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Biomass

Wood-fuelled heating systems, also called biomass systems, burn wood pellets, chips or logs to provide warmth in a single room or to power central heating and hot water boilers.

A stove burns logs or pellets to heat a single room - and may be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating as well. A boiler burns logs, pellets or chips, and is connected to a central heating and hot water system. A wood-fuelled biomass boiler could save you up to £990 a year compared to electric heating.

The benefits of biomass heating

1. Affordable heating fuel

Although the price of wood fuel varies considerably, it is often cheaper than other heating options.

2. Financial support

Wood fuel boiler systems could benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

3. A low-carbon option

The carbon dioxide emitted when wood is burned is the same amount that was absorbed over the months and years that the plant was growing. The process is sustainable as long as new plants continue to grow in place of those used for fuel. There are some carbon emissions caused by the cultivation, manufacture and transportation of the fuel, but as long as the fuel is sourced locally, these are much lower than the emissions from fossil fuels.

If you live in Scotland, view case studies and examples where homeowners have installed a wood-fuelled heating system.

Costs, savings and financial support

How much you can save

Costs

For boilers, an automatically fed pellet boiler for an average home costs between £9,000 and £21,000, including installation, flue, fuel store and VAT at 5 per cent. Manually fed log boiler systems can be slightly cheaper.

Pellet costs depend mainly on the size and method of delivery. If you have room for a large fuel store that will accept several tonnes of pellets at a time, delivered in bulk by tanker, you can keep the cost down to around £220 per tonne in most parts of the UK.

Logs can be cheaper than pellets, but costs depend on the wood suppliers in your local area, as they cost a lot to transport.If you have room to store more than a year’s worth of logs you can save money by buying unseasoned logs and letting them season for a year.

Savings

Savings in carbon dioxide emissions are very significant - up to 15.7 tonnes a year - when a wood-fuelled boiler replaces a solid (coal) fired system. Financial savings are more variable - if you replace an older gas heating system with a wood-burning system you might save up to £225 a year, but if you are replacing an old electric heating system you could save as much as £990 per year. This table shows how much you could save by installing pellet central heating in a typical four-bedroom detached house with basic insulation.

England, Scotland and Wales 

Existing system

Fuel bill savings (£/year)

 Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payment (£/year)

1st July 2016 to 31st December 2016

Carbon dioxide savings (kgCO2/year)

Gas older (non-condensing)

 

Gas new (condensing)

 

£205 to £225

 

£-60 to £-175
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

£860 to £1,330

4,500 to 6,900 kg

 

3,400 to 5,200 kg

Electric (old electric storage heaters)

Electric (new storage heaters)

£550 to £990

 

£360 to £560

9,100 to 15,300 kg

 

7,900 to 12,600 kg

Oil older (non-condensing)

 

Oil new (condensing)

£-105 to £-215
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

£-245 to £-420
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

5,500 to 8,300 kg

 

4,600 to 7,000 kg

LPG older (non-condensing)

 

LPG new (condensing)

£725 to £1,065

 

£310 to £440

5,300 to 8,000 kg

 

3,900 to 6,000 kg

Coal

£355 to £555 10,000 to 15,700 kg

Figures are based on fuel prices as of March 2016.

Northern Ireland

Existing system

Fuel bill savings (£/year)

Carbon dioxide savings (kg/CO2/year)

Gas older (non-condensing)

Gas new (condensing)

£180 to £230

£-80 to £-160
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

4,500 to 6,900 kg

3,400 to 5,200 kg

Electric (old electric storage heaters)

Electric (new storage heathers)

£735 to £1,315

£520 to £835

9,100 to 15,300 kg

7,900 to 12,600 kg

Oil older (non-condensing)

Oil new (condensing)

£-65 to £-150
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

£-200 to £-350
(note this is a loss rather than a saving)

5,500 to 8,300 kg

4,600 to 7,000 kg

LPG older (non-condensing)

LPG new (condensing)

£1,085 to £1,610

£600 to £885

5,300 to 8,000 kg

3,900 to 6,000 kg

Coal

£470 to £735

10,000 to 15,700 kg

Figures are based on fuel prices as of March 2016.

Find out more about how we made these calculations. Note: The Renewable Heat Incentive is no longer available in Northern Ireland.

Financial support for biomass

You may be able to receive payments for the heat you produce from a wood boiler or a pellet stove with back boiler through the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive.

Domestic RHI is no longer available in Northern Ireland - details of the previous scheme can be viewed at NI Direct.

  • All biomass fuel used by RHI participants must be sourced from a supplier on the Biomass Suppliers List at the time the fuel was purchased. This is a list of suppliers of sustainable biomass fuel. 
  • It is advisable to check whether your fuel supplier is registered on the Biomass Suppliers list before entering into any long term supply contract. 
  • Not all fuels supplied by suppliers on the BSL are sustainable as a supplier may supply more than one type of fuel. You should  check with your supplier, or prospective supplier, which of their fuels are registered

Find out more about support available.

Maintenance

Biomass boilers and stoves should be kept clean and swept regularly to remove ash. Ash quantities are generally very low (less than one per cent of fuel volume), but you will still need to empty the ash bin of a wood burning stove or boiler. This is likely to be weekly and never more than once a day. A log fire requires ash removal before every use.

Some appliances, particularly boilers, have self-cleaning systems which will collect ash from the combustion grate and the heat exchanger tubes. If there is no automatic ash cleaning mechanism in place the boiler will need to be shut down periodically so that this can be done by hand. If the ash is not cleaned out regularly, it will build up and adversely affect combustion conditions, which can lead to boiler failure and shut down. Some boilers have a mechanism for compressing the ash which reduces the number of times the ash bin needs to be emptied.

With automatic ash removal and cleaning of the heat exchanger the only other maintenance requirement will be occasional ash removal and an annual maintenance check. If you have a wood burning stove or boiler the chimney and flue pipe must be swept regularly to remove all soot deposits and prevent blockage. HETAS recommend that this “should be done at least twice a year, preferably before the heating season to check that the flue has not been blocked by bird's nests for example and also at the end of the heating season to prevent soot deposits from resting in the chimney during the dormant period”.

Further information on chimney safety can also be found in the National Association of Chimney Sweep’s leaflet Heat your Home Safely. Burning wet wood increases the amount of soot in a chimney and with it the chance of a chimney fire. Logs should always be seasoned (air-dried) for at least a year before being burned.

Choosing a wood-fuelled heating system

Boiler or stove? 

Boilers can be used in place of a standard gas or oil boiler to heat radiators for a whole house, and to heat the hot water. Stoves are used to heat a single room, usually in conjunction with other heating systems, but may also have a back boiler to provide hot water. Stoves are not eligible under the domestic RHI unless it is a pellet stove with a back boiler.

Chips, pellets or logs?

Chips are used to heat larger buildings or groups of houses.

Pellets are much easier to use and much more controllable than logs. Pellet boilers can run automatically in much the same way that gas or oil boilers operate. Most pellet and chip burners use automatic fuel feeders which refill them at regular intervals.

Log-burning stoves and boilers have to be filled with wood by hand and require considerably more work. You will need a lot of logs to heat a whole house, but they can be cheaper than pellets if you have a good local supply.

Do you have a local fuel supplier? 

Some companies now offer deliveries of pellets anywhere in mainland Britain and Northern Ireland while the supply of logs is more variable.

Do you have space?

Wood boilers are larger than gas or oil equivalents and you will need space to store the fuel. This area will need to be somewhere that's handy for deliveries as well as appropriate for feeding the boiler.

Do you have somewhere to put the flue?

You will need a flue which meets the regulations for wood-burning appliances. This could be a new insulated stainless steel flue pipe or an existing chimney, though chimneys normally need lining to make them safe and legal.

Do you need permission?

You may not need planning permission, but you should always check. All new wood heating systems have to comply with building regulations, and the best way to ensure this is to use an installer who is a member of a competent person scheme. For more information on planning permission for biomass download our guide.