Tips for more efficient heating

Using the correct kind of heating this winter could slash your energy bills without sacrificing warmth

Heating and energy

20 March 2018

When the temperature drops, there’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a cup of tea and the heating on. It’s one of life’s little pleasures, but unfortunately it’s not one that comes for free.

Watch our video on how to heat your home more efficiently:

Rising fuel costs mean that turning up the thermostat can be costly. In fact, 15 million of us keep the heating off over winter in an energy saving bid to reduce our bills, at a great cost to our health.

Keeping your home cosy isn’t just about comfort. The right kind of heating also stops damp and mould in their tracks by keeping your home both dry and warm. It’s also important to make sure that you keep your home ventilated as well as heated to prevent condensation from forming.

Money saving methods to heat your home do exist; using the correct kind of heating can slash your energy bills without sacrificing warmth. In this guide you’ll discover the most common types of heating in the UK, their energy saving credentials, and how to implement money saving techniques by using smart heating systems.

Ways to reduce your energy bills

The key to energy saving (and money saving) is to time your heating, monitor the temperature and keep track of how much you’re spending. This applies to whichever heating system you choose. Naturally, each system has its own energy saving credentials, and we've picked out three most common below.

A thermostat (with boiler interlock if you have central heating) stops your heating system from warming up rooms that don’t need it. Set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, and once the room gets warm enough your heating will switch off automatically. There are some sophisticated forms of thermostat on the market: popular ones include those that use ‘zone control”, which lets you choose different temperatures for each room in your house, and smart heating, which generally have an AI programmer that learns when to switch itself on and off. These smart heating options make energy saving simple.

Timers are another great way to make sure the heating only comes on when it’s needed. Start by setting the timer for an hour or so in the morning so your home is warm when you wake up, an hour before you come in from work, and an hour before going to bed. You can tweak the timing to suit your own lifestyle and habits.

Finally, make sure your boiler’s hot water tank has a cylinder thermostat, and set the correct temperature high enough to keep the water hot, but not so high that the boiler overheats. The boiler thermostat temperature should ideally be 60-65 Celsius: hot enough to kill bacteria, but cool enough to keep limescale at bay. Keeping your hot water tank at these temperatures is essential when it comes to your energy saving efforts - any higher, and you'll be using more energy than you need to.

Gas central heating

The majority of British homes have gas central heating, whereby hot water is pumped through a network of radiators throughout the home to keep it warm. Your central heating is only as efficient as the boiler that fuels it. Boilers account for more than half of your energy bills each year. If you have a particularly old boiler, replacing it with a more efficient one could save you over £300 a year. If you have a good boiler, central heating is probably the best way to heat your home.

If your central heating system isn’t efficient, there are several tweaks you can make to save money and energy. If you have your radiator turned to a high setting but aren’t getting much heat, you might need to bleed it. Once that’s done, try the following to get the most from your heating system:

Start by adjusting the thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) on each radiator. Radiator valves let you tweak the temperature of each heater to make sure you’re not wasting energy. For example, if you’re in a small room the dial can be kept low, reducing the demand for heat from the boiler. 

Bear in mind that thermostats can interfere with the TRV of the nearest radiator, as they send mixed signals to the boiler. If you have a thermostat in the same room, keep the TRV turned to the highest setting.

Portable electric heaters

These are the most expensive heaters to run, so use them sparingly. Electric heaters come in a few different guises; the most common ones are oil-filled radiators, fan heaters that blow out hot air, convection heaters, and halogen heaters. While there isn’t much to choose between them, halogen heaters have the added bonus of heating up quickly, and fan heaters are great for warming up a small space in a short amount of time. Despite their benefits, these heaters won't contribute towards your energy saving goals.

If you do need to use portable electric heaters, make sure you buy the most efficient model possible. Choose units that have an in-built thermostat so that they switch themselves off when they’re no longer needed, or ones with an in-built timer that turn off after a set amount of time. Always look at the energy rating before purchasing one. As a rule of thumb, heaters with a better energy efficiency rating will be cheaper to run. As they’re electric they’re always going to cost more than a gas-based system, so it really is worth upgrading to central heating if possible.

Fixed electric and gas heaters

Fixed heaters are an alternative to central heating, with both electric and gas versions on the market. They are more efficient than portable heaters, but they’re not quite as energy saving as a gas central heating system. They’re too heavy to move around a lot, so many people choose to put them in their fireplace as a decorative focal point.

Electric wall panel heaters have become more popular recently due to their stylish, slimline look. They hang on the wall like a radiator, and work best in small spaces. They also need to be hung near a plug socket, as this will be their main power source. They heat up quickly, so are a great for rooms that you’re only going to be using for a short while.

Gas wall heaters are the most energy saving form of fixed heater, almost rivalling plumbed-in central heating systems for energy efficiency. They need to be affixed to an outside wall in order to reach the gas supply. Again, they heat up quite quickly, and are a popular option in chilly areas of the home such as the landing, hallway, and conservatory.

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