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The ultimate guide to being efficient with heating and hot water


Unless you’re running a full-spec recording studio and car maintenance workshop in your garage, the majority of your monthly energy bill probably goes towards providing heat and hot water in your home – particularly during the winter.

So if you’re trying to be more energy efficient and cut back on costs, it makes sense to concentrate your efforts on streamlining your heating and hot water systems.

To start with, you need to know a bit about your heating and hot water systems (they may well be the same thing) and have a top-line understanding of how they work.

You might have:

What is central heating?

With central heating, you have a single boiler heating up your water. This water is then pumped through pipes to radiators installed in different rooms around the house. The same boiler also provides hot water in the bathroom(s), kitchen and utility room.

The majority of central heating boilers run on mains gas, which usually works out cheapest and has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any fuel apart from wood. They can be either a ‘combi’ (combination) boiler or a regular boiler:


A combi boiler provides hot water instantly, as soon as you turn on a tap. The water is heated as it passes through the boiler, so there’s no need for a cylinder, and you can have hot water for baths or washing up whenever you want.

A regular boiler works with a hot water cylinder. You programme it to heat the water in the cylinder at certain times of day, so there’s enough hot water at times when you want a bath or to do the washing up and so on. However, you can’t spontaneously decide to have a bath at random times of the day, as the water in the cylinder may have cooled down by then.

My home doesn’t get mains gas – what sort of boiler should I get?

If your home isn’t on the mains gas grid, your boiler could run on oil, biomass (basically wood), or liquid petroleum gas (LPG) stored in a tank outside your home.

Electric boilers are also available. Although electricity is generally more expensive than gas, electric boilers can be programmed to make use of off-peak electricity, and they can last longer than gas boilers. They can also be adapted to use renewable energy sources, making them very energy efficient.

What is a condensing boiler?

Condensing boilers can be either combi or regular boilers. If you’ve had a new boiler since 2005, it’s almost certainly a condensing boiler. They’re more efficient than their predecessors as they have bigger heat exchangers that can recover more heat from the gas they’re burning.

Not sure whether yours is a condensing boiler? If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then it is:

Most people are very happy with their condensing boilers, but they do occasionally have a ‘plumage’ issue. Plumage is the flue gas that looks like white smoke and wafts around your garden (and your neighbours’, which is how problems sometimes arise). It’s more noticeable than the gases produced by older, less efficient boilers because it’s much cooler and concentrated in water vapour.

How can I create a more energy-efficient heating system in my home?

We've also put together an ultimate guide to help you improve your boiler efficiency

I have electric storage heaters – how can I use them more efficiently?

Electric storage heaters are one of the most expensive heating choices in the UK, and their CO2 emissions are worse than most other systems. They’re also not as controllable as other systems, so they tend to waste energy by heating rooms at times when it’s not needed.

However, there are a few ways you can improve your storage heaters’ performance:

Is it more energy efficient to use individual heaters rather than switch on the central heating?

Individual heat sources that work separately from your central heating and water heating systems could be portable heaters, wood-burning stove, open fires, range cookers or gas fires. They’re not usually as energy efficient as a central heating system, but if you only need to heat one room for a while, it may make sense to use a single heater rather than switch on the whole system.

Portable heaters are also useful if your central heating system heats most of the house very effectively, but there’s one area that’s always chilly. There’s no point in turning up the whole heating system for a single room, so adding a portable fire or other heat source in the cooler space can be the most energy-saving way to make the room comfortable. It’s worth checking the insulation as well, though, to find out why it’s so chilly.

*Source and notes

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