Biomass or Heating Oil? Which is Right for Your Home?

Published: 27th August 2015

If your property is not connected to the gas grid, it can be difficult to find a reliable and affordable way to heat your home. With electricity notoriously expensive, the most common choice used to be heating oil, but there is now another good option in the form of wood-burning biomass boilers.

Switching to biomass has many benefits for rural households, but how does this technology perform in comparison to oil-fired boilers?

Environmental Impact

This is a straightforward case of renewable energy (biomass) versus a fossil fuel (oil). 

The CO2 emitted when wood is burned is equal to the amount of CO2 absorbed while the tree was growing. The manufacture and transportation of wood fuel does generate some carbon emissions, but providing it is locally sourced, total emissions will be much lower than from oil.

Follow good practice when buying wood chips or pellets and a biomass heating system will have significantly less impact on the environment than any fossil fuels. The wood you burn should originate from a local producer that uses proper forestry management to ensure new trees are planted to replace those felled for fuel. 

In contrast, heating oil generates significant CO2 emissions - over 5,000kg a year more than wood chips to heat an average home. Many environmental groups also have concerns about the impact of the oil drilling and refining process on the planet and, in particular, on wildlife. 

Fuel Price    

While going green may be an important goal for you, the cost of heating your home will still be a key factor in your decision about which fuel to choose.  

Figures compiled by the Energy Saving Trust in February 2015 showed that the average cost of heating oil was 5.36 pence per kWh, compared with 4.77 pence per kWh for wood pellets.

Prices fluctuate and there will be times when heating oil is cheaper, but any long-term comparison would show that wood fuel is less expensive.

Price Variations

Knowing how much fuel is going to cost is valuable information when it comes to planning your household budget. 

There are a host of factors that influence the crude oil price, including geopolitical tensions, the severity of hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, the strength of the Chinese economy, commodities speculators and the ability of OPEC to restrict supply. 

The cost of crude oil has a direct impact on the price consumers have to pay for heating oil, which as a result has fluctuated between 34 pence and 69 pence per litre over the last three years.  

Political and economic events have much less impact on the price of wood fuel in the UK, which only suffers small fluctuations. 

Renewable Heat Incentive 

There is a significant difference between the purchase prices of oil-fired and biomass boilers, but using wood fuel should mean you are eligible for the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), making biomass a very attractive option in terms of total cost of ownership.

The RHI is a government scheme designed to persuade more households to switch to renewable energy and offers quarterly subsidies / payments for the first seven years of a biomass boiler’s life. 

For example, if you were to install a 30 kW biomass boiler in a 4-5 bedroom property and buy wood fuel from an accredited source, you could receive around £29,000 in RHI payments over the seven years.

That figure is enough to cover the cost of the boiler and leave you with plenty to spare; in effect you would be paid to heat your home. 


If you already have an oil-fired boiler, along with a storage tank and suitable lock, you will know that they are relatively straightforward to run in terms of servicing, fuel deliveries and day-to-day operating.

There are a number of practical issues to consider when thinking about installing a biomass heating system. The most important of them is space, as the boiler and wood storage requires quite a lot of room. If you have a large home or space in a garage or outbuilding, this should not be a problem, but it may be difficult to accommodate the set-up in a smaller property.

Another thing to remember is that you will have to fuel your biomass boiler. How often you need to do it depends on the size of the boiler; the smallest wood pellet or wood chip burning boilers need fuel adding every three or four days, while bigger ones only have to be fuelled every four to six weeks.

Burning wood creates ash and this has to be removed, but the volume is relatively small and boilers do not have to be emptied very often - anywhere between once a month and once a year, depending on the model. Ash can be put out for your standard household rubbish collection, but most people prefer to spread it on their garden or add it to their compost heap.


Your final choice of heating system will depend on the design of your home and the factors that are most important to you, but if your house is off the gas grid, the financial benefits offered by biomass boilers mean they are worth looking at as part of your decision making process.

For more information about biomass heating systems or to request a no-obligation site survey and quote, please contact Denby Dale Energy on 01484 866785 or get in touch via the website.