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.
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.
Modern slim line 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 often 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.
Modern 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 automatic charge controls will automatically control how much heat it stores overnight, depending on the heater's internal thermostat as well as changes in daily weather patterns.
A system with Celect-type controller will monitor heaters in all rooms and automatically control how much heat is stored or released in different rooms.
You should always use a qualified electrician to fit or replace storage heaters.
In England and Wales you can use the Competent Persons Register to find an electrician who is registered with a Government-approved accreditation scheme. In Scotland you can use the trade association for the electrical industry, SELECT, has a 'find a contractor' search engine so that you can find a SELECT electrician in your area. SELECT members follow the associaton's code of practice to ensure high quality customer service.
Replacing storage heaters is never a DIY activity as the heaters need to be wired into their own electricity circuit in your home.
If you cannot fit advanced storage heater controls 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 are likely to include room thermostats. 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 and 21 degrees.
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.
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. 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.
If you're based in England or Wales please contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.Contact us
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