Information and advice for anyone who uses heating equipment at home
or work and is off the mains gas network


Home heating off the mains gas network

Mains gas is the most popular fuel for heating and cooking in the UK and is used in more than 21 million homes. However, many homes, particularly in rural areas, are off the mains gas network so can't use this option. Fortunately, there are many other ways to heat your home. The main options can be divided into two groups, the popular traditional central heating systems, such as oil, LPG or electric storage heaters, and the new breed of renewable heating systems. This page provides a brief introduction to the main types of heating that are available. You’ll also find a short section on solid fuel stoves at the bottom of this page.

Traditional heating options

In Britain and Ireland the most popular heating options for off-gas grid homes are oil-fired central heating, electric storage heaters and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) central heating.

Oil heating is by far the cheapest of the three main options and will heat your home and provide your hot water. Today’s oil-fired condensing boilers are designed to be efficient and long-lasting and they may be fitted in different situations to suit your home and lifestyle. The result is flexible heating control.

If your boiler is more than seven years old, upgrading to a modern oil-fired condensing boiler with the latest heating controls will substantially lower your heating bills – often by as much as 20% - 30% a year.

What makes oil good for heating?

  • ‘On demand’ heating and hot water – as much as you want whenever you want.
  • Heating using a modern oil condensing boiler is much cheaper than using electricity, LPG, bottled Propane gas or solid fuel.
  • Fuelling the boiler is automatic – no loading the appliance as with solid fuels.
  • You can combine oil heating systems with other technologies such as solar thermal heating and solid fuel stoves to reduce heating bills.
  • You can save money by shopping around for the best oil prices – changing supplier is simple.
  • It’s kinder to the environment than some fuels that have higher CO2 emissions.

Oil-fired systems can do more than just domestic heating – they also suit larger spaces like offices and factories where other energy sources are impractical or expensive.

Renewable heating options

Renewable heating is slowly becoming more popular and there are a number of different technologies available. Heat pumps and biomass boilers offer a direct alternative to the main traditional heating systems listed above. Running costs are comparable to, or slightly higher than oil heating, but their installation costs are usually much higher – typically between two and four times more expensive than a condensing oil-fired boiler. However, government schemes, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, may help recoup some of the initial outlay. By contrast, solar thermal (also called solar water heating) can't be used on its own and is best used in combination with other heating technologies.

A few points to consider:

  • Renewable heating systems may be a great way to reduce your carbon emissions.
  • Heat pumps supply water at a much lower temperature than traditional boilers, so more or larger radiators and better insulation may be required to achieve the same room temperature.
  • Biomass boilers are usually larger than other types of boiler and space to store the wood pellet fuel will also be required.
  • Solar thermal and heat pumps can be used effectively in harness with a traditional gas or oil boiler.
  • Older homes will often need substantial additional renovation work to reduce heat loss before systems such as heat pumps will work efficiently.

Secondary heating – solid fuel stoves

Except for biomass boilers, which burn renewable fuels such as wood pellets, solid fuel heating is no longer popular as a main source of heating for homes. However, there has been a huge growth in the use of solid fuel stoves for secondary or back up heating.

Stoves are less messy than a traditional open fire but provide the same heating benefits, along with the cosy glow that makes a real fire the centrepiece of a room. Stoves can burn a wide range of fuel and are an ideal back up for when you don’t want to run your main heating system – for example cool spring and autumn evenings – or for when the weather is really cold.

See our Home Guides for more information.