How to heat a home efficiently

A typical UK household spends more than half its total energy costs on heating and hot water, according to the Energy Saving Trust. We look at some of the most efficient heating systems available to help you save money on your bills.

A typical UK household spends more than half its total energy costs on heating and hot water, according to the Energy Saving Trust. We look at some of the most efficient heating systems available to help you save money on your bills.

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
7
minute read
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Posted 1 DECEMBER 2020

What’s the best way to heat a house?

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to keeping your home warm, from conventional central heating to underfloor systems and storage heaters.

A gas-fired central-heating system is often the cheaper option in terms of running costs; electrical heating costs considerably more per unit of energy. Gas is also relatively clean in its CO2 emissions, compared to oil or coal-fired heating systems.

But if your home isn’t connected to the mains gas network and you’re considering joining it up, it’s worth remembering that it can be expensive to do so. Electrical, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), oil or biomass heating might be better options.

If you only need to heat one room at a time, an energy-efficient heater could work out cheaper than some forms of central heating. But if you want to heat several rooms, central heating is usually less expensive than using individual heaters, even if they have the best energy ratings.

Should I leave the heating on low all day?

There’s a lot of debate over this. Some people argue that you should keep your heating on throughout the day, even when you’re not at home. They say that more energy is used powering it up from a cold start than constantly leaving it at a level temperature. But Simple Energy Advice – the government’s impartial energy advice website – recommends only heating your home when you need to keep warm, and using a thermostat or timer to control the temperature.

According to Compare the Market research, 72% of households increased their energy use during the first nationwide lockdown at the start of 2020, so it’s important to heat your home as efficiently as you can to save on your bills.

How can I improve the energy efficiency of my heating?

If your boiler is more than 12 years old, it might be time to think about replacing it with a more energy-efficient model. Upgrading from an old G-rated boiler to a new A-rated condensing boiler with heating controls could make a big difference to your bills.

While the initial outlay will be high (somewhere in the region of £1,500 to £4,500), it will be more cost-effective in the long run. Biomass boiler prices might be even higher. According to Hometree, who provide boiler, heating and home care plans and work with Compare The Market, a household living in a semi-detached property could potentially save around £200 a year by swapping a G-rated boiler for an A-grade one.

You may be eligible for financial help towards the cost of fitting a more efficient boiler through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO): Help to Heat scheme.

What’s the best way to use central heating?

There are several ways you can improve the efficiency of your central heating. Try:

  • putting thermostatic valves on your radiators – this enables you to set the temperature appropriately in different rooms
  • adjusting your thermostat – turning it down by just one degree could save around £60 per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust
  • having your heating and hot water on a timer – leaving the heating and hot water on constantly isn’t energy-efficient
  • turning your heating off sooner – for example, about 30 minutes to an hour before you go to bed or go out. It should stay warm enough to be comfortable even as it cools down
  • check out smart heating controls – these allow you to control your heating and hot water from your phone or computer, so you never waste any energy
  • service your boiler – an annual service will ensure that your boiler is working efficiently without any leaks or other issues

What temperature should the thermostat be set at?

Between 18 and 21 degrees is ideal, according to Simple Energy Advice. Once your thermostat is set and your boiler is on, your home will stay at this temperature, no matter how cold it is outside. For example, start at 21 degrees and see if it feels comfortable. If it does, turn it down a degree and see how that feels for a day or two. If it’s still comfortable, turn it down another degree. Once you get to the point where it’s too chilly to be comfortable, turn it up a degree to find a temperature you’re happy with. But remember, the elderly and the unwell may prefer it a little warmer.

Should I turn off radiators in rooms I don’t use?

Try turning radiators to the frost-protection setting rather than off completely. This will save money and energy.

It’s a good idea to put the radiators on low rather than off in unused rooms from time to time, to prevent damp.

If you’re not heating a room, keep the door shut – this will stop it from leaching cold into the rest of the house. It’s a good idea to keep the doors closed if you’re mostly in one heated room anyway. You can be tactical with which radiators/heat sources you need to switch on.

Are electric fires energy-efficient?

Electric heating converts all the electricity it uses into heat. A new electric fire should be somewhere close to 100% efficient. A new gas boiler is required to be at least 92% efficient. But electricity is three to four times more expensive than gas, which means that, for many, it’s less economical.

Electricity, when generated from non-renewable sources, can also leave a big carbon footprint. The good news is that there are now more green energy options available.

Is underfloor heating energy-efficient? 

There are two types of underfloor heating: electric underfloor heating and water underfloor heating. Both work at a lower temperature than conventional central heating and distribute heat more evenly than radiators. You’ll need to make sure you install insulation beneath your underfloor heating so the warmth isn’t being lost below. And it won’t matter how effective your underfloor heating is if your home is draughty and badly insulated.

Underfloor heating can help to prevent draughts in your home and works particularly well with renewable technology, such as heat pumps. If you think a radiator gets heated to around 65-75 degrees to warm a room, an underfloor system would typically heat to around 27-29 degrees and still warm the room effectively when properly installed. And unlike radiators, underfloor heating distributes heat much more evenly through a room. Most underfloor systems are zoned so you can control the temperature room by room – meaning you can adjust timings and temperatures to suit your lifestyle.

Leaving underfloor heating on continuously is not recommended, particularly if your insulation is good. But underfloor heating can take a long while to heat up, so you’ll need to use a timer to make sure rooms are warm enough when you want to use them.

What about storage heaters? 

Storage heaters can be cost-effective, if you use them properly. They work by storing electricity at night, then gradually releasing it as heat during the day. They operate individually, meaning you can heat each room separately and take better control of your heat-efficiency. Modern storage heaters are now better insulated to keep the heat in until you want to use it, making them more efficient than older models.

The most economical way to use storage heaters is with an Economy 7 or Economy 10 tariff, which give you cheaper electricity during the night – but more expensive rates during the day.

If you need the heating on overnight, storage heaters won’t be for you. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, if you use a much bigger proportion of your electricity during the day, Economy 7 or 10 tariffs will probably end up costing you more.

How else can I heat my home more efficiently?

Whatever heating system you use, reducing your home’s heat leakage will boost its efficiency. You could think about:

  • installing loft and cavity-wall insulation – or upgrading yours, if it’s not doing the job. If you live in England, the Green Homes Grant could help towards the cost of this, as well as other energy-saving measures
  • fitting double or secondary glazing
  • insulating your pipes
  • fitting draught excluders and thick curtains to keep the heat in on chilly nights.

You should also make sure your hot water tank has good insulation to help the water stay warm.

Remember that you shouldn’t block off any structural ventilation, such as air bricks and wall vents, without expert advice, as these are generally needed to prevent damp in your home.

How else can I save money on my heating bills?

One of the easiest things you can do is to compare quotes from a range of UK energy providers, to see if switching suppliers could save you money on your energy bills.

Compare the Market’s comparison service takes the hassle out of doing this. So just tell us a little about you and your home, and we’ll do the rest.

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