As heating bills continue to skyrocket, a growing number of homeowners are turning to more cost-efficient ways to heat their homes. When the time comes to replace your boiler, or you're simply fed up with the constant price hikes, energy efficiency should be your number-one priority. Solid-fuel heating systems have soared in popularity in recent years as a result, since they are vastly more cost-effective to run. However, overhauling your central heating system is not a project to take lightly, since the installation costs and labour required are often expensive and complicated.
What Is Solid-Fuel Central Heating?
Most central heating systems are powered by hydro, natural gas or, in the case of homes where there is no gas connection available, oil stored locally in a tank. Some apartments and houses use electric boilers, although these are the most expensive with regards to running costs.
Solid fuel, whether in the form of wood or coal has been used since the dawn of human history, and while gas, oil and electricity became the fuels of choice for the vast majority of homes during the twentieth century, solid fuel is rapidly making a comeback.
In rural areas in particular, many people use a combination of wood-burning stoves or open fireplaces and a conventional central heating system. It's relatively affordable and effective, but with the rising prices of fuel, many are considering becoming fully reliant on solid fuels to heat their homes and provide hot water.
Modern solid-fuel heating systems are far more sophisticated than open fireplaces which, in many urban areas, are prohibited anyway. If you live in a clean-air area of the country, you can still take advantage of solid-fuel central heating, due to the fact many of them use clean-burn technology.
As far as pipework and radiators are concerned, a system that burns solid fuel works in just the same way as any other. However, the water is heated in a tank connected to a stove or solid-fuel boiler or, in the case of some smaller applications, a range cooker in the kitchen. Other systems might use a combination of solid fuels and gas, oil or electricity, although these are usually far more expensive to install. The simplest of these link-up systems typically feature a back boiler fitted to the stove which takes over when the fire is lit. More sophisticated systems are fully linked up to the extent that multiple fuel-burning appliances can contribute to the same heating system simultaneously.
A Guide to Solid-Fuel Boilers
By far the biggest concerns regarding the purchase of a solid-fuel boiler are the relatively high cost and the mess associated with loading the fuel. After all, most homeowners are not very enthusiastic about constantly keeping the boiler running by topping up the wood or whichever other fuel it burns. Fortunately, there are now automated systems available that include fuel feeders which only need to be topped up every few days to a week. There are two primary types of independent solid-fuel boilers:
Gravity-fed designs feature a large fuel feeder above the firebox, which can typically hold several days' worth of fuel. The fuel used by this type of boiler typically comes in the form of wood pellets, coal or anthracite. Gravity-fed boilers are the most expensive, but they are far more convenient, and they're available in many different sizes.
Hand-fed boilers are far cheaper than their more convenient counterparts, but they require frequent refuelling rather like a conventional fireplace or stove. Nonetheless, they do not require connection to an electrical supply, since they do not feature thermostats or any other electrical components. As such, hand-fed boilers are typically better suited to smaller applications.
As a general rule, the more basic hand-fed boilers are quite affordable for something powerful enough to provide central heating and hot water for a typical family home. However, gravity-fed boilers can easily cost more than double. As is the case with any boiler, the larger your home is, the higher the output your boiler will need, and this can increase the cost significantly. Finally, you'll also need to factor in the cost of a suitably large water tank.
Solid fuel heating systems no longer have to mean lots of mess and constant loading of fuel, but the more modern and sophisticated boilers tend to cost double what a gas-powered or electric boiler costs. However, with the fast-rising costs of heating, your investment should quickly pay off after a few winters, and anything that makes your home more energy-efficient will also increase its value.