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Home heating systems

Electric central heating

By Sarah Ingrams

Article 3 of 8

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Electric central heating

Find out more about electric heating, including what Economy 7 and Economy 10 are, and the average cost of electricity heating.

If your home doesn't have mains gas, you could use electricity to heat it, as nearly every household in the UK has access to the electricity grid. However, electrical heating can be expensive.

Keep reading to find out about the different ways you can heat your home using electricity. We also reveal the pros and cons of electric heating, plus the average cost of using electricity for heating, so you can check if you're paying too much.

Want to cut your energy bills? Use our energy switching service, Which? Switch, to find the cheapest energy deal.

Night storage heaters

The most cost-effective form of electric central heating uses night storage heaters. These heaters use electricity supplied at a cheaper ‘night-time’ rate to heat up special heat-retaining ceramic bricks. These bricks then heat your home around the clock using the heat stored inside them.

Night storage heaters give out heat slowly and are designed to keep warm for the whole of the following day. Once the heat runs out, you have to wait until the next night for them to reheat again; this means that your home is coldest in the evening. However, there are some storage heaters that allow you to turn on immediate heat at any time of the day. Read on to find out more pros and cons of electric heating.  

Modern storage heaters and electric radiators

Technology has moved on since storage heaters were first fitted in the 1960s. Modern storage heaters can now come with:

  • Thermostats
  • Remote wi-fi controls
  • Programmable timers
  • Fans to help disseminate the heat
  • Open window detectors

From 1 January 2018, all new electric heaters must have thermostats, 24-hour and seven-day programmable timers, temperature controls and fans. Older models made before this can still be sold, so check carefully before you purchase.

High heat-retention storage heaters can retain more heat than traditional models; up to 45% 24 hours after they were last charged. This means you’re less likely to be cold come the evening.

Find out more about storage heaters in our dedicated guide.

You can also fit electric radiators that work with standard electricity tariffs, so you can switch them on and off to heat your home whenever you want. This will cost extra though, as we explain below.

Other modern heating options if you don’t have mains gas include biomass stoves, a heat pump or solar panels.

Economy 7 and Economy 10 

If your home has night storage heaters, you'll usually power these using a special electricity tariff that offers cheaper rates of electricity at night. Electricity tariffs that provide cheap-rate electricity are usually known as Economy 7, as they give you seven hours of cheaper electricity overnight. 

Economy 10 works in a similar way and gives you an extra three hours of cheap electricity – usually in the middle of the afternoon. 

Other types of meter, including white meters and grey meters, are fitted alongside certain types of electric heating and provide specific tariffs.

Smart meters enable time-of-use charging for electricity, too, and some companies have launched tariffs that offer cheaper rates at times when there’s lower demand for electricity. Find out more about getting a smart meter installed.

Cheap-rate electricity can also be used to provide hot water via an immersion heater in your hot water tank.

You can also run electric radiators with a standard single-rate electricity tariff. However, due to the relatively high price of electricity during the day on these tariffs compared with Economy 7 and Economy 10, these can be expensive to run and should only be considered if you have a very well-insulated property and won’t have to use them regularly.

Find out how you could save money with home insulation.

Annual cost of electricity

The average annual cost for heating and hot water using electricity in the UK would be around £776 per year if you use around 4,200 kWh of electricity and are on a standard single-rate tariff*. That’s around £200 more per year than gas heating.

This is just a guide to help you compare costs of different types of fuel. If you have electric central heating and water heating, you're likely to be on a time-of-use tariff (Economy 7 or Economy 10); making use of cheaper off-peak rates will mean your bills are much lower.

There are a number of factors that affect heating bills, including the age and size of a property, how well it's insulated, the efficiency of the hot water and heating system, how much heating and hot water the inhabitants use, and where you live in the UK.

To see where and how you can make savings on your heating bills, read our 10 tips on cutting your energy costs.

Pros and cons of electric central heating

Pros

  • Electric night storage heaters are much cheaper to install than gas central heating systems as they don't require pipework or a flue.
  • With very few moving parts, storage heaters require very little maintenance and don’t need to be serviced annually.
  • Unlike gas, mains electricity is available almost everywhere in the UK.

Cons

  • Electricity prices are about three to four times higher than gas prices per unit of energy. Both gas and electricity prices have risen over the past year and are likely to stay high. 
  • Around 40% of electricity in the UK is generated in gas-fired power stations, so any increase in the price of gas will also be reflected in the cost of electricity.
  • Daytime rates on Economy 7 or Economy 10 tariffs is higher than on standard single-rate electricity tariffs. So you'll get cheaper heating but running appliances during the day could be expensive. 
  • If you haven't had the heating on lately and switch on your night storage heater, you won't get heat until the following night.

*(The estimated cost of heating and hot water with electricity is calculated using the average electricity consumption of a medium user with a time-of-use meter (4,200 kWh), as calculated by Ofgem, and the price per kWh for the electricity, calculated by Which? in February 2019. Electricity prices are assumed for standard rate tariffs - those on time-of-use tariffs will pay less.)

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