A Brief Guide to electric heating

1.    What is electric heating?

Direct Electric Heating

Electric heating is a common alternative for properties without gas central heating. Common electric heaters are direct electric heaters (electric panel and convection heaters) and electric storage heaters. Electric heating is often advertised as being 100% efficient. This is theoretically true as these types of heaters are able to turn 1 unit of electricity into an equivalent 1 unit of heat. A typical new gas boiler is around 90% efficient (turning 1 unit of gas into 0.9 units of heat), however, electricity is usually 3 or 4 times more expensive than gas, making electric heating much more expensive to run.

Direct electric heaters can vary slightly in the way they produce the heat, but they will all provide heat instantly when you turn them on. If you have electric heating, you will most likely have a hot water tank which is also electrically heated, which works independently to your heating.

Night Storage Heaters

Electric storage heaters are a way of reducing the cost of electric heating. You should be on an economy 7 or economy 10 (or other multi-rate) tariff if you have storage heaters, which allows you to pay less for any electricity you use overnight. Storage heaters are able to charge up over night when heating is not needed and electricity costs are low, and then provide the heat later in the day when needed. Similarly your water tank can do the same.

Storage heaters have developed since their conception in the 1960s – high heat retention storage heaters offer more control, with integrated digital programmers to better suit the release of heat to your lifestyle. They are also better insulated, avoiding heat loss and increasing their efficiency, and have a fan assisted element that can draw out heat from the internal bricks for extra warmth. You can add an integrated back up heater for colder days where you run out of stored heat.

Older units offer minimal control over the heat release, and are more likely to lose stored heat, making them less efficient, and more expensive to run.

If you have night storage heaters, and are not already on a multi-rate electricity tariff, then it is essential you do so; or else you will not make any savings by having this form of heating and charging at night. Read our blog post on How to use your storage heaters efficiently with economy 7.


2.    Benefits

Financial savings

Electric heating is typically the most expensive way of heating your home compared to other common domestic heating systems; both gas central heating and air source heat pumps are considerably cheaper to run. For electric storage heaters you could use a dynamic tariff which automatically uses electricity when the price is lower, or an economy 7 or 10 tariff which offers two set unit prices for electricity.

Carbon savings

Even if you have electric heating you can still save carbon. Switching to a 100% renewable energy tariff means that all your electricity is zero carbon. Portsmouth City Council has partnered with uSwitch to provide a free gas and electricity switching service for Portsmouth residents.

The carbon intensity of grid-supplied electricity is falling every year as increasing amounts of renewable generation supplies it. Therefore the carbon emissions of your electric heating will fall over time; however you can speed up this process by moving to a more efficient heating system, such as an air source heat pump.


3.    Property Suitability

Any property is suitable for electric heating, although given the cost of electricity, it should only be installed in very well insulated homes.


4.    Typical Costs

Electric panel heaters are generally cheap to buy and install. Each panel might cost anywhere between £50 and £300, dependent on its size and features. Simple electric storage heaters can cost from £150-£300, but more complex high heat retention storage heaters can cost up to £800.

Heaters should be installed by a qualified electrician, so there is also that cost to consider.


5.    Maintenance

Electric panel heaters and storage heaters are essentially maintenance free, but you should keep them clean and as free from dust and debris as possible to allow them to run at full capacity.


6.    Upgrading Electric Heating

You can upgrade your electric heating to a more efficient Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP). They are 300% efficient, and work by taking heat from the outside to heat water for use in your home. Installing an ASHP will require internal pipework and radiators to be fitted, and can cost up to £11,000. Currently, there is grant funding which can cover part or the entire cost of this installation, dependant on eligibility.

High heat retention storage heaters can cost up to £800 per unit, but work more efficiently and allow you more control over the release of heat. You can access the Energy Company Obligation funding to support the upgrade of your electric heating to this technology.

7.    Useful links