In this article
1. Gas central heating
Choosing which heating system you use to heat your home is one of the more important decisions you will make. You want to ensure you select the best and most appropriate heating system to provide you with heating and hot water when needed and to keep your energy bills as low as possible.
These days, there is a wide range of heating systems on the market, from gas central heating over green low-carbon solutions to own generation. Getting your head around all available options can seem daunting at first so it’s important to understand the key differences between each heating source and their benefits.
Most homes in the UK have access to the gas grid, and gas central heating is in fact the most common heating system you will find. However, many homes are still not connected to the UK gas grid, meaning other systems are needed such as oil, LPG and electric heating. There are also several renewable options available to be considered such as biomass or air source heat pumps.
We’re here to help with all things energy, so here is our expert guide to help you choose the best heating system for your home. We’ll take a look at the different systems available, how they work and, most importantly, whether and how they can help you to cut your energy bills and energy consumption.
Gas central heating will typically be the cheapest option for you if your home is already powered by mains gas. The vast majority of homes in the UK will be connected to the mains gas grid (National Grid), which means that gas powered central heating is likely already installed for these homes.
Gas central heating is known as a ‘wet-system’ and uses a gas-fired boiler and radiators to heat your home – the boiler will heat your water from the mains or a storage tank to provide central heating and hot water to your home. This hot water is then transferred to radiators, taps, showers and baths.
In the case of gas central heating, there are several different boiler options for you to choose from, and an even wider selection of boiler brands. The three most common types of gas boilers are combi, conventional and system boilers. Combi boilers allow you to heat your home and use hot water from one shower or tap at a time whereas conventional and system boilers are better suited to homes in which multiple showers and taps are used daily.
It’s worth mentioning that, with the UK committed to reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2050, gas boilers have been banned from being installed in new build properties from the year 2025 onwards. While the domestic gas boiler ban is restricted to new builds for now, there are discussions to ban the installation of new gas boilers in all domestic properties in the near future.
If you already have gas central heating installed in your home, you may want to explore your options of upgrading to a much more efficient condensing boiler for a chance to save on your heating bills. Head over to our guide on how to buy the best boiler if you want to learn more.
When installing electric central heating, you will need to remember that two separate solutions are required for your home setup: you will require radiators for your heating, and an immersion heater for your hot water.
Electric heating is often found in apartment blocks, particularly in new builds, and nowadays often in the form of electric storage heaters paired with an economy 7 or economy 10 tariff. These tariffs feature ‘peak’ and ‘off peak’ times (usually at night) decided by the supplier, which can help you to save money on your bills by charging heat during ‘off peak’ times to be used the following day during ‘peak’ times when electricity is typically more expensive.
As far as heating is concerned, the most cost-effective form of electric central heating uses electric storage heaters. These look like radiators and will typically be wall mounted. Storage heaters work by storing heat generated at night and release this heat during the day to keep your home warm. They draw electricity over the course of a few hours at night, and store this in special ceramic bricks.
Storage heaters come complete with a set of input and output controls, allowing you to decide how much heat is stored and how much is used. Each heater will usually have separate controls allowing you to heat certain rooms, and many modern storage heaters come complete with temperature controls and timers.
A second form of electric heating comes in the form of electric radiators. These can be installed in your property and are used for on demand heat throughout the day, similar to a standard radiator used with gas central heating. The main issue with these is that you will not benefit from cheaper off-peak rates and could end up with a large energy bill, so you should only consider this as an option if your usage is very low and your property is extremely well insulated.
Homes that have electric heating use immersion heaters to heat water. An immersion heater is a water heater (usually a coil) powered by electricity that you will find located within a hot water cylinder. It acts in a similar way to a kettle and heats the surrounding water. Once heated, the water is then used in the home. Immersion heaters are connected to the mains electricity with their own power supply. They can be used on their own as a primary water heater, or together with a combi boiler as a back-up water heater.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is used to heat homes which are not connected to the mains gas grid. LPG is usually stored in a large tank in the garden and delivered by tanker. You therefore have to make sure that your fuel is topped up and ordered on time, so you don’t run out when you need it most.
LPG central heating is similar to that of gas and oil central heating and uses a ‘wet-system’ with an LPG fired boiler that heats the hot water in your home used to power your taps, showers and radiators. The system setup with LPG is very similar to that of gas central heating and is compatible with all three types of boiler models, giving you a large selection of brands to choose from. The key difference of course is that, instead the mains gas supply, it’s the external LPG fuel tank in your garden that supplies the boiler with fuel.
You will need to decide on a few things when installing LPG central heating: apart from the right boiler size, you will need to make sure that your chosen LPG tank size is sufficiently large for your home's typical heating and hot water needs and decide between installing the tank above or below ground. LPG tanks also need to be maintained regularly.
Oil central heating is another heating system that is often found in off-grid properties, homes that aren’t connected to the mains gas grid such as in rural areas of the country. Much like with LPG, the oil is stored in a large tank in the garden or underground, and delivered by tanker.
Systems that use oil as fuel work in a very similar way to gas-fired properties. Oil from your external tank is drawn into an oil-fired boiler, which heats your water. This water is then distributed to taps, radiators and showers to heat your home.
You have the choice between a combi, a system or a conventional boilers when it comes to oil central heating systems. A wide range of brands and models are available although Grant boilers are undoubtedly the market leaders. Oil is a highly efficient fuel, and the ability to stock up when prices are low helps to cut energy bills. However, you will need to consider the additional cost of installing the external oil tank and maintaining it.
With the price of fuel for traditional heating systems continuing to rise, why not make a smart choice for the environment by going green? There are a number of renewable heating options available to you, which help you reduce your carbon footprint and can even help you to reduce your energy bills as well - great for the environment and your pocket.
Renewable heating uses sources of heat that are naturally occurring such as wind, the sun and even the outside air itself. These sources are then converted into energy, which is used to heat your home. They emit zero carbon emissions, so are great for the environment and help us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Installing a renewable heating solution can be a very good investment considering the Government are currently paying you for the renewable heat you produce under the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). With these payments, you may find that installing a renewable solution can be more cost effective than a conventional boiler replacement. We take a look at the most common types of renewable solution available.
Air source heat pumps / hybrid heating
An Air Source Heat Pump extracts naturally occurring heat found in the outside air and compresses it to create high level heat which can be used to provide heating and hot water to your home. They are highly efficient and backed by the Government to contribute to the UK’s target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A standalone air source heat pump will be placed outside the property, which takes the naturally occurring outside air and brings this into a heat exchanger where it extracts the heat. This heat is then transferred into your home to be used for your radiators and hot water. A hot water cylinder will be installed to store the hot water heated up by the heat pump.
A hybrid heating system, in turn, uses a combination of an air source heat pump and an existing boiler and hot water cylinder. This system is designed to automatically switch between your heat pump and boiler depending on which will be the most energy and cost efficient at the time.
Air source heat pumps are eligible for Government funding including the Green Homes Grant (GHG) and the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), under which the Government pays you to install these solutions.
Learn more about air source heat pumps here.
Ground source heat pumps
A ground source heat pump is another form of renewable heating and harnesses heat from the ground to be used in your home. This is done through a series of pipes called ‘ground loops’ or through a deep borehole in your garden – this heat is then transferred through a heat pump into your home.
Solar thermal heating is a common form of renewable heating source and uses the natural power of the sun to heat your home. Solar panels will be installed on the roof of your home and used in conjunction with a boiler, collector or immersion heater.
The solar collector will use the sun’s rays to heat a transfer fluid which is a mixture of water and glycol, to prevent the water from freezing in the winter. The heated water from the collectors is pumped to a heat exchanger inside a water cylinder. The heat from the exchanger will then heat the water inside the cylinder to be used in your home.
Just like solar thermal, solar PV uses the natural power of the sun, turning daylight into free energy that you can use to heat your home, they are a slightly newer technology to solar thermal, with panels installed on your roof absorbing sunlight and transferring this into energy using silicon-based technology. Unlike solar thermal, solar PV is solely used to produce electricity in your home, rather than hot water.
To heat your home and water using Solar PV you will need to install a special device known as a power diverter, this will use your existing immersion heater and solar PV system to divert the energy produced to your hot water tank, this diverter then boosts your hot water tank when needed.
With the overall price of fossil fuels continuing to rise, a growing number have started to shift their focus and pay more attention towards renewable energy sources to heat their homes such as biomass.
These biomass systems burn organic materials such as logs or wooden pellets to create heat for your home – in some cases straw or rapeseed pellets may be used as well to create heat and hot water for your home.
Biomass is considered to be a carbon neutral heating system, with zero carbon emissions being admitted from the burned materials making it a great choice for the environmentally conscious, biomass heating systems require a fair amount of space, so you typically find them installed in large homes that are off the gas grid. Overall biomass boilers aren't particularly popular when compared to the other fuels types available such as gas, oil and LPG.
Biomass boilers are typically larger than boilers for other fuels, the boiler needs to be larger to hold the extra volume of fuel, much like conventional boilers biomass is able to produce heat and hot water for the entire home. Alongside the boiler many users of biomass also install a wood burning fire in their home to heat the living room.
One other thing to note with biomass is that this heating system is eligible for Government payments for the heat produced under the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), so it’s worth factoring this in when comparing prices.