[]   Your account

Central heating systems

Central heating systems make our homes warm and comfortable to live in, providing us with heating and hot water on-demand. But how do they work and what type is right for you? If you’re considering a new central heating system, read our handy guide to discover your options.

Central heating systems make our homes warm and comfortable to live in, providing us with heating and hot water on-demand. But how do they work and what type is right for you? If you’re considering a new central heating system, read our handy guide to discover your options.

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
4
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 9 OCTOBER 2020

What types of central heating system are there?

Central heating systems typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Wet heating systems. This is the type of central heating system that most UK households will be familiar with, whether they have a conventional or combi boiler. The boiler burns fuel and heats the water, which circulates around a network of pipes that connect to radiators installed in different rooms of the house. In some cases, a heat exchanger might be used instead of a boiler.
  • Warm air systems. Popular in the 1960s and 1970s, warm air systems are now more likely to be found in office blocks than residential dwellings, although some older properties still have them. Instead of water, cold air is sucked in from the outside and heated by a boiler. The warm air enters rooms around the home through ducts or vents.
  • Storage heaters. Commonly found in flats and apartment blocks, storage heaters collect and store energy at night, when it tends to be cheaper, and release the stored heat throughout the day when it’s needed. The heat is stored in special ceramic bricks that are capable of storing large amounts of energy.

Gas central heating

A gas-fired central heating system is still the most common way to heat a home in the UK. That’s because, provided your house is connected to the national grid, it’s often the cheapest option in terms of running costs. Also, gas has relatively low levels of CO2 emissions compared with oil or coal-fired heating systems, although it’s not a clean source of energy. The newer A-rated condensing boilers are very efficient and can save you money in the long term.

If you have a gas boiler that’s more than 10 years old, you might want to consider replacing it with a more energy-efficient one. You could be eligible for a Government grant to help you improve efficiency in your home.

Electric central heating

The main form of electric central heating is night storage heaters. The most economical way to use them is with an Economy 7 or Economy 10 electricity tariff.

Electric storage heaters are considerably cheaper to install than gas central heating and don’t require much maintenance. However, electricity is more expensive than gas so electric boilers are only really cost-effective if you don’t have a mains gas supply. Also, they can only produce small amounts of hot water so they aren’t suitable for larger properties.

What are the alternatives to gas boilers?

It’s estimated that more than 14% of homes in Britain are unable to connect to the national gas network, while a growing number of people are looking for a more sustainable alternative to a gas boiler. Other central heating options include:

  • Oil-fired central heating. This is commonly used by people who live in rural areas or who aren’t connected to a mains gas supply. Oil boilers are also used by more than two-thirds of households in Northern Ireland as their main source of heating. The oil is usually stored in a large tank outside the house, and an oil-fired burner provides central heating and hot water. It does have higher CO2 emissions than gas, though.
  • LPG central heating. Liquid petroleum gas is similar to natural gas in that it can be burned to generate energy. But instead of being distributed through a pipe network, it’s usually delivered by road and stored in a tank in the garden. The price of LPG is generally higher than oil or gas, but it’s a highly efficient fuel.
  • Biomass central heating. This bridges the gap between conventional boilers and renewable heating systems. A biomass or wood heating system burns organic material including logs or wood pellets rather than fossil fuels, to provide heat and hot water. Biomass boilers are expensive to buy and need to be cleaned regularly.
  • Renewable heating systems. These are a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels that take energy from sustainable sources. Options include air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and solar water heating systems. Find out more in our guide to renewable energy. If you install a renewable heating system, you may be eligible for the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which can provide you with payments for the heat it produces.

Compare energy suppliers

Get a quote in minutes to see if you can save

Get a quote
Compare energy suppliers in minutes and you could start saving Get a quote

comparethemarket.com uses cookies to offer you the best experience online. By continuing to use our website, you agree to the use of cookies. If you would like to know more about cookies and how to manage them please view our privacy & cookie policy.