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Gas or electric? Types of central heating explained

A guide to the main types of central heating and how they work

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Simply answer a few multiple choice questions about your existing boiler and we’ll give you a fixed price for a new boiler including all parts and installation[28]

The starting point: gas or electric?

There are several different central heating and hot water systems available. If you want to know which system you have, or are thinking of upgrading and want to know the benefits of particular products, we have everything you need to know here.

There are pros and cons to having your boiler and central heating system powered by gas, and different considerations to bear in mind for electric boilers.

Electric boilers

The main form of electric central heating is storage heaters. These units store heat at night, when the electricity tariff tends to be at a lower cost, and then releases the stored energy throughout the day.

When it comes to the pros of storage heaters, they can be easier to install than a gas system, and mean that, if your house isn’t on mains gas, you can still heat your house.

On the downside, electricity can be a more expensive fuel than gas as it costs more to use per unit. Despite these systems using electricity at night, it could still cost you more in the long term than a gas system.

While you do have the ability to control when the heat is released, you’ll need to plan ahead a little, to make sure the storage heater is harvesting enough energy to keep the house warm the following day.

Gas boilers

Gas boilers are generally more popular than their electric counterparts, and for good reason too. Even though gas prices are on the rise, it could still be a cheaper form of energy than electricity; with advances in technology, gas boilers are also becoming more efficient all the time.

If you already have an old gas boiler and you’re looking to replace it with a new, more energy-efficient model, you may be able to get a government grant – check here to see if you’re eligible.

A negative aspect of gas boilers is that if your house isn’t on mains gas, it’s a pricey task to get connected (whereas electric boilers can be installed anywhere). Gas boilers will need to be serviced every year in order to ensure they’re working properly and safely.

Types of central heating systems

To heat a house, the boiler needs to be attached to a central heating system. There are three main kinds: wet systems, warm air systems, and storage heaters.

1. Wet systems

This is the most common form of central heating, involving a boiler, radiator, and sometimes a heat exchanger.

Wet systems are very popular in the UK and most homes will have this kind of central heating, whether it’s powered by a conventional or a combi boiler. We have a guide on combi boilers if you’re unsure what they are, but the key difference between the two is that combi boilers offer you instant hot water.

How they work: The boiler will burn fuel and heat water, which will then be fed through a series of pipes located in the walls of your house, to the radiators. A heat exchanger may be used instead of a boiler in some instances.

2. Warm air systems

Warm air systems are more common in businesses and office blocks, and may also able to provide cool air as well as heating. In past decades (namely the ‘60s and ‘70s), warm air systems were popular in homes too.

Although unusual in UK residences, it’s not a problem if you do have a warm air system. You may want to consider replacing it with a wet system, which could be more energy efficient and potentially cheaper to run.

How they work: Similar to a wet system, the process starts with a boiler. It heats the air and instead of sending it through a series of pipes to your radiators, it enters the room through ducts or vents.

3. Storage heaters

Typically used with electric-powered central heating systems, storage heaters collect and store heat at night, when it’s cheaper to do so, and then release it during the day.

How it works: The heat is stored in bricks that are capable of holding large amounts of energy, and the heaters themselves are typically wired into the home. The stored heat is then released gradually throughout the day.

These are the three main types of central heating systems usually found in the home, and one of these options is likely to be giving you heat and hot water currently.

Each have their benefits and drawbacks, and if you’re thinking of changing your system, it’s worth considering the heating and hot water requirements for your home before making a decision.

Want to talk your boiler options through?

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[28] Exclusions apply. See www.help-link.co.uk/fixed-price-quote-faqs/

[79] Online discount is available to domestic gas and LPG customers who receive an online quote for all boiler brands excluding Vokera. Discount will be applied as long as the quoted price is still applicable at the point of sale. Online discounted price is only available for the duration of the 14-day quote validity which starts from the day the quote was given. Offer is not available to Help-Link UK Ltd employees.

Online discount can be applied as follows:
All boiler manufacturer types excluding Vokera are eligible for a 5% discount off the final quoted price. Conventional to combi boiler swaps also qualify for an additional £50 discount after 5% initial discount is applied.

This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offers.
Offer available from April 2017. Any boiler quotations before this date will not be eligible for the discount post purchase. Help-Link UK Ltd have the right to withdraw or change the offer at any time.
Online discount is automatically applied when the customer gets a quote using the online quote system at www.help-link.co.uk and as long as the customer meets all the above criteria.