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Wood burning stoves and solid fuel heating

Solid fuel heating in the form of coal, wood and other biomass warms huge numbers of UK homes. Try our money-saving tips for solid fuel customers.

Updated 12 March 2021  | 3 min read

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Coal boilers and wood burning stoves are common throughout the UK. Modern biomass boilers (which burn logs, pellets or wood chips) can be one of the more forward-thinking heating solutions on offer.

Solid fuel heating is particularly important in rural areas where the mains gas supply isn't connected. In these areas, the availability of wood and other biomass material can make solid fuels the most sustainable and cost-efficient way of heating a property and its water.

Key points

  • Solid fuel is typically more expensive and inefficient than mains gas, but worth considering if you’re off the gas network
  • You can cut the cost of solid fuel heating by shopping around, haggling, collective buying and sourcing your own fuel
  • If you use a biomass boiler you may be eligible to claim Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) support
  • The government is phasing out the most polluting fuels

Wood burning stoves

Wood burning stoves are usually used to provide heat directly to the room where the heater is installed. They typically have a glass-fronted door and burn logs. They may have a flue or a chimney which is taken through the property so it emits heat into other areas.

They can be used to heat radiators or hot water if they’re plumbed into your heating system.

Initial costs of fitting wood burning stoves vary depending on whether you’ve got an existing chimney, how it’s lined and whether you plan to heat just one room or use it to heat other things like water.

Advantages

  • Look good and create a great ambience
  • Can provide heating during power cuts
  • Low running costs if you have a free or cheap source of wood
  • Lower carbon emissions than oil and coal
  • Fuel is widely available, renewable and sustainable
  • Fuel prices are relatively stable

Disadvantages

  • Can be expensive to run, particularly if buying kiln dried logs
  • Requires a constant supply of logs and storage space
  • Potentially inconvenient as you have to fetch fuel, light and clean the fire
  • Increased amount of dust in the house - high particle emissions 
  • Waste ash must be disposed of properly and safely
  • Stoves that only burn wood don't tend to stay alight long - this can be remedied by having the correct damper settings or using a multi-fuel stove

Biomass boilers

Most biomass boilers either burn wood pellets or chips. In some boilers loading and lighting can be automated and heat can be automatically controlled. For heating your whole house, these are the easiest to use and the most popular wood-fuelled boilers.

Biomass boilers are larger than gas combi boilers and you’ll have to make space to store the pellets. The upfront cost can also be high. But with a reduced fuel bill and government schemes such as the RHI available it can be a wise investment.

Money saving tips for wood burners and other solid fuel energy sources

If you use solid fuel, you'll need to keep your supply topped up so that you have a heating source. And shopping around for the right price isn't as easy as it is for those relying on the gas network. However, there are still ways to save on energy bills.

  • Get to know your stove or boiler – some allow you to adjust how long the wood takes to burn and you’ll waste less heat
  • Shop around for your fuel source – research available suppliers, and play them off against each other
  • Haggle with the supplier to get the best price – never assume the price is set
  • Get together with friends and family – purchasing as a group could help you save on delivery costs and get a discount
  • Look for opportunities – you might be able to get wood or other biomass for free from your own land or other sources
  • Timing is crucial – buying fuel in summer will typically be cheaper than in midwinter
  • Don’t leave it too late – if solid fuel runs low and you need to organise an emergency delivery, you may need to pay an additional fee
  • Think about how you pay – pay for fuel in the way that works to your best advantage. If you're disciplined enough to pay if off each month, a cashback credit card  could be an option

Can solid fuel customers change their heating source?

If you’re connected to the main gas network then switching to gas should be relatively straightforward, if initially expensive.

Mains gas should be cheaper than solid fuel, but this isn’t necessarily the case with biomass - it depends on the efficiency of your system and access to fuel material.

Switching to gas can also make shopping around for energy more straightforward. It could even add value to your property.

If you’re looking for efficiency, switching to gas for whole house heating while keeping a wood-burning stove to heat smaller areas of your home might be the answer.

If you’re not connected to mains gas, there are other choices:

Electrical heating 

It’s not necessarily a cheaper option, but it could be more convenient and easier to budget and shop around for. Electric may also be a better long-term option with the rise of time-of-use tariffs, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) and smart meters .

An SEG tariff pays you for the excess renewable electricity you provide to the National Grid.

Initial set-up costs for such energy generation can be expensive. However, off-network households may gain the most from their own hydro, wind or solar power.

Heating oil and liquid petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG shares many of the downsides of solid fuel options and can be an expensive way to heat a home, but oil is certainly an option to consider.

Heating oil isn't without its problems, but it's considered one of the more affordable options for those not connected to the gas network.

Impact of solid fuel heating systems on the environment

Burning wood and coal in open fires and stoves releases fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2) is also emitted by coal burned in open fires.

The government has plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from homes which could impact users of solid fuel heating systems, for example by banning the sale of the most polluting fuels.

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