. I know how to strip the thing down, unblock it, get to restart and turn oxygen sensors on and off.. In short it has been a pain.

Solar PV, on the other hand, has been a delight. It works. It heats our water. Excess is delivered back to the national grid. OK we get nothing like what we pay for our electricity but it does at least work. Needless to say there is a massive variation during the year. In December we would be lucky to get 5 hours of sun (we are in a deep valley in mountains) on average 2 - 3kwh a day compared to 15 – 30 in June. (For context UK domestic hot water immersion heaters draw 3kw).

We have woodburning stoves. They heat up fast but lose heat almost as quickly once they are out. We are lucky to have our own wood. With three acres bounded by hedges (all overgrown hedges, and a main road which needs seemingly endless tree cutting to keep boisterous growth in check we don’t have to buy in. Having said that lumping the things around, dealing with brash let alone drying, chopping and splitting is a lot of work. Buying an electric hydraulic log splitter made a huge difference to the process. The beauty of these though is that they don’t need power to work. As long as there’s dry wood and the flue is clear, they work.

We are considering air source heat pumps and a thermal store. Hopefully our pellet boiler can limp on until the RHI payments run out (it's a 7 year scheme, we are now in year 4).
 
Skandi Rogers
pollinator
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Location: Denmark 57N
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Steve Woodward wrote:With pellet boilers our experience is that they can be a pig in a poke.



I now live in Denmark and I can say that the pellet boilers are very very common here, we have one it's about 7 years  old and gives no trouble whatsoever, it's a Woody. (what a name) what type of delivery system does yours have?  ours is a screw feed from an old oil barrel, you can have a hopper with it which it then can weigh and tell you how long you have left to burn (it's fully remote controllable but we don't use that function) but it's still fed by the screw system, it doesn't care about dust and we normally sit around 80% humidity it doesn't seem to care about that either. This house also still has it's old oil boiler but we're not using that (you know exactly why!) Our old house has an old wood fired boiler running the central heating, works fine, nothing much to break (thermostat and automatic air control were already broken!) but if you're not home the house is cold! I much prefer the pellet furnace for ease of use, fill it once a day (less with a larger hopper of course) and empty it once every couple of weeks.

One last comment to steve here, check your manual our pellet boiler can burn normal firewood obviously not automatically! it can also burn grains but grains produce more ash than pellets so it needs emptying more often.
 
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