It’s strange how trends go in cycles, and heating is no exception. It isn’t that long since every home would have had a solid fuel fire, then they fell out of favour and were replaced by gas and oil fired boilers. Now, with the rising prices of oil and gas, people are once again turning back to the idea of using solid fuel. This time, it’s being called ‘biomass’ and it is heralded by some as the future of boilers. The idea certainly makes a lot of sense, so what do you need to know about them?
The term ‘biomass’ itself is a catchall that covers a number of fuels. Essentially, though, it is describes a fuel which is made from a renewable biological source, such as wheat or oats, or waste and by-products such as straw, paper, wood trimmings and so on. In a domestic system, these are turned into pellets which are fed into the boiler and burnt to produce the heat used to create hot water. As they are made from renewable materials they are very environmentally friendly, reducing carbon emissions considerably when compared to other fuels. The ash can also be used as garden fertiliser if you really want to reduce waste.
Biomass boilers can work as a straight replacement for existing system or combi boilers. They are pretty efficient, and can be controlled in the way you’d expect with thermostats and timers. They are a little big bigger that those other designs, though, so you’ll need to be sure that you’ve got the space to put them in before you buy one. You’ll also need storage space for the pellets and, to make things as economical as possible, ideally you’ll have room for a hopper which will store a years’ worth.
One of the major concerns that people have about biomass boilers is the idea that they are labour intensive. This seems to be due to a memory of old fireplaces, which needed filling with fuel every day and clearing out to ensure they worked correctly. With a modern biomass boiler, your involvement is limited to a couple of easy and routine tasks. You’ll need to replenish the fuel every few days if you haven’t gone for an automatic system, and you’ll need to clear the ash out about once a month, but that’s it. The nest of the new ones have automatic systems that control the amount of fuel that is burnt, adding pellets as they are needed, and controlling the amount of air supplied to keep the combustion ate constant.
This design of boiler is becoming more widespread now, and they aren’t just the preserve of people with deep pockets or who can’t get gas or oil to their houses. Prices are falling all the time, and it won’t be long before they are considered mainstream and suppliers start to carry a large range alongside their traditional products, and they’ll be the focus of the ‘boilers sale’ adverts you see every year.