Off Grid Heating Guide

Living in a remote area can make it challenging to heat your home, but there are some great solutions available to help keep your off-grid home cosy and warm.

Something to keep in mind when living off the gas mains is that you could be eligible for a central heating grant to help with the cost of installing or upgrading your off-grid heating system.

Oil Heating

Oil boilers are currently one of the most popular options for those living off-grid. They work very similarly to traditional gas boilers but require a large tank to store the fuel which can be purchased or rented from your oil supplier.

While oil is very efficient, producing a lot of heat by volume, it is not very environmentally friendly. An oil boiler heating a typical house can emit around 4 to 5 tonnes of carbon per year. Oil is also a fairly price-volatile fuel that will change cost from season to season, as well as year to year, which can make budgeting difficult.

Fuel is delivered by truck for these boilers which raises the possibility of running out of fuel if your delivery is delayed due to bad weather or difficult conditions. It’s now common to have a tank that automatically notifies your supplier when you start running low so they can schedule a top-up without you having to lift a finger, but there is always the possibility of problems.

While oil boilers require annual servicing, they need relatively little upkeep and are relatively easy to upgrade – as long as you are not wanting to change boiler type – and, with the recent drop in oil prices, they currently only cost around one and a half times the price of mains gas to run.

LPG Boilers

Liquefied petroleum gas boilers are similar to oil boilers in that they require a tank for you to store your fuel but have both advantages and disadvantages over the popular oil boilers.

LPG boilers are highly efficient and produce significantly fewer emissions than oil boilers. LPG is not restricted to just the boiler, like oil, but can also be used to run gas fires as well as ovens and hobs – which can be very important for those who live with a less constant electricity supply. Another great advantage is that if there’s a breach in the tank, the leak won’t contaminate the ground as oil would.

However, LPG is currently more expensive to run and install than oil, and has been estimated to cost just less than double the price of mains gas. You also rarely have the option to buy the fuel tank, instead having to rent it from the supplier who will often subsidise, or pay for, the tank installation cost.

Electric Heating

Electric heating is definitely one of the more expensive options in terms of running costs, but it does have several points in its favour and some versions can be more cost effective when managed.

One of the biggest benefits of electric heating is that it’s incredibly cheap to install and repair. Traditional electrical heaters and fires are dry systems that don’t need any pipework and can be placed anywhere with access to an electrical supply.

Electric boilers are almost 100% efficient and are very small, allowing then to be fitted almost anywhere in a property. They don’t require access to grid gas or a fuel tank which makes them incredibly convenient for siting on rural properties. However electrical heating has been estimated to cost approximately three times more than mains gas.

Luckily, with modern advancements, there are some ways around this high price. Modern infrared heaters can help overcome this hurdle as, due to the way they work, you can use them less while still staying comfortable and warm.

Infrared heaters work not by heating up the air in a room, but rather by heating up solid objects – including you – directly. This means that they can supply enough heat to keep a room cosy when running at lower levels than traditional electric heaters.

They also heat incredibly quickly which allows you to heat just the rooms you’re currently using. This does require you to constantly turn them off and on according to your needs but, if used carefully, they don’t cost much more to run than a traditional mains gas wet radiator system.

Biomass Boilers

Biomass boilers are a great option for those who are looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional heating. As they use fuel from a renewable source, usually wood pellets, they’re an environmentally responsible option that’s nearly carbon neutral.

Biomass fuels also tend to have far fewer fluctuations in price than oil and LPG and, if sourced from a local producer, they don’t have to cost much more than gas. However, biomass boilers can incur very expensive installation costs as they are much larger than traditional boilers and require a large amount of fuel storage space. They can also be much more labour intensive as you need to manually add fuel to the intake and clean them regularly to maintain their efficiency.

While these can be a great option for some, you should check the availability of fuel in your area before even considering installation.

Boiler Stoves

If you have access to a large amount of wood on your property, you might want to consider installing a boiler stove. These are a very eco-friendly option as they only release the carbon that was stored growing the wood and, if you don’t need to buy fuel, they can save you a huge amount on your bills. With your own source of wood, this style of boiler can make you self-sufficient. Plus, some stoves even have hot plates that can be used for cooking.

The downside is that, unlike biomass boilers, they are what is called an ‘uncontrollable heat source’, meaning you can’t control the how much heat it produces. This reduces the efficiency of your system and means that it must be carefully designed. They also require a lot of work on your part, from sourcing the fuel to clearing out the stove, which can put some people off.

Heat Pumps

There are three main types of heat pump: ground source, air source, and water source, and they all offer significant savings on heating - especially when compared to oil and LPG boilers. They typically provide water at 35-45°C which is perfect for underfloor heating, although they can require further heating for domestic use.

Ground source heat pumps are fairly common and have the lowest running cost per unit of heat of any heating system, however they are also possibly the most expensive heating system to install. As the ground in the UK stays at a relatively stable temperature year-round, they allow for constant and consistent extraction of heat.

Water source pumps work very similarly to ground source but require access to a relatively large body of water, making them unsuitable for many people.

Air source heat pumps are currently the most popular kind in the UK as they are far easier and cheaper to install. For a new-build, they aren’t that much more expensive than a new boiler although retrofitting one can be more expensive.

These can be much less efficient than ground or water source heat pumps as the air temperature can vary to a far greater degree and the efficiency of the pump will drop as the air temperature decreases. However, they can remain operational in temperatures as low at -20°C.

Off-Grid Solar

Solar energy has some fantastic advantages when you’re living off-grid. It is fully independent and constantly provides you with energy with next to no maintenance and upkeep costs.

Solar PV can help supply your home with electricity which can be a great way to reduce your bills if your electricity usage is high. However, if your home doesn’t use much electricity during the day then this may not be the best choice as electricity storage solutions can be extremely expensive and you can’t store solar electricity to use at night without them.

One of the best ways you can utilise solar for an off-grid property is with solar thermal. This is a far more efficient form of solar as it can convert 80% of radiation into heat and provide around 60% of your hot water needs throughout the year. This can significantly reduce your bills and even pay for itself in the long term depending on your current bills.

Solar thermal also requires far less roof space than solar PV and is cheaper to install, although it needs annual maintenance and may require a new hot water cylinder.

With a lifetime of 20-25 years and zero emissions, solar power is fantastic for the environment and can be a great choice of heating when living off-grid.