What is the most efficient way to run domestic central heating during the winter?

We’ve just got through the winter of 2019/20 pretty unscathed, but when winter approaches each year, the temperatures drop and houses all around the UK and Ireland begin to prepare to use their central heating systems to keep warm during the colder months. Below we offer some advice and tips on how to keep your central heating cost effective during those winter months.

1. Service your boiler

Before winter arrives, your boiler needs a good service. This will ensure that your boiler is working efficiently without any problems or leaks, plus if you have a magnet filter, time to clean it out. You may want to consider having your boiler serviced during the summer holidays – heating engineers tend to get very busy in September/October as people start to turn their heating on and find it won’t work! Maybe best to get it serviced in good time so that if we get a cold snap early, you know your heating will work happily.

2. Adjust your boiler settings

It clearly makes sense to be aware of the boiler settings and to turn them down if you can. The lower the settings the less energy will be used and the lower your bills will be. Most people’s boilers heat both their heating and their hot water so make sure they are high enough to do the job but not higher than you need. Just turning them down by 1 degree will make noticeable savings.

3. Insulate your loft

Heat rises. If you have a loft in your home, insulating your loft will prevent unnecessary loss of heat. Insulate your loft to the recommended requirements of insulation, currently around 270mm. This will keep your bills down while keeping your home warm. Where possible find out how else you can insulate your home in preparation for the winter months ahead.

4. Consider cavity wall insulation

It’s worth checking if you have cavity wall insulation and if not, get a quote for having it installed and ask the installer what the payback period for it will be. A lot of homes already have this today but if yours doesn’t, it will reduce the amount you have to spend on heating bills. It’s same principle of having loft insulation, by insulating the walls you are reducing the amount of heat lost through them. It’s a simple but effective option, particularly if you have a ‘cold’ house.

5. Fix draughty leaks in your home

The biggest culprit for escaped heat is draughts. Inspect your home for possible draught leaks. They could be under the door, cracks near the windows, wooden flooring and so on. Where possible fix the draught leaks. It’s a self-maintenance that you can carry out quite inexpensively yourself – go to any DIY store and head for the draught proofing products and decorators caulk – you’ll be surprised how reasonable they are and how simple many are to fit.

6. Use your Central Heating Thermostat efficiently

Your central heating does not need to constantly run at high temperatures for your home to benefit. While it may give you that toasty, warm feeling, your electricity bill will suffer. It’s easy to pop on a jumper and set the thermostat down a degree or two rather than setting the thermostat of your central heating higher. Try the lowest acceptable temperature of 18/19 degrees on the thermostat to start with and move it up by one degree at a time to find the acceptable temperature for you. Combined with these other suggestions you may be surprised at the temperature that feels comfy and even more surprised when you see your next heating bill! Remember you can always turn the thermostat up for ten minutes to give the home a heat boost. Just remember to turn it back down after it has done its job.

7. Install Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs)

Your entire house doesn’t need to be heated to the same degree. Look at installing thermostatic radiator valves in each room of your house. These radiator valves will help you regulate the flow of water to your radiators which in turn will help you control the temperature required for each room.

You can think of the boiler as the central control unit, setting the temperature of the water that heats the radiators. What a thermostatic valve does is give you individual control of each radiator. The dial allows you to choose the ambient temperature around the thermostatic head, this in turn maintains the room temperature. The radiator will turn on and off at a lower more efficient setting, the higher the setting, the hotter the radiator.

8. Install reflector panels

You can invest in reflector panels behind your radiators. Although not hugely attractive the reflector panels will assist in reflecting heat back into the room that will otherwise be absorbed by the walls behind the radiators. These make sure that as much as possible of the heat you pay for makes it into your room to keep you warm and comfy. These shouldn’t really be needed if the radiator is the correct size, however the reflector will still have a positive effect.

This allows you to keep your living room where you spend more time, warmer than your empty spare room, which may simply not get used for example. Keep the temperature at a level that keeps the chill off rooms you don’t use but the ones you live in a little warmer to keep comfortable. You don’t need the whole home to be the same temperature all the time!

8. Bleed your radiator

Make sure that your radiators are full of water and not partially filled. The air is essentially replacing any hot water that would be needed to heat the radiator in order to be effective when in use. Find out how to bleed your radiator.

9. Switch Energy suppliers

Your energy provider should be giving you the best deal; however, this is not always the case and customers are entitled to shop around.

Further Q&As

Is it cost effective to leave the central heating on?

It all depends on the heating controls you have on your system. It is better to turn the heat setting down when you’re not in the home or at night when you’re in bed, this is called a set-back temperature. By turning the heating off, you are not incurring a bill for heating at all. The higher and longer you have the heating on for the more it will cost you. We recommend that you use TRVs to have the right level of heat in each room, which will save energy, and that when you go out you could turn the heat down to a bare minimum that keeps the chill off the house. If you have Wi-Fi controlled heating, you can switch it back on twenty minutes before you get home to ensure there is acceptable heat in the house. If not and you know what time you will be home, set the heating to come back on a quarter of an hour before you arrive home. It’s all about how you manage your settings – just have the heat on when you need it and at a level that is acceptable to you. Then, when not in use set the temperature to a ‘comfort’ setting to prevent using excessive energy when reaching the ‘in use’ temperature.

Is it cheaper to leave the central heating on low all the time?

In really cold weather it may be, but if constantly ‘on’ the setting could be 18 – 19oC. It will ensure you have no freezing pipes. But in general terms no. You should always turn the heating off if you know you will not be home and set the timer for the heating to come back on just before you return home.

Is it cheaper to use central heating or electric heaters?

It depends what fuel you use to operate your central heating – in the UK and Ireland most of us use mains gas to heat our homes. Others use oil, LPG, solid fuel and renewable systems like air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. Some of us use wood pellet boilers and burners.

In general terms its less expensive to use gas than electric heating. But you need to consult your local heating engineer for the most cost-effective option for your home.

Is it cheaper to turn off radiators in unused rooms?

Technically, yes it is. Anything you can turn down will help reduce your bills. But if you leave doors open into these unused rooms, the heating from the rest of the house will move towards the cold space so try to keep doors closed in unused cooler rooms. If you have TRVs on every radiator in every room, you should be able to control the heat levels well – so in rooms you live in, try the level at 3-5. For the rooms you don’t use leave the level at 1-2 only, which will allow the heat to be at an acceptable level whilst not reaching the temperatures you need in living rooms.

Should I unplug unused appliances?

It makes little difference to your electricity bill, but it’s easy to leave appliances on without realising if you don’t make the effort to switch them off. If you turn all your lights in the house off before you go to bed and look around, you will see the worryingly large number of small red lights that each appliance has to let you know they are plugged in and if they need charging – are charging! These small lights cost you more than you might imagine so it’s always worth switching off these so called ‘stand-by’ lights if you can! That will save you money on your bills.

Should I close all the doors in my house?

Front and back – definitely! Inside doors – this depends. If you are happy with the temperature in your home and have the doors to rooms you are not using, open, then the heat in the home will keep the chill off the unused rooms. If you are using TRVs to control the heat in each room, then yes, keep the doors closed and the TRV will more accurately keep the temperature in each room at the selected level.

What is the most economical temperature for central heating?

The most economical temperature is the one that provides comfort for you and those living in the home without going overboard. 18 degrees is usually considered the lowest temperature that will provide comfort in the colder months, but people feel the cold differently and for some 25 degrees will be the level they feel they need. Just remember you can save significantly by turning the thermostat down just 1 degree, and every degree after that saves even more.

Is a Combi boiler cheaper to run?

A combination boiler provides both heating and hot water and modern models do a really good job at that. They are in around 70% of all homes in the UK and they have become more popular due to them being space saving and cheaper to install. How much they cost to run depends again on what temperature you want from them and the settings you set for them.

What are the most efficient radiators for central heating?

In short, the right sized ones. To be efficient, they need to be correctly sized and this is a job your heating engineer should do for you before the installation. There is no point in installing huge, oversized radiators that your room size doesn’t need to keep it warm. Equally there’s no point in putting in a small radiator that can’t cope with the heat requirement of the space. We’ve all frozen in bathrooms where the towel warmer does just that warms the towels but not the bathroom! There are two free radiator sizing and heat loss tools on the Stelrad website that allows you to input each room’s dimensions, the number and sizes of windows and doors, the type of materials of the walls and ceilings and having put all that information in, it tells you the size of radiator you need to heat that room, it even gives you the most suitable option of our whole range and a choice most economical for your budget.

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