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Electric heating systems
Electricity is the most expensive and carbon-intensive heating fuel available in the UK. The preferred option for anyone with storage heaters is to replace them with a boiler or heat pump, with radiators or underfloor heating. This can cost a considerable amount to install but can save money in the long term.
You could switch to a conventional fuel like gas. A new gas boiler will typically cost around £2,300 plus the cost of the radiators, but you could cut the cost of your heating bill by nearly half and save about £340 a year.
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. Otherwise you could install an oil boiler and fuel tank.
You can also switch to a renewable heating system like a heat pump or wood boiler. This will cost you more than a conventional system but you can get payments from the government over the lifetime of the system. Find out more about renewable heating systems.
Upgrading your electric storage heaters
If you cannot install a whole new central heating system, then you could install new, more controllable storage heaters, together with improved controls. New storage heaters can be quite pricey, but can be cheaper to install than central heating, and you don’t have to replace them all at once.
Modern slimline fan-assisted storage heaters are better insulated, so are better able to store heat until you want it. Their heat output is more controllable, so you can heat a room up more quickly or keep it cool if you’re not using it.
Modern controls can automatically set the input and output settings, based on your preferred room temperature, the actual room temperature and even the temperature outside. Systems that do all of this are sometimes known as Celect type controls.
Modern slim line storage heaters vary considerably in price, but expect to pay around £700 each.
Controls for electric storage heaters
If you cannot replace your storage heaters right now, then you need to use the controls effectively to help keep warm without wasting energy and making your bills even higher.
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 the heater gives 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 probably do this quite early, maybe an hour before you go to bed, as it will take a while for the heater and the room to cool down.
And 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.
Similar to a central heating room thermostat, a room thermostat helps keep rooms at a comfortable temperature. When the air around the thermostat dips below a set temperature, the storage heaters will release heat until that temperature is reached.
Room thermostats need a free flow of air to sense the temperature, so they must not be blocked by curtains or furniture, or put near heat sources.
Your room thermostat should be set to the lowest comfortable temperature - typically between 18°C and 21°C. You can also try turning your thermostat down a degree or two.
Controls for electric water heaters
Your hot water is stored in a cylinder, and the thermostat prevents it being hotter than it needs to be. Once the water has reached the temperature you have set, the immersion heater will turn 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 them at between 60ºC and 65ºC.
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. By signing up to one of these tariffs, and setting the timer to heat water at a cheaper, off-peak rate, you will use less electricity and save money.
Set your water to heat up only when you need it: keeping it constantly hot uses energy. The better insulated your tank, the longer your water will stay hot.
Most systems have a second, smaller heating element at the top of the immersion cylinder, activated by a boost switch. Use this to heat a small amount of water at expensive peak times during the day.