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Electric heating systems

Electricity as a heating fuel

Electricity is more expensive than gas or oil, and is a relatively carbon intensive heating fuel, but it is available in almost every home in the UK. There are a number of electric heating technologies that can be installed easily, and relatively cheaply, in a wide range of homes.

The most common is the electric storage heater, which can make use of cheaper off-peak electricity to help keep the running costs down.

If gas is available in the property, or nearby, then you may want to consider fitting gas central heating instead. It will be more expensive to fit than many electric systems, but will be cheaper to run. If you don’t have a gas supply to your house but it is available nearby, you may be eligible for a grant towards the cost of having a connection put in.

The company that owns and operates the gas network in your area may be able to help with the cost of getting a new connection, and it may even be fully funded. Contact them for further information.

It might also be worth considering a form of low carbon heating such as a heat pump or biomass boiler. Whilst these can be expensive to install, they can bring large savings on your energy bills and you can also get payments from the government from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). This can make a renewable system cheaper overall in the long term, as well as reducing your carbon emissions.

Electric Storage Heaters

Most electrically heated homes in the UK have storage heaters. These use cheaper off-peak electricity to heat up during the night, and then release the heat into the home during the day when it is needed.

High heat retention storage heaters

Modern high heat retention storage heaters are better insulated, so are more able to store heat - that can be used when you need it, rather than leaking heat constantly throughout the day. Their heat output is more controllable, and fan assisted, so you can heat a room up faster or keep it cool if you’re not using it. They vary considerably in price, but expect to pay around £700 each. 

Smart controls

Modern electronic controls on storage heaters allow you to set a thermostat so that the heater switches off when it has reached a certain temperature. A heater with these charge controls will automatically calculate how much heat it stores overnight, based on room temperature, previous usage and changes in daily weather patterns. 

Finding an 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. In addition, if you are based in Scotland, you  can also use the trade association for the electrical industry, SELECT, to find an electrician in your area. SELECT members follow the association's code of practice to ensure high quality customer service

Is replacing storage heaters a DIY job?

Replacing storage heaters is never a DIY activity as the heaters need to be wired into their own electricity circuit in your home. 

How should I use the controls for storage heaters? 

If you cannot fit a high heat retention storage heater right now, then you need to use the existing controls effectively to keep warm without wasting energy and money. Electric storage heaters use off-peak electricity to ‘charge up’ overnight and then release heat during the day. 

A standard electric storage heater has two controls - an ‘output’ setting and an ‘input’ setting. The output setting will control how much heat is given out (as long as there is stored heat available).

The input control determines how much electricity the heater will take from the grid during the coming night, and hence how much stored heat will be available the following day.  So you need to set the output dial according to how much heat you want now, and the input dial according to how much heat you think you will need tomorrow.

If a heater runs out of heat in the evening while you still need it, or if the weather gets colder, you may need to turn the input dial up. If the weather gets warmer, or the heater never runs out of heat in the evening, you can probably save money without getting cold by turning the input dial down.

Turn the output dial to zero before you go to bed or go out, so you’re not wasting energy overheating empty rooms. You can do this about an hour before you go to bed, as it will take a while for the heater and room to cool down.

When summer comes and you don’t need the heaters any more, turn them off at the wall, not just by turning the dials to zero. You will need to turn them on again the day before you need the heating to come back on.


Modern storage heater systems include on-board room thermostats. Similar to a central heating room thermostat, this thermostat helps keep rooms at a comfortable temperature.

When the air in the room dips below a set temperature, the storage heaters will release heat until that temperature is reached.

Your room thermostat should be set to the lowest comfortable temperature - typically between 18 and 21 degrees.

How should I use the controls for an electric water heater?

Cylinder thermostat

Your hot water is stored in a cylinder, and the thermostat prevents it becoming hotter than necessary. Once the water has reached the temperature you have set, the immersion heater will switch off. Cylinder thermostats are usually fitted between one quarter and one third of the way up the cylinder. They have temperature scales marked; you should set it at between 60 and 65 degrees.

Time switch

A separate hot water time switch will let you heat the right amount of water at the right time, and take advantage of off-peak Economy 7/10 tariffs. Set your water to heat up only when you need it. The better insulated your cylinder, the longer your water will stay hot.

Boost switch 

Most systems have a second, smaller immersion heating element at the top of the cylinder, activated by a boost switch. Use this to heat a small amount of water if required at expensive peak times during the day.

Financial support

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