Biomass Boilers: A Guide

Biomass Boiler

Heat your home the renewable low carbon way using a boiler that runs on biomass.

By Sarah Warwick

What Is Biomass?

Biomass is living or recently living material. When it comes to using biomass to provide heat and hot water for the home, the fuel source is frequently wood as logs, chips or pellets, but materials like straw and cotton waste can also be made into pellets.

Biomass has taken carbon from the atmosphere when it grew, and releases it when it’s burned. If the crop or trees used for biomass are replanted, the system stays in balance. Using locally sourced biomass is also important to keep this a low carbon way to heat your home overall.

What Is A Biomass Boiler?

A biomass boiler can provide central heating and hot water for your home, in place of a gas or other boiler. Keep in mind that you will need to store the biomass and have sufficient access for deliveries of it – a major change for those who are used to mains gas. The efficiency of these types of boiler is comparable to fossil fuel boilers.

Fit A Biomass Boiler

Fitting a biomass boiler is relatively easy, but you will need sufficient space for it. ‘You could fit one of our smallest pellet boilers in a small plant room or boiler room or even in a utility room,’ says Simon Holden, Chairman of Euroheat. ‘But you still need to find room to store pallets of pellets somewhere else.’ A larger log boiler would need a space of around 3 x 4m, so may well need to be fitted in an outside shed.

Get professional advice when you’re choosing a biomass boiler. ‘You do need a qualified installer to ensure that your boiler is sized appropriately for your property,’ says Simon Holden. You can install one yourself when you are self building, but contact building control at your local authority to ensure the work complies with building regulations. Planning permission might also be needed for the flue.

The Energy Saving Trust recommends that a biomass boiler is installed by an MCS (The Microgeneration Certification Scheme) or REAL Assurance certified installer.

Get The Right Pellets

Bear in mind that pellet boilers are designed for specific pellet types, so make sure you match up your boiler and your biomass. Wood chip boilers are more appropriate for buildings larger than a normal home, for example blocks of flats. If you live in a smoke control area – something you can find out from your local authority – you will need to buy an exempt appliance to burn wood. There’s a list available from DEFRA.

What Will It Cost?

As well as being bigger, biomass boilers are more expensive than those that use fossil fuels. An automatically fed pellet boiler for an average home costs around £11,500 including installation and fuel store, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

When it comes to running costs, guidance figures from the UK Forestry Commission-managed Biomass Energy Centre compare biomass favourably with other fuels, with wood chips costing 2.9p per kWh; wood pellets 4p per kWh; natural gas 4.8p per kWh; and heating oil 5.8p per kWh.

Keep in mind, though, that these figures aren’t the final cost of the heat in your home, which depends on boiler efficiency among other factors. Costs will also vary regionally, with quantity of fuel ordered, delivery distance and so on. Without a supply of your own you could pay more for wood fuel than mains gas, but should save against solid fuel or electric heating costs.

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