A buyer?s guide to comparing biomass boilers
Like most people, you?ve probably never bought a biomass boiler before, so how do you know which make is best and what to look for? Just like buying a car, you want the best spec for the best value.
When investing in a biomass boiler you are looking for something to last 20+ years so don?t just consider the initial installation cost but the lifetime cost of the boiler. Some boilers may have a temptingly low upfront cost but will require a lot more servicing, maintenance and replacement parts.
What should you look for in a biomass boiler?
Firstly, biomass boilers aren?t a new technology ? whilst they may be relatively unknown in the UK some of our more forward thinking European neighbours have been making and using biomass boilers for decades to heat their homes.
So the first thing to consider is how long the company has been making biomass boilers and how they are perceived in their home markets.
Some of the strongest biomass markets are in Scandinavia, Austria and Germany, so if the boiler you?re considering is from any of these countries that?s a good start! You should also look at how long they have been making boilers and how long they have been installing them in UK.
Not all boilers are the same, so what makes one boiler different from another? We tend not to think much about how we heat our homes and what features a biomass boiler should have but there are some key things to look out for:
The level of control you have over your boiler can be important if you live in a larger property. If you may have several different heating circuits or require different temperatures in different zones, a more sophisticated biomass boiler allows you to control several different heating zones at the same time.
With greater levels of control and sophistication your boiler can be setup to email you when you?re running low on pellets or if there are any problems with your heating system. You can also log into it and control it remotely from your phone or tablet.
Biofuel boilers in their simplest form i.e. a log burner, can be quite labour intensive, as you have to manually load the logs and light them. A more sophisticated biomass pellet boiler can be completely automated and requires very little input from you.
Generally most will have an automatic ignition and have a small pellet store built into them. However, you can have a fully automated boiler which will have a self cleaning / de-ashing function, and an automatic fuel feed so you only need to do is check it every three months to empty the ash box and see if you need to order any more pellets (if your boiler hasn?t already emailed you!).
At the heart of the boiler is the burner ? the burner heats the pellets up so they gasify. The better the burner, the more efficient it is at burning the pellets, which in turns means less ash is produced and the more heat you get from each kilo of pellets.
Burner design and how controllable it is determines the efficiency of the boiler, and can also affect the maintenance intervals. The more sophisticated the boiler, the better it controls the burning of the pellets.
The ETA and Froling biomass boilers automatically detect how the fuel is burning and make adjustments to the air-flow to ensure the fuel is burnt as efficiently as possible. A poorly designed burner can cause the insides of the boiler to become clogged with a build up of tar/clinker, which then requires more regular cleaning and servicing.
To ensure that you can claim the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) payments, you must make sure your biomass boiler installation is MCS-compliant. This means that the boiler must appear on the MCS product database but it must also comply with updated UK emission requirements, as well as UK building regulations.
Biomass boilers do require regular maintenance and an annual service. Some boilers have a self-cleaning function, but others may require
manual cleaning, which is usually no more than pumping a lever on the side of the boiler. The self cleaning boilers tend to be more expensive than the manual ones. A biomass boiler also has an ash box that will need emptying. Typically you will only need to empty the ash box once every three months or so, but this depends on the burner?s efficiency and the size of the ash box.
Check how long the warranty is, what it covers and whether you are able to purchase extended warranties. The length of warranties available is a good indicator of the manufacturer?s confidence level in their products. Most quality biomass boilers will have a minimum 2-year warranty and some will have a 5-year warranty.
Our recommended biomass boilers
We mainly recommend and install three different makes of biomass boiler. On occasion we may consider other makes but only if we are confident that the manufacturer offers a quality product and support service at an affordable price.
If you would like free advice on choosing a biomass boiler for your home or business, call your regional EnergyMyWay director.