When Top Barn was converted to a dwelling in 2001, the central heating and hot water was powered by an oil-fired boiler. As we developed a keener interest in environmental issues, fueled by the works of John Seymour, guru of self-sufficiency, we decided to look for alternatives. Finally, in 2011, we removed the old oil-fired boiler and installed a biomass boiler which used wood as its fuel.
The space needed for this system is considerable compared to our old heating boiler and at that time we had no suitable space to install it in the house. We decided to convert one of our lockable garages. At the rear of the garage we built a boiler room and at the front a fuel store. The fuel is automatically fed into the boiler from the store by means of an auger.
This type of boiler uses wood pellet or wood chip. Originally, we opted to burn wood chip, it’s cheaper! But we encountered two main problems in the early years. The first was getting the product into the store. This dusty, bulky material, which arrived on a flatbed lorry, was a real pain to move. We have spent many a cold, wet morning shoveling wood chip into our store from the back of the lorry. This was both back breaking and rather unpleasant work, but at least it was a cheap way to stay warm!
In winter, a full store would only last us a few months, which meant we needed several deliveries each year. So, in 2015, we took the decision to change from burning wood chip to wood pellet. The pellets are compressed wood about 6mm in diameter and have the advantage of being ‘blown’ into the store through a special duct we had fitted. So now the delivery of wood pellet is, by comparison to wood chip, a much cleaner and easier operation and due to the density of the pellets we can store about eight tonnes, almost enough fuel for a full year.
How about the cost? A tonne of woodchip can cost between £200-250 depending on when and where you buy it. Compared with other forms of heating we are told that pellet costs about 4.5p per kWh (kilowatt-hour), oil and LPG 6p-8p kWh, mains gas 4p-6p kWh. Wood chip is marginally cheaper than pellet, but for the reasons already mentioned I think pellet is best for us. Of course, wood burns and releases CO2, but in theory for every tree converted into pellets one is planted to replace it and growing trees absorb CO2. The whole process is designed to be carbon neutral. The Centre for Alternative Technology is a good reference.
We are very proud of our biomass boiler. We love the idea that burning wood in our boiler and woodstove, generating electrical power with our photovoltaic cells and investing in energy efficient domestic appliances and lighting makes a difference. Composting our waste provides us with an ample supply of organic material for the garden. There is much more we could do and plans for rainwater harvesting and wind power may yet come to fruition one day. In the meantime, if anyone is staying here at Top Barn Bed & Breakfast or just in the area and shares an interest in seeing what we have done, I am more than happy to show you how Top Barn has been ‘Going Green’.