Central heating is one of the most energy efficient and effective ways to heat a home, and along with insulation, is one of the best measures you can take to reduce your heating bills and your carbon footprint.
Electricity is not a fuel type you would usually associate with central heating, but there are central heating systems on the market which are run solely on electricity. Conventional electric heating systems use storage heaters, which are generally expensive and difficult to control.
Electric central heating is an alternative option to gas for homes which are not on the mains gas supply; and electric boilers can be fitted with a standard system, including the pipe work, radiators, and thermostatic radiator valves.
What is electric central heating?
Electric central heating systems operate in much the same way as gas or oil central heating. A central boiler, sometimes called a ‘flow’ boiler, is used to heat the water directly rather than via a heat exchanger.
Water is passed through a chamber and over a heating element, and is circulated through the house to the radiators, as normal. The system can also be used to heat the domestic hot water via a coil in a hot water cylinder, or it can be installed independently, with the hot water being heated by an immersion heater in the tank.
As with any other type of central heating system, the heat is controlled by a room thermostat and is also linked to a 24 hour programmable timer, which allows full control over the heating system.
Conventional electric heating
Storage heaters have typically been used in the past to heat houses with electricity; the idea behind them is that they use electricity on the cheaper economy 7 tariff to heat storage bricks within the heater overnight, and the heat is slowly released throughout the day.
In reality this heat dissipation is very difficult to control, and many people complain that older storage heaters release too much heat in the early part of the day, and have very little heat left by early evening.
Electric fan heaters and convection heaters are another type of electric heating, generally used to heat a single room space. These are very expensive forms of heating, as they are used when necessary throughout the day, on a more expensive tariff.
A newer form of electric heating is underfloor heating. Matting is laid under a floor surface which incorporates a series of electrical cable. When a current is passed through the cables they heat up, and the heat is transferred to the floor, and ultimately into the room.
This is known as ‘dry’ underfloor heating. A wet underfloor heating system uses a network of pipes under the floor, and hot water is circulated through them to produce heat. Wet underfloor heating can be linked to an electric central heating system by connecting the pipe work to the boiler and including it in the pipe run.
Why use electric heating?
Electric heating is certainly an option for properties which do not have a mains gas supply. Over 4 million households in the UK do not have a supply of gas, and the alternative fuels which can be used for central heating include oil, LPG, wood, and electricity.
Unfortunately electricity as a heating fuel is a comparatively high carbon producer so will not be the most environmentally-friendly option. An electric system may be most suitable in smaller dwellings and flats; larger properties might require more than one boiler to adequately heat all of the rooms, making for a much less cost-effective system.
Electric central heating boilers are often called flow boilers, as the water flows directly through a heating chamber. A typical boiler can draw up to 11KW of power to heat the water. They can be used with open vented, or sealed systems, and with no flue or storage tank for fuel, they take up less space and offer much more flexibility when it comes to installing the system.
Electric boilers can be extremely energy efficient as there is no flue and very little heat loss; some manufacturers claim that their boilers are over 99% efficient. Electric boilers are silent in operation, and do not require an annual service, which does help to offset potential higher running costs.
Electric central heating systems installation costs
As with any heating system, much will depend upon the size of the house, the amount of radiators and pipe work to be installed, and the type of boiler selected. The installation of a full heating system is likely to cost around £2,500 – £5,000 for a typical three bedroom house.
Electric central heating running costs
Electricity is one of the most expensive fuels that can be used for heating, and although modern boilers are highly sophisticated and more energy efficient, an electric central heating system is likely to cost more to run than a gas or oil-fired system.
Based on supplying the heating and hot water for a three bedroom property, and using 16,000 kWh of heat output per year, an electric central heating system could cost in excess of £2,000 per year, compared with £800 – £1,000 for a gas system.
The cost of energy is rising, and many of us are looking at ways to reduce energy use in our homes and lower our heating bills. Over half of the money we spend on fuel is for heating of the home and the hot water for domestic use. With this is mind, an efficient central heating system is an essential part of an energy-efficient property.
For those houses not connected to the mains gas supply, there are several alternative options; one of which is an electric central heating system. A single boiler is used, similar to a gas or oil system, to heat water which is pumped around a network of pipes to feed the radiators.
The water is heated directly in the boiler, and no flue is required. This means there is less heat loss and the boilers are highly efficient, but the price of electricity may not make them the most cost-effective choice.