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Off-grid? Should you go for a heating oil, or an LPG, boiler?


Off-grid? Should you go for a heating oil, or an LPG, boiler?

The cheapest fuel for most purposes is natural gas delivered via the grid. But many people in rural areas – about 1.1 million people in total, including many of our customers – live in villages that are ‘off grid’. Typically, in these areas people use heating oil. But there is another option, which is LPG.

Home heating oil is a form of kerosene, obtained through processing crude oil. There is another type of heating oil, gas oil or ‘red diesel’ which is used in commercial settings. Kerosene is more efficient, hence why it is the one used for most home heating purposes.

LPG stands for ‘Liquefied Petroleum Gas’ and there are two types, butane and propane. Propane is the one that’s generally used in indoor heating systems as it will withstand colder temperatures than butane. It is a colourless gas, usually produced as a by-product of oil refining.

Both are provided as liquid fuels, so you need a tank in your garden, a safe distance away from the actual boiler, to store them. There is the option to have an underground tank, although as you might expect installation in that case is significantly more expensive. The other alternative, if there is no space for a bulk tank, is to use multi-bottles connected with a changeover valve.

Obviously, both of these are based on fossil fuels, so neither are optimal on environmental grounds (and current government commitments imply that both will be phased out over the next couple of decades – depending on whether the government follows through on what it says it will do). That said, out of the two, LPG is considered more environmentally friendly than heating oil. It produces less carbon emissions when burned.  

LPG is probably preferred more by some people, though, because it can be used to fuel an oven or a hob. People who don’t want to give up the benefits of cooking on a gas flame may find it attractive for that purpose. Heating oil can only be used by your boiler.

But those benefits don’t come cheap. By and large, Oil is a more efficient fuel than LPG (about 10kw per litre, versus 7kw) and LPG is more expensive than heating oil. Switching from the latter to the former will see your heating bills increase. The price of heating oil is more variable – in the months over the covid-19 lockdown, the price of oil dropped radically due to the global oversupply. Needless to say, that’s been a rather unusual situation.

You can offset against the running costs the fact that the initial installation for LPG will be less, as the boilers are cheaper to buy than oil boilers. Partly that’s because the tank remains the property of the gas company, who will generally chage a monthly rental fee. Partly it’s a fair reflection of the fact that the lifespan of the LPG boiler can be significantly less – 15 years compared to 25, as an example.

Either way, boilers should be installed and maintained by qualified professionals. LPG boilers can only be fitted by Gas Safe Registered engineers. Oil boilers have a less stringent restriction, but you really want yours to be installed by OFTEC-registered engineers. Many heating engineers, like us, will be able to offer both but you should check.

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