Carbon cutting in the Cairngorms

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People in the Cairngorms National Park are getting the low-down on the benefits of using wood as fuel, thanks to the Cairngorms Woodfuel Action Plan.

The plan is part of the park's carbon-cutting strategy. Householders, tenants and businesses are being offered free advice on different types of woodfuel heating, plus facts and figures about how much switching heating sources can save:

  • It is estimated that heating an average three-bedroomed home using woodfuel (logs) costs as little as £510 per year, compared to nearly £1,500 using oil (kerosene) - cutting two thirds off average fuel bills. For more information see:

The scheme's organisers have provided free workshops on planning and installing new woodfuel systems. And the initiative, being run in conjunction with the EU's Clim-ATIC programme, is also promoting the development of community woodlands.

As well as providing a local source of woodfuel for people with woodburning stoves, these offer farmers and land managers a chance to diversify their businesses and branch out into woodfuel.

Why woodfuel?

Using wood to heat homes and workplaces in the Cairngorms National Park makes shedloads of sense! Here's why:

  • Wood is available on the doorstep – sourcing firewood locally cuts down on fuel miles
  • Woodfuel is cheaper than oil or coal – it’s easier to budget with no need to worry about fluctuating fuel bills due to changes in global markets
  • Burning wood doesn’t cause global warming – unlike burning fossil fuels like coal and oil
  • Woodfuel is carbon neutral – the carbon dioxide released by a tree when it is burned is the same as it absorbs when it is growing
  • Trees are a renewable resource – when trees are cut down for fuel they can be replanted and managed to provide a continual sustainable supply of wood
  • Woods are places for people to enjoy
  • They provide a range of habitats for wildlife
  • Community firewood schemes provide jobs for local people
  • Trees are a valuable crop – people in towns and villages are seeking opportunities to work with landowners in setting up community firewood schemes

Scheme successes

Family-run B&B keeps gets cosy with wood pellets

Tigh na Fraoch, a four-bedroomed B&B with 20 radiators, was costing £2,500 per year to heat using an old boiler and LPG (liquid petroleum gas). The owners of the Nethybridge business, David and Jenny Carrott, switched to a biomass boiler powered by wood pellets in January 2010, slashing around £1,125 off their annual fuel costs.

Rural home heated by log boiler

A stone-built cottage in the hills of Aberdeenshire was already heated by woodfuel - two woodburning stoves and one back boiler to heat the water - but its current owner has switched to a highly efficient, automated boiler (still log-powered) which is saving around £2,000 a year.

Simple log-burning stoves prove effective

Both a two-bed terraced home and five-bed self-built home are now being heated in one of the simplest ways possible - by log-burning stoves. In the terraced home two log-burners (one large, one small) are supplemented by occasional use of electric storage heaters but help keep electricity costs to a minimum. In the self-built home a large woodburner in the living room backs onto a wood-fired kitchen Rayburn. Combined with an extra large back boiler linked to five radiators upstairs, two towel rails and underfloor heating, the owner has only once in seven years had to resort to his back-up oil-powered system for heating and hot water. He saves around £1,000 on his annual fuel costs.

Biomass heats 100 highland homes

Since October 2006 100 homes run by the Albyn Housing Society, an Aviemore housing association, have been heated thanks to a monster biomass boiler which runs on wood chips. There is also a smaller biomass boiler (used in summer) and a back-up oil boiler. Hot water for the homes is generated by the highly automated biomass boiler, and transported to the homes via a 3km network of insulated underground pipes. Householders' usage is metered and paid for energy via a smartcard which can be regularly topped up.

Log boiler saves Speyside estate thousands

The 4,000-hectare Drummuir Estate in Speyside is home to owners the Gordon-Duffs. They switched to heating their seven-bedroomed home, estate office and three estate cottages via a log-fired central heating system. As a bonus, the estate has also put its approximately 1,000 hectares of trees to good use, with thinnings and fallen trees all being chipped for the biomass boiler. So far the estate's 'substantial' annual savings are set to be around £2,500.

Case study: Alvie and Dalraddy Estates, Kincraig

Jamie and Cathryn Williamson run the popular Alvie and Dalraddy Estates in Badenoch. They've been using wood as fuel since 2006 after switching from oil to slash their crippling heating bills.

The estate has also diversified into wood chip supply too, using trees thinned from the estate's pine forests and turning them into ecologically-friendly fuel.

The estate caters for everything from wedding receptions, conferences and camping to traditional sporting breaks. Alvie House is a 44-bedroom Edwardian shooting lodge that was costing the Williamsons £20,000 a year to heat, even before current high oil prices.

The couple decided to convert from using 60,000 litres of oil a year to using wood chips produced on the estate to run a massive 250kw wood chip boiler.

Despite initial fears about the system being unsuitable for an older building and labour intensive, the couple are very pleased with the results.

They've found the automated feeder system keeps the monster boiler blazing (they have to make sure the hopper is topped up) and they're saving around £10,000-£15,000 annually.

  1. The boiler: Veto 250 woodchip boiler
  2. The cost: £80,000 including installation and associated building work
  3. The heat: Capacity up to 250kw
  4. Annual saving: £10,000-£15,000
  5. Annual carbon saving: 200 tonnes

How the Williamsons did their homework on woodfuel: