Planning permission, building regulations, and finding an installer
You may not need planning permission to install a wood-fuelled boiler, but you should always check - permitted development rights have made installations much simpler. 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.
Installing renewable energy technologies, such as biomass boilers, has been made a lot simpler thanks to permitted development rights. Read about these at the government's site for UK legislation:
- England - General Permitted Development Order (GPDO)
- Scotland - Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Domestic Microgeneration) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2009
- Wales - The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2009)
You must check with your local authority in case other conditions apply, but in general wood-burning boilers and stoves are permitted as long as:
- flues on the rear or side elevation of the building are no more than a metre above the highest part of the roof
- in a conservation area or a World Heritage site, the flue is not be fitted on the principal or side elevation if it would be visible from a highway
- the building is not listed or in a designated area (in which case you may need permission for internal alterations too)
- in Scotland, the flue is not in an Air Quality Management Area.
If the project also requires an outside building to store fuel or related equipment the same rules apply to that building as for other extensions and garden outbuildings.
The government's Planning Portal has useful information:
- get an an overview of planning permission and building regulations for householders
- read the guidelines on planning permission for biomass systems
- find your local planning authority for more specific information.
All new wood heating systems have to comply with Building Regulations. The government's planning portal has a PDF of the Domestic Building Compliance Guide 2010 (see section 5).
However, the simplest way to comply is to use a member of a Competent Person Scheme such as HETAS. You can find a list of all the relevant schemes here. If you use a member of an appropriate scheme your installer will ensure your system is safe and legal, and certify that your system complies, so there will be no need for you to contact the local building control office.
If you live in a smoke control area, you will need to use an exempt appliance. These are available for all types of wood heating system. To find out whether you are in a smoke control area, contact the Environmental Health or Protection department of your Local Authority. Find out your local authority throughout the UK at the DirectGov website.
The Energy Saving Trust recommends that you choose a certified wood fuel system and a certified installer. Both the system and the installer will have to be accredited under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for you to eligible for any support under the Renewable Heat Incentive.
For advice on certified products and installers available in your area:
- call your nearest Energy Saving Trust advice centre on 0800 512 012
- visit the MCS website
- look for an installer or supplier signed up to an industry code of practice
- speak to people in your area who have had a wood fuel installation and ask if they would recommend their installer.
Check that the installers are members of REAL Assurance Scheme. Members of the scheme agree to abide by its Consumer Code. The code covers issues such as pre-sales activity, contracts including deposits and payment schedules, completing the order and after-sales activities. In particular, sales staff must not use any high-pressure selling techniques, including:
- staying in your home for an unreasonably long time
- offering you a high initial price followed by a discount
- offering you a discount for signing on the day
- withholding price information from you until the end of the visit
- claiming that there is limited availability of a product.
For MCS certification, a company must be a member of an Office of Fair Trading backed consumer code. The REAL Assurance scheme currently has stage 1 approval and is the only one of its kind. For more information visit the REAL Assurance Scheme website.
The installer should also be a member of a Competent Person scheme or you will have to get approval from the local Building Control Office for the installed system.
What to look for in an installer
All wood fuel installers should be able to provide a detailed breakdown of the specification and costs of their proposed system. They should also be able to explain how they have calculated the size of the system to be appropriate for your needs, supply good quality user documentation/ operating manual and details of actions you will need to do to maintain your system. Get at least three installers to specify and cost some potential options for you. Use the checklist below to help you choose an installer:
Check any professional credentials being quoted. Ask if they are:
- a certified installer
- a member of a trade organisation - if so, find out the association's membership criteria
- a registered competent person- if not you will need to notify and pay your local council’s building control department to check the installation.
Pick a supplier with experience. Ask how long they have been in business, and how many years they have been installing systems for.
Choose local where possible. Ask for a list of references and local installations and check them. Get lots of information on system options and potential problems. Ask for recent manuals and brochures. Check the time limits of any guarantees and warranties and find out what they cover.
Ask for details of:
- after-installation services offered
- warranties - all installers should provide a minimum one year warranty on the installation
- what the warranties cover and over what time periods.
Do not compare installers on cost alone; the cheapest may not be the most appropriate.
Ask for details of:
- available options, for example, size, fuel type and availability of hot water storage
- appliance capacity and how often it would be expected to need refuelling on a typical winter day and during a very cold spell
- independent testing of appliances to verify any stated efficiencies
- applicable regulations, for example, smoke free zones, health and safety, ventilation guidelines and how they will address them.
Check quotations for detail. Ask about:
- government incentives – will the system be eligible for Renewable Heat Incentive payments?
- payment options
- what is included – prices should cover safe removal and disposal of any existing equipment, for example, your old boiler
- whether they are also able to supply fuel or are able to recommend a supplier.