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What Boiler is Best? Gas, Electric, Combi, Oil, Solid Fuel

man scratching his head

Let’s play the boiler game: Combi, gas, electric, conventional boilers or does that tea candle trick really work? What’s it going to take to have hot showers in the dead of winter? Which design is cheaper to run? If your boiler has packed up and you don’t have boiler insurance cover, what are the best options out there? Don’t worry, we have looked closely at all the boiler technologies currently available so that you can keep your toes toasty whether you are planning on an evening of "Netflix and chill" or on taking a hot shower.

Some home truths about boilers

While boilers come in many different shapes and sizes, there will always be a handful of things that remain true no matter which kind you go for.

Boiler choices graphic
  1. Cheap and cheery might not be the best idea. Different boiler types have varying rates of efficiency so ponying up for a more efficient technology will be more economical in the long run.
  2. Capacity matters only if you need to take more than one shower at the same time. If you supersize your boiler when you don’t regularly use all the capacity, then you are just wasting energy and money to heat up water you don’t need.
  3. Gas and electric boilers are both good options depending on your circumstances. The main one is whether your home has access to both kinds of energy. Even if you don’t, there are ways to get the most out of your boiler.
  4. Insulation does wonders for your energy efficiency every day of the week. Look into getting a jacket for your boiler. Aside from the added spiffy look, you’ll be grateful for the increased reliability and savings on your energy bills. There are incentive schemes that help people to upgrade to more efficient boilers.
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Electric Boilers: the compact option

While electricity costs more per unit than gas, it’s worth bearing in mind that we use much less electricity than gas. Electric boilers have one ace up their sleeve when compared to some gas boilers: since they only warm up water when it’s needed, their high efficiency is there by design, just like gas combi boilers.

However, the average cost of running an electric boiler is still trumped by the low price of natural gas, making a gas boiler a better value overall.

Our verdict is that electric boilers are only a good option if the following applies to you:

  • Your home is electricity only and hooking up to the gas supply is not a feasible option.
  • You live in a small flat or home and need a compact boiler.
  • You have a small budget.

Gas Boilers: the middle of the road

condensing gas boiler diagram

A unit of gas in the UK is roughly three times cheaper than electric, however, the average home uses three times more gas than electricity.

Gas boilers work both for hot water and home heating by warming up water so that it can be pumped through a compatible heating system. For the most part, gas boilers are cheaper to run than electric, oil, or solid fuel boilers powered by wood, pellets or coal.

Combi, system and conventional boilers are all powered with natural gas from the national grid. These aforementioned boiler types all have condensing variants that let them trap valuable warmth that would otherwise be lost up the flue. This means increased efficiency for your home - the same amount of heat for less money.

The technology has gotten so good that current condensing boiler designs can retain close to 100% of the heat that would otherwise evaporate into the thin winter air.

The downside to this sort of boiler is that external piping is vulnerable to freezing. This means you need to insulate it appropriately and keep an eye on it during those colder months. However, damaged pipes are a big hassle and fixing them costs a pretty penny.

This is why we urge you to service your boiler yearly to protect your investment and prevent serious issues from developing. While your home insurance emergency cover will not include a yearly boiler service, there are several affordable boiler cover options that do and are worth looking into.

The good news is that most new boilers have a condensing circuit built in and this means value for money when it comes to picking a new boiler for your home. Boilers nowadays come with efficiency ratings and it’s worth comparing to get the best one, whatever your budget.

Combi Boilers: hot water on demand

This is an on-demand gas boiler design that does away with the unwieldy water storage tank. It’s the Netflix of boilers.

Combi boiler

This makes it a good option for those living in smaller homes but also for those of us who are eco-conscious since energy isn’t wasted by keeping water at a certain temperature all day long.

However, before going down the combination boiler road, you need to know that they can be a pain to install. You need to be prepared for rewiring and new pipes to accommodate the plumbing.

Our verdict is that its compact design makes it a surefire winner for flats and small houses by bringing energy savings of up to 30% to this residential tranche.

Conventional Boilers: the kings of central heating

Standard boilers are gas-powered and they require cumbersome water tanks and cylinders which makes them a no-go for smaller floor plans.

One upside to this bulky boiler installation is that you can have hot water coming out of several taps at the same time. This means you can finally wash the dishes while your significant other takes a shower and keep the radiators going, because they can hold more hot water than many other designs.

Conventional boiler wall mounted

Conventional boilers have a long history when it comes to powering a central heating system and this means they work well in large homes, if you can comfortably fit the storage tank. Be aware that if you live somewhere with an unreliable gas network, then this design is vulnerable to outages, leaving you without hot water.

Our verdict is that if you have a large home and a lot of people live with you, then a conventional boiler is a solid bet. Otherwise, they are a waste of money because they lose heat over time and that means less money in your pocket.

Oil-Fired boilers: the rural option

As their name implies, these boilers are powered by heating oil that comes from tanks (either underground or overground) on your property. These are a legitimate option for a lot of rural customers who are far away from gas networks but can rely on regular heating oil deliveries.

Heating oil tank for oil boiler

Current oil boilers designs share all the advancements of combi boilers which allows them to provide hot water when needed.

Thanks to the higher energy density of oil (when compared to natural gas), they are able to achieve at least 95% efficiency when it comes to turning fuel into heat.

Our verdict is that if you aren’t hooked up to natural gas and your home has the required fuel tank set up then this may be worth considering for your home and water heating needs but with two caveats. First of all, global oil prices need to stay at current levels for heating oil to continue delivering savings to domestic customers. Secondly and even more importantly, maintenance by a qualified engineer is a must for this kind of installation unless you don’t mind having problems of Exxon-Valdez proportions.

Solid Fuel Boilers: the rustic option

This one is for the Jason Bourne in all of us because these boilers are tough as nails. You can throw in wood, coal, or fuel pellets to make it work. If you are living the dream life in the middle of the woods, this may be the option for you.

As long as you have a suitable storage space for your choice of fuel, you’ll be all set. Another bonus is that wood and fuel pellets are carbon-neutral which is not something any other boiler type can really say.

Wood fuel for solid fuel boilers

While coal and wood burning boilers do produce a lot of ash, if you have wood you’ll be happy to know that it is compostable or can be directly used as a fertiliser because of its lime and potassium content, which your garden will thank you for.

Solid Fuel boilers are made of steel or cast iron and while they both require a chimney or flue for reliable ventilation, cast iron models can last up to 50 years and they are immune to power cuts! That’s right, they can keep you warm even if the electric goes out in your quaint corner of the British Isles.

Our verdict is that this unique boiler type is good value for money in terms of energy efficiency as long as you can stomach the sticker price. You also need to bear in mind that you will literally need to keep the home fires burning with a solid fuel boiler. However, there is no denying that if you are the rustic type and live out of the way, this will be right up your thatched cottage alley.

We provide impartial energy advice.Choosing an efficient boiler is just one piece of the energy puzzle. The other important piece is making sure you are with an energy supplier that has good customer service and competitive tariffs. At Selectra, our energy experts can set you up with the best tariffs in your area with some of the biggest suppliers such as British Gas. Give us a call on 02039 360059 to switch without hassle.

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