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Heating your home

Heating and hot water

Benefits

  • stay warm while saving money
  • make your heating system more efficient
  • lower your carbon emissions

In a typical UK household, more than half the money spent on energy bills goes towards providing heating and hot water.

Having an efficient and cost effective heating system is vital, and it’s one of the main steps you can take to reducing your carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s important to understand your current heating system. Nearly all homes in the UK have either:

  • a central heating system – a boiler and radiators
  • or electric storage heaters

Some homes will also make use of individual heaters that are not part of the main central heating system, which is also known as secondary heating.

Central heating

Central heating is the most common form of heating in the UK. A single boiler heats up water that is pumped through pipes to radiators throughout the house as well as providing hot water to the kitchen and bathroom taps.

Most boilers run on mains gas, but in areas where mains gas is not available, the boiler could run on oil, electricity, LPG (tank gas), coal or wood. Mains gas is usually the cheapest, and it has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions, apart from wood. Some boilers also have an electric immersion heater as a back-up.

If you have a central heating system, you may consider these energy saving improvements:

What type of boiler do I have?

Condensing boiler

Since 2005, virtually all gas boilers that have been fitted in the UK are more efficient, condensing boilers. Condensing boilers have bigger heat exchangers that recover more heat from the burning gas, making them more efficient.

Your boiler will be a condensing boiler if the following is true:

  • the flue is made of plastic. If it is made of metal, it’s unlikely to be a condensing boiler
  • the boiler has a plastic pipe coming out of the bottom, through the wall and into a drain
  • if it is a gas or oil boiler that was installed after 2005

Combi vs regular boiler

A regular boiler is more efficient than a combi at producing hot water, but it will lose some heat from the hot water cylinder. Therefore, a combi boiler may be more efficient overall.

Combi boiler

A combi (or combination) boiler provides hot water directly, whenever it is required, and does not need a hot water cylinder. Gas, oil and LPG boilers may be combination.

Regular boiler

A regular boiler provides hot water when the programmer tells it to, and then stores it in a hot water cylinder until it is needed.

Electric heating

Most UK homes that don’t have a boiler and radiators have electric storage heaters. Storage heaters are designed to work with dual rate electricity tariffs. These tariffs allow you to charge your heaters during the energy supplier’s cheaper, off-peak period, storing the heat for when you need it. With a storage heating system, you will likely have a few panel heaters in less used rooms, like your bedroom, and a hot water cylinder heated by one or two immersion heaters for your hot water.

Electric storage heating is more common in flats, rented property, and in homes with no mains gas connection.

Electric heating is one of the most expensive heating options in the UK, and it emits more carbon dioxide than most systems. However, as the national grid gradually uses more low carbon renewable energy and we move away from using gas and oil, having an electric heating system will be a positive.

If you have an electric storage heating system, you may consider these energy saving improvements:

  • install modern, automatic charge control storage heaters. These allow you to programme your heating system, so that you don’t need to adjust input or output dials manually. These heaters are often better insulated, too, so they keep more heat in for when it’s needed.
  • consider making insulation and draught-proofing improvements
  • replace your system with an efficient boiler and central heating system, or a renewable system such as a heat pump

How to use the manual controls for storage heaters

You can save energy by:

turning the output dial to zero about an hour before you go to bed or go out

turning heaters off at the wall in summer

if you have one, setting your thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature - typically between 18 and 21 degrees

Secondary heating

Secondary heating refers to the use of individual heaters, such as portable electric heaters or fixed gas fires, in addition to your central heating or electric storage heaters.

Modern central heating systems are usually more efficient than individual electric heaters, but it can make sense to use an individual heater to heat one space for a limited time.

If you have older, manual electric storage heaters, try to reduce how much you use a boost or convector heater at the top of the storage heater itself. These usually use the more expensive, peak rate tariff so try to only use them if you run out of stored heat.

Installing a heating system

If you are installing or replacing a fixed (wall-mounted or otherwise) gas heater then you will need to use a Gas Safe Register installer.

You should always use a qualified electrician to fit or replace storage heaters. You can use the Competent Persons Register to find an electrician who is registered with a Government-approved accreditation scheme.

If you want to get a wood burning stove or boiler, the installation must comply with Building Regulations. HETAS is a Government-recognised body which approves biomass appliances and services. You can use the HETAS register to find a trained installer.

Portable heaters can be bought from DIY or home furnishing shops and do not need to be installed by a professional. You can just take them home and use them when you need them.

Last updated: March 9th, 2021