Installing central heating – does it make sense?

Central heating is the way most of us heat our homes, whether that be with a gas, electric or a renewable heating system. Heat is generated in one ‘central’ place in the home and then distributed around the building. This might be in the form of radiators, underfloor heating, or perhaps a ducted air system. Installing a system like this from scratch is expensive, so in this blog we are going to ask whether it is worth switching to a central heating system if you currently have space heaters (decentralised heaters in each room of the building).

The cost of installing central heating

Central heating is obviously very expensive to install. Prices will vary depending on what system you are installing and the size of the property, but you can safely assume that for an average 3 bed house with only room heaters currently installed, it is going to cost several thousand for the new boiler and another several thousand to install the radiators. You could very easily end up spending £15,000 or more, all told.

What savings can you expect with central heating?

This is a very broad question because it depends what kind of heating is installed currently and what type of central heating you are switching to, and of course the size of your property.
The savings can be quite dramatic, however. The average house with electric radiators is likely to save several hundred pounds a year, and in some cases up to £1,000 a year by installing a gas central heating system. Switching from electric radiators to a heat pump system will also produce big savings, but perhaps not quite as much compared to gas. Switching from electric room heaters to an electric boiler will show much lower savings, limited by the fuel available.

Where gas is available, it is going to generate more savings than an off grid property. If you are able to use biomass, though, then you might achieve significant savings off-grid.
The best way to work out how much you could save is to have an expert visit and carry out the necessary calculations to find the exact figures. Every home is different so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In the table below we have had a go at giving you some typical savings based on real life properties we have assessed.

Property Type Initial System New System Savings Savings per year
3 bed mid terrace with good insulation Electric panel heaters Electric boiler £60
3 bed mid Terrace with good insulation Electric panel heaters GSHP with underfloor heating £650
1 bed top floor flat Electric heaters ASHP with radiators £400
1 bed top floor flat Electric panel heaters Storage heaters (dual meter) £300

(ASHP = air source heat pump, GSHP = ground source heat pump)

As you can see, there are some good savings to be made with a switch from electric heating, even on small 1 bed properties; but the cost of plumbing these new systems in is considerable.

Comfort as a factor for central heating

Central heating is a really good way to achieve balanced and even heating in a home. Heating controls are obviously critical in this, but it is fair to say that by heating a home with central heating, it’s easier to achieve a comfortable environment.

Alternatives to central heating

Whilst we have extolled some of the virtues of central heating here, as well as the savings to be made, there are some situations in which central heating is not the right option. We have already seen that the cost of installation is very high relative to the savings, but no one ever suggested central heating was anything other than a long-term investment. There are some other reasons why you might want to go for an alternative; for example, rental properties will sometimes opt for a decentralised system as they are cheaper to maintain. Landlords don’t see the savings on bills from the use of the central heating so it doesn’t make sense for them to pay to install it in some cases.

So are there any good alternatives? One of the most common one in off gas grid properties is storage heaters. Because of the cheaper night time electricity rate, storage heaters can be cheaper to run than an electric boiler or standard electric room heaters. Infrared is also growing in popularity because of its lightweight and space saving design, along with its relative efficiency and comfort levels compared to electric convection heating.

Installing gas

If you live in a property that is not connected to the gas grid, you are limited to electric-only options. If you have gas nearby which can be connected at a reasonable cost, then it may be worth installing a gas central heating system. Savings from this will be considerable, although once again the payback will be over some time.

Central heating is a long-term investment, so crunch your numbers carefully, get some professional advice, and get lots of quotes before you go ahead. Whatever type of central heating you choose, it will bring very good savings, yet cost a lot to install; so you will have to weigh up this outlay-versus-return with great care.

Installing energy saving technologies

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