Do storage heaters still have a place in the home?

[Update: As nuclear and coal stations are wound down in the UK, this could mean the death of the Economy 7 tariff. This would mean storage heaters becoming more expensive to run, and as such we no longer recommend people install new storage heaters. Read our latest advice here under ‘The future of storage heaters’.]

What is a storage heater?

A storage heater is an electrical form of heating, designed to take advantage of cheap, night time electricity in order to heat the home cost-effectively. It was particularly popular in the UK during the 1970s, when the electricity companies devised the Economy 7 tariff  – a way to increase demand for electricity in the middle of the night, by offering cheaper electricity at this time. The reason for this is that coal power plants take time to power down, so they were invariably left on through the night. Storage heaters are also often found in homes that are not connected to the gas grid.

How do storage heaters work?

Historically, storage heaters were installed to ‘charge’ during the night, utilising cheaper electricity from the grid and then heat ceramic or concrete blocks within the heater. When it is daytime they will stop charging and then release the stored heat throughout the day. Some storage heaters are equipped with a fan assisting dissipater, which then also helps regulate the temperature of the room.

Storage heaters are nearly always found in conjunction with a two-tariff meter. These are easily identified as there will be two numbers on your meter and you will have a day and night rate listed on your bill. The other way to identify a two-tariff meter is that it contains ‘02’ as the first two digits on your ‘MPAN’ number.

Are they more efficient than gas central heating?

The answer is almost always no. The cost of electricity is a lot higher than it used to be, and even given the cheaper night rate, equivalent heating with a gas boiler is usually cheaper. Even if you are on an Economy 7 tariff, you are going to be paying a premium for your peak electricity. So you will be paying more for your appliances, cooking and everything else you use your electricity for, unless you can use them more at night. Refer to our recent Economy 7 tariff blog for more on how to take advantage of the off peak rate.

So why would I want to install a storage heater now?

There are two reasons which might prompt you to install storage heaters:

Economy 7 meter for storage heaters

Firstly, if you produce your own electricity (via solar PV, a wind turbine or hydroelectric), invariably it is better to use the electricity that you produce in the home since it costs more to buy from the grid than you would get paid for exporting it. Therefore if you use this electricity you produce during the day to ‘charge’ your storage heater, you can then release the heat throughout the evening when you get home.

Secondly, you may not be able to install a gas central heating system in your home, if you live in a high-rise block of flats for example. Economy 7 tariffs do still exist, so if you have old style storage heaters you may wish to replace them with new energy efficient varieties.

Can I still buy storage heaters?

Yes. Modern heaters can be more efficient than the older style ones, and less bulky. But it’s still only worth it if you are off the gas grid or you have excess electricity to use as discussed above.

If you have more disposable income, then you may be better served installing an air source heat pump, because running costs are actually much lower than storage heaters, however the upfront investment is a lot higher. From spring 2014, if you have an MCS installed air source heat pump you will benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive, which is a payment you will receive based on the amount of renewable heat produced.

Features of newer storage heaters

Fan assisted storage heaters

Some heaters have a fan to assist in distributing the heat. These types of heater are usually more efficient as they are almost always better insulated and therefore have more control over the release of heat, however this can be an issue for allergy sufferers, as dust is blown around the room.

Controls on storage heaters

The controls for the heaters are often tricky to understand and vary from model to model, but there are a few aspects that are usually the same:

    • Power switches – this determines whether you are using off-peak or on-peak electricity to charge the storage heater. The on peak switch is only usually on when the heater has not been charged sufficiently overnight, or it is exceptionally cold. The off peak one is usually off during summer when you don’t require heating, but on throughout the winter months.
    • Input and output controls – the input control determines how much electricity the storage heater will use to charge (and therefore the amount of available heat the storage heater has once charged). The output control determines the rate at which the storage heater emits the stored heat into the room.
    • Some heaters will also have thermostatic controls, which help you to keep the room at a certain temperature – they essentially replace the functionality of the output controls.

Please remember not to use peak time electricity to keep the room up to temperature unless absolutely necessary since this is an incredibly expensive way to heat the home!

Final thoughts

Storage heaters were historically installed to take advantage of cheaper electricity available at night. If you don’t have access to a gas central heating system and you have old storage heaters in place, there are now far more energy efficient varieties on the market – so it is worth swapping them out. In addition, if you are creating your own electricity, installing new storage heaters is an elegant way of maximising the amount of electricity you produce in the home (which is preferable as discussed elsewhere).

The price of a new storage heater will start at about £650 for the best models and obviously increase depending on the size you are looking to get.

Advantages of storage heaters

    • Utilises cheap electricity during the night, meaning that they are cheaper than standard electrical heaters.
    • The home will be warm when you wake up in the morning.
    • Cheaper to install than a central heating system and cheaper to maintain and run.

Issues with storage heaters

    • There is unavoidable heating of the property overnight as the heater is charged, which can be wasteful if not required.
    • It is difficult to deal with sudden changes of weather. The amount of ‘charge’ is set the night before, so if you need more heat than expected the next day you will have to use more costly peak time heating. If you overcharge the heater however, you will be wasting electricity generating heat that is not required and overheating your property. If you go out and don’t need to heat the home, the heat will seep out anyway, even if the fan is off, so it isn’t a particularly flexible technology.
    • Some companies lock customers into their tariffs by installing non-standard meters. Switching companies for your supplier then becomes prohibitively expensive.
    • The units themselves tend to be large and bulky, although modern heaters are now significantly smaller.
    • The size also dictates how much ‘charge’ the heater can take, so although you can get smaller heaters, they may not be able to provide all the heat you need.
    • The controls can be complicated and therefore it is easy to use the heater inefficiently or ineffectively.

Installing storage heaters

Need new storage heaters? We have scoured the country for the best tradespeople, so that we can make sure we only recommend those we really trust.

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