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The future of heating begins with replacing your oil heating system

As fossil fuels dry up and more sustainable heating systems emerge, oil heating is also approaching the age of obsolescence. Read on for our future roadmap.

04.10.20229min9min

Technician servicing a heating system

Quite apart from the absurdity of warming your four walls with the rotting remnants of age-old dinos and plants, there are other good reasons galore to rethink how you heat. Here’s a brief overview of why and when replacing your oil heating system makes sense, with the energy future of housing and current events in mind. Spoiler: Practically always.

Politically too, ever-stricter oil heating regulations, costlier fuel and the CO2 law coming in 2033 are prompting a rethink. From a green perspective, if the aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, replacing oil systems is the obvious choice. Not to mention the endless economic benefits that alternative heating systems now offer.

To give you a clearer picture and set out the options, we deep-dive all things oil heating with one of our heating specialists. Namely, what to keep in mind when assessing the pros and cons of a new heating solution and the scope of state support you can expect. And because every homeowner has their own unique circumstances, we tailor it accordingly. Ultimately, our end goal is to help you find the optimal solution.

Why replacing oil heating makes sense

Replacing oil heating is almost always worthwhile. These days, the most eco-efficient heating systems look beyond combustion in favour of more sustainable ways to warm, albeit with less direct heating power. And while switching helps you streamline things to heat more cheaply and tap into alternative and less polluting energy sources, structural changes are sometimes needed.

When replacing makes sense? For our XpertHome specialist, Stéphane Fresse, the following rule of thumb applies: the older your heating and the greater your reliance on fossil fuels, the more sense it makes to replace it. But don’t think replacing the age-old oil heating system is enough to burnish your energy credentials - because heating property is much like a company. Energy use is only optimised when all the stakeholders involved join forces seamlessly. More on that later. At the end of the day, looking beyond fossil fuels can pave the way to benefits a-plenty:

  • You’re no longer at the mercy of oil and gas prices

  • You generate fewer CO2 emissions

  • You consume less electricity and pay less

  • You can tap into renewable energies

  • You can boost energy efficiency

Giving fossil fuels the boot will save you money and boost your karma all in one. But once you’ve relinquished the relic, what comes in its place?

Oil heating alternatives

If we accept that fossil fuels inexorably face the same fate as their steam engine and mini-disc player peers, it’s time to consider alternatives. These heating systems will warm you in future:

  • Photovoltaic systems: Converting sunlight to electrical energy via solar cells.

  • Solar panels: Sunlight is used to heat a liquid which can then be used for heating, among others.

  • Heat pump with geothermal probe: The system taps into technical energy to pump water up from inside the Earth, compress it and re-evaporate it within the system to be heated; releasing heat in the process.

  • Air-source heat pump: A refrigerant absorbs heat from the outside air via evaporation. The intake of energy re-liquefies the medium in the system to be heated, whereupon the heat is transferred to the heating water.

  • Biomass / pellet heating: Burning renewable organic matter generates heat directly, which can then be used for heating.

  • Electric heating: The process of converting electrical energy to thermal energy generates heat.

Although all the above heating approaches can function standalone, the choice still depends on your circumstances. Dive deeper into the details of all the heating systems mentioned in our article about the 7 best-known types of heating.

Long term, even though oil and gas heating systems may be on their last legs, you may still be best off switching to a more sustainable hybrid solution. Within very dated buildings, for example, where the outer insulation is lacking, retaining the existing combustion heating system but bolstering it with an alternative may prove the most efficient choice. The following heating systems are often combined:

  • Oil heating with solar panels or heat pump

  • Gas heating with solar panels or heat pump

  • Pellet heating with solar collectors or heat pump

At a stroke, you can save fuel, save money and reduce emissions - a triple header which puts you well on the way to achieving climate neutrality. However, our resident expert Mr Fresse strongly advises against installing a new oil or gas heating system.

Just when is it best to replace an oil heating system?

Operating heating is like running a company – think of heat as employees and insulation as the management layer. So while the workers work, the management controls how the work is distributed and sets out working conditions that help eliminate any turnover of employees from the team. In other words: performing work or generating heat is meaningless if the insulation or management are not fit for purpose.

With that in mind, your best bet is probably to configure your heating, heat distribution and thermal insulation to deliver optimal results. Put simply, getting rid of your oil or gas heating system always makes sense: it’s excessively inefficient, costly and environmentally damaging. However, depending on what thermal insulation and heat distribution system you have in place, you may want to keep a range of alternatives on your radar. Our expert Stéphane Fresse draws a line between two initial starting points that determine whether heat pumps or combustion heating systems can be considered as a replacement:

"If radiators are used to heat the house, higher flow temperatures are required. Conversely, with underfloor heating in place, lower flow temperatures will suffice. The energy efficiency of the building envelope is also key. It it’s low, the radiator heating systems need flow temperatures of 50 to 60° and generating these with an air-source heat pump is asking a lot. Incineration comes into the picture in cases like these. Wood is classed as a climate-neutral energy source, because a tree binds the same amount of CO2 while growing as it releases when combusted. So nowadays, wood is the only viable energy source for combustion heating systems and you’ll need a pellet-heating system if you want to automate the system."

In other words, the key criterion for heat pump performance is solid management. Optimal insulation and heat distribution via underfloor heating pave the way for 'employees' to generate heat with exceptional efficiency. However, with heating capacity on the low side, performance depends on minimising the amount of heat that escapes. All of which means look elsewhere if your thermal insulation is lacking or your windows and radiators are showing their age.

According to our specialist, Mr Fresse, the first step should always be to optimise the building envelope before deciding on a new heating system. And like so many other things, it often boils down to the question of cost. For more on making your own home more energy-efficient and pointers to note in individual cases, see our article on "Rethinking energy when renovating." So whetheryou should replace oil heating is a no-brainer - what matters is when, by what and with what.

Subsidies for heating renovation

What’s the first thing you need when replacing your oil heating? Money. But worry not - help is at hand. The Swiss government is keen to promote more efficient energy usage and greener solutions, which is why it helps you pay for all-new heating systems. All the same, to make replacing your oil or gas heating as affordable as possible, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind and get in touch with one or two offices.

But where do you start? The benefits of Swiss federalism are undeniable. Not, however, when it comes to getting funding. We’ve got your back. The energy crisis has helped lift many of the hindrances and made solutions easier to come by than before. Even so, these pointers should prove useful:

  • Get in touch with whoever provides your new heating solution and ask for financing advice. Many companies will even submit the relevant funding applications for you.

  • Depending on which canton you live in and which heating system you opt for, the support contributions and subsidies may differ. Simply check out the homepages of each cantonal energy advice centre and capitalise on the collective expertise of their advisory staff. Here’s an overview.

  • And over and above the cantons, the federal government also plays a role in promoting more sustainable heating systems. Details of all initiatives are accessible via this link.

And a small extra tip between us: Depending on the canton and measure, double funding may be possible (from canton and federal governments). As the saying goes: kill two birds with one stone.

Caution: You must apply for all subsidies beforethe heating system is replaced - no retrospective approval will be entertained.

Which heating system is right for me?

We hope we’ve made things clearer and convinced you to consider changing your current over-the-hill heating option. But what makes most sense in your particular case? Answering that means considering all of the following:

  • Budget - How much are you willing or able to pay?

  • Personal needs - What quality of life and level of heating do you personally need?

  • Building fabric - How does your property stack up in this area as of now? Is the heating insulation on point? Are the windows new? How big is the total living area?

Don't despair - ask Liiva

If you’ve pondered these points, you’re all set to take the next step towards fossil-free heating. Feel free to contact us and arrange a consultation. And any other queries you may have about replacing your fossil-fuel heating system are more than welcome.

As a Liiva member, you enjoy access to all our specialists to assist you in planning and answer all your heating questions.

Last but not least, the outlier – what do you do with your old oil tank?! Well, let your upcycling imagination run riot. From submarining (not recommended) to a stylish industrial flowerpot. But perhaps most practical - converting it into a rainwater tank! For more info, visit: bauschweiz.ch