Today, electricity is something that most of us Brits can’t do without. From work to recreation, cooking to transport, healthcare to lighting, electricity has become irreplaceable in the modern lifestyle. It’s shocking really (pun intended).
What is an electric central heating system?
As you can probably guess, electric central heating systems use electricity to generate heat rather than gas or oil. These come in many different forms, shapes and sizes to suit various circumstances. Electric heating options include heat pumps, infrared heating panels, electric radiators, storage heaters and electric boilers (there’s more on these later).
Why would you opt for an electric heating system?
Health and environmental benefits
According to the NHS, there are around 25 deaths every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales. “Incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated household appliances – such as cookers, heaters and central heating boilers – are the most common causes of accidental exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Replacing a gas boiler with an electric central heating system minimises this risk, since they don’t emit any harmful gases locally. Furthermore, if your electricity comes from renewable sources (look out for green electricity suppliers), they could potentially heat your home carbon-neutrally.
Off gas mains
In the UK, there are roughly 5 million homes for which gas isn’t an option, yet almost every house has access to the electricity grid. For these off-gas homeowners, electric central heating systems could see a vast improvement to their bottom line and to their quality of life as opposed to traditional heating methods, such as oil or LPG boilers.
Modern gas, oil and LPG boiler efficiency peaks at just over 90%, losing a large amount of heat through the flue and the pipes. In comparison, electric boilers can achieve an efficiency of up to 100% (no flue needed), and heat pump efficiency extends even further to 350% or more. This could equate to huge savings in the future, particularly if you have or plan on having solar panels installed on your roof.
One of the most attractive benefits of moving to an electric heating system is the amount of control you get with it. If you turned the thermostat up a few degrees in a single room, traditional heaters would have to fire up the whole system to supply a relatively small amount of warmth, which is an excessive and costly method in many cases. However, electric heating systems may only need to turn on a single heater in that room, getting the heat out right where it’s needed. This localised heating makes for a much more comfortable (not to mention cost-effective) home experience.
Electrification of heating
While the date for Brexit has been set, there are still concerns around what effect this might have on fuel prices. Oil and gas production from the North Sea and Irish Sea is in decline, making us increasingly dependent on imports from mainland Europe and Norway (according to British Gas, 44% of gas is imported from European pipelines).
Furthermore, oil and gas are both dwindling resources, whereas installing an efficient electric heating solution will put homeowners ahead of the government’s Carbon Plan (“Modelling undertaken for the Carbon Plan showed virtually no role for domestic natural gas in 2050”).
So, now that you’re aware of the benefits, let’s navigate through all the different electric heating options available. There are a number of different ways you can heat your home using electricity. Let’s start by taking you through some of the most popular electric heating solutions out there, and some of their key advantages and disadvantages.
What are the best electric heating solutions out there?
Infrared heating panels
One of the most (…ahem…) current electric heating systems available, infrared panels work by using infrared energy to heat objects instead of traditionally using convection that warms the air. When this infrared energy comes into contact with a person or furniture, it causes the molecules and atoms of that object to vibrate and generate heat.
Pros: Infrared heating panels provide instant, safe heating, and they can be up to 100% efficient. The installation is manageably DIY (they plug into a wall socket and are screwed into a wall or ceiling). You can also opt for multipurpose infrared panels: part radiator, part wall décor or mirror.
Cons: Unfortunately, infrared heating panels do have some drawbacks. For instance, you’ll only warm up as long as there’s nothing in between you and the panel, similar to standing in the sun on a cold day. Also, once the panel has been switched off, the room tends to get cold very quickly as the air itself hasn’t been heated. This may mean you’ll have to leave it running throughout the day.
The biggest issue with this is electricity is over 3 times more expensive than gas, oil and LPG. Despite the infrared panel’s high efficiency, this means it’s not the most cost effective electric heating solution on our list.
Still, even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, this space-age technology is certainly something to look out for, earning the infrared heating panel a thumbs-up from us.
Fancy going electric but don’t want to rip out all your old radiators? Electric boilers are like most boilers (they use hot water radiators to heat a building), so they can easily be retrofitted to a fuel-powered boiler. However, they’re much more energy-efficient because they don’t require a flue, and they can run much quieter in comparison. They also tend to be much smaller in size if your utility room is close to bursting at the seams.
Pros: Electric boilers are quiet, they’re efficient, and they’re usually simple to retrofit to an old gas, oil or LPG boiler system. Maintenance costs are also lower than their carbon-emitting alternatives.
Cons: Similar to the infrared heating panel, running costs can prove expensive due to the high price of electricity. They’re also reported to be unsuitable for larger buildings or properties.
Night storage heaters
An old favourite, night storage heaters make the most of reduced electricity rates at off-peak times. Drawing electricity from the grid overnight, a storage heater retains heat with insulation materials within its core, before slowly releasing it during the day. This old-fashioned method is still effective even today, however if the stored heat is used up too quickly during the day, you may end up paying the price for electricity at peak times.
Pros: Night storage heaters avoid pricey electricity bills during peak times, and can be a cheap method of warming your home in the right hands.
Cons: A competitive electricity tariff is crucial (look into Economy 7 or 10 split tariffs), and to avoid paying more, you may not have as much freedom to control your heating as you want.
We’ll round up this article with what we think is by far the best electric heating solution. Like a backwards fridge, a heat pump works by absorbing natural heat from the air or earth outside and moving it into your home.
Heat isn’t generated in the same way as the others on this list; it actually comes from the sun. The benefit to this is, based on the amount of electricity a heat pump uses, it can effectively work at whopping efficiencies of 350-400% or more (1 unit of electricity makes 4 units of heat). This makes the heat pump able to rival gas boilers on their cheap running costs.
But unlike gas boilers, heat pumps are a method of renewable heating, making homeowners eligible to receive vast sums of money from the Renewable Heat Incentive. How much exactly you’ll receive back depends on how your heat pump performs, but receiving more than the initial cost for the whole electric heating system and its installation is surprisingly common.
Like other electric central heating systems, heat pumps don’t emit any carbon emissions themselves, making them a great choice for the more eco-conscious homeowners out there. What’s more, we don’t even need to worry about the fact that our climate isn’t very warm – they are able to absorb heat in temperatures as low as -20oC!
Pros: Heat pumps are known to be a highly efficient electric central heating option, and they’re the only renewable heating method on our list. They’re also eco-friendly, and you can get your initial payment back from Renewable Heat Incentive.
Cons: There is a relatively high upfront cost to pay before you start receiving quarterly RHI payments over 7 years.
And the winner is…
There are a number of reasons why the heat pump is the most attractive electric heating option on our list. It can reduce your energy bills as well as lowering your home’s carbon emissions. Best of all, there’s hardly any maintenance required.
If you want the best electric heating solution that’s low-maintenance, energy efficient, and that’s good for the environment, a heat pump will leave you feeling positively charged.
Sourced from “The Future of Heating: Meeting the Challenge”, Department of Energy and Climate Change, March 2013