Different ways to heat your house

Joy Persaud / 14 October 2016

From gas-powered central heating to eco-friendly options, find out about the different ways to heat your house.



As the colder weather draws in and summer officially ends, thoughts turn to firing up the heating. We look at systems to keep your home cosy and comfortable.

Central heating

Gas central heating is a popular option for those who are connected to the national network. Be aware that an old boiler will cost you more to run than a newer, safer, condensing model. Newer boilers are around 90 per cent efficient whereas older ones can offer as little as 55 per cent efficiency.

With the latest models costing around £4,000 (including installation), it may be prohibitive to buy a new boiler, but using heating controls can help you save money on gas bills:

  • a room thermostat will switch the heating on only when a certain temperature is reached; these can be placed in any room, which is useful if you want part of your home heated. Turning down the heating in rooms by just 1°C can save a typical home around £85 to £90 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust
  • valves on radiators can be adjusted to allow heat into a room and to regulate it
  • you can set a timer to switch the boiler on and off regularly during certain hours
  • programmers can be set to come on at various times and temperatures throughout the day, with each day having its own settings
  • apps, such as Hive, allow you to control your heating and hot water tank (if applicable) remotely. These usually attract a monthly charge but could save you money if you are only using your heat when needed.

Find out how to cut your gas bill

Renewable energy heating

There are several ways to generate heat in a carbon neutral way.

Stoves

Wood burning stoves are a popular option. They look good, are environmentally friendly and will likely save you money, too. They are usually situated in one room, but can be attached to a central heating system. These heaters can be either continuous or intermittent, depending on whether you want a top up or a more constant source of warmth.

Stoves will provide different amounts of heat, depending on the size of the room, and the type of property will dictate the output needed: a well built, insulated home will require less fuel to be burned.

You’ll need to buy a stove that is approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to burn wood, as certain regions of the UK are smoke control areas. If you have a non-approved stove, you can burn authorised smokeless fuels, such as anthracite, to minimise the environmental and health impact of chimney smoke.

If you plan to install a wood fuel stove, you’ll need to buy seasoned logs from a reputable supplier, or season them yourself for around two years. Firewood should be kept in an environment with plenty of air circulating to help it to dry out. If you don’t have outside space, this could be difficult.

Multi-fuel stoves are also known as mineral-fuel stoves. They can burn wood, smokeless fuel and coal but are not able to burn all fuels equally well. If you are planning to buy a multi-fuel stove with the intention of running it primarily on one fuel, find out how to run it most efficiently. If you’re only going to burn wood, consider getting a dedicated log burner, but keep in mind that wood may not always be easy for you to obtain and you may wish to keep coal as a back up.

The government body that approves biomass and solid fuel heating appliances, fuels and services, including the registration of competent installers and servicing businesses, HETAS (hetas.co.uk) is a useful resource for supplies and fitters.

Ground source heat pumps

A ground source heat pump system harnesses energy stored in the ground and compress it to heat your property and/or provide hot water.

The heat pump systems comprise a ground loop (a network of water pipes buried underground) and a pump at ground level. This will involve disruptive work (and possibly require planning permission).

Such systems cost around £12,000 to install plus the price of putting in underfloor heating – and you may still need an additional electric heater to supplement your supply.

That said, the method can deliver fuel savings and significant carbon emissions reductions and you will receive payments via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a government scheme set up to encourage uptake of renewable heat technologies among householders. Although the pump runs on electricity (which should be on an Economy 7 or 10 tariff), it uses less of this energy than the heat produced.

Find out about using solar power to heat water

Electric heating

This is suitable for those who are not connected to the national gas grid. While it is not especially energy efficient, homes that don’t have the option to use alternatives, can ensure they are paying for the most cost-effective types of electricity.

Night storage heaters use electricity supplied at a cheaper rate via Economy 7 and Economy 10 to warm heat-retaining bricks at night. While they aren’t cheap to run, these heaters are less expensive to install than gas systems and don’t need as much maintenance.

However, the tariff of Economy 7 and 10, when used during the day, is far costlier than alternatives. Also, these heaters don’t provide instant heat, so if the heating has been off and it suddenly gets cold, you’ll have to wait a day for warmth.

Modern oil-free electric heaters can be bought off the shelf. They are around one-third more energy efficient than their oil-filled equivalents. Many can be programmed and have thermostatic controls so you can set them up to warm a room in advance of you being in it.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.