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Types of Central Heating Systems in the UK

types of central heating systems

As the chill of winter approaches, having a reliable and efficient central heating system in the UK is essential. Given the variety of heating options available, it often becomes a daunting task for homeowners and business owners to select a system that perfectly aligns with their comfort needs and budget constraints. Electricity, gas and hot water are the most common uses of heat sources in homes in the UK, and each has different preferences and home layouts.

Types of Central Heating Systems

The UK offers a diverse range of central heating systems suited for both comfort and efficiency in homes and commercial spaces:

  • Boiler Systems: Available in variants like gas, electric, and combi boilers, accommodating different energy sources and needs. These systems heat water circulated through radiators or underfloor heating pipes.
  • Electric Central Heating: A suitable option for homes off the gas network, using electricity to heat radiators or provide hot water.
  • Gas Central Heating: Relies on a boiler to heat water that is then pumped through radiators throughout the home,
  • Underfloor Heating: Delivers consistent and even heat across rooms, available in electric or water-based systems.
  • Source Heat Pumps: Uses renewable energy from the ground (ground source) or air (air source) to heat homes efficiently and reduce environmental impact

What is the difference between warm air systems and wet central heating systems?

Central heating systems in the UK are categorised into warm air systems and wet heating systems. Warm or dry systems heat air at a central point and then distribute it through ducts to various rooms. They are quick to heat up and relatively easy to install, making them a good choice for homes without existing ductwork. Wet or hot water systems involve heating and circulating water in a boiler through pipes to radiators or underfloor heating circuits. This type is a more conventional heating system in the UK and is appreciated for its ability to provide consistent warmth across the home.

The differences lie in their operation, efficiency, and installation costs. Warm air systems are less common but can be more cost-effective for new build or renovation projects. Wet systems offer greater flexibility in fuel type (gas, oil, electricity) and are generally more efficient, though they may require more significant upfront investment for installation.

Electric Central Heating vs. Gas Central Heating 

When comparing electric and gas central heating systems, the debate often centres around efficiency, cost, installation, and environmental impact, each offering distinct advantages depending on the homeowner’s priorities.

Electric central heating is used in around 2 million UK homes and is preferred for its simplicity and efficiency at the point of use, with nearly all the electricity used converted directly into heat. They are easy to install, require minimal maintenance, and are ideal for properties without access to a natural gas supply. Electric heating is also considered more environmentally friendly at the point of use, emitting no pollutants or greenhouse gases. However, the cost of electricity can make these systems more expensive to operate, particularly in areas with high electricity prices.

Gas central heating is known for its cost-effectiveness and ability to heat a home quickly. Gas boilers can provide heating and hot water at a lower operational cost than their electric counterparts due to the lower price of natural gas. These systems are often preferred in larger homes or in areas where gas is readily available. While gas heating systems have higher initial installation costs and require more maintenance (including annual safety checks), they are typically more affordable over the long term. However, they do produce emissions, which can be a concern for environmentally conscious homeowners.

The choice between different types of central heating systems ultimately depends on individual needs, preferences, and values. Homeowners must consider the upfront and ongoing costs, the environmental impact, and the availability of energy sources when deciding which system best suits their home.

Boiler System

Boiler systems are the most popular way to heat a home in the UK, with different boiler types like gas, electric, and combi boilers catering to various household needs. These systems heat spaces and provide hot water, making them indispensable for daily comfort. 

The average lifespan of a boiler in the UK is around 15 years, but keep in mind this lifespan can vary based on several factors. These include model and brand type, boiler installation standards, and the professional and regular servicing and repair it receives.      

Gas Boiler

Gas boilers are a conventional choice, powered by natural gas piped directly into the property. They are favoured for their cost-effectiveness and efficiency in heating large spaces. The operation involves burning gas to heat water, circulating through the building’s radiators and taps. Maintenance considerations include annual servicing to confirm safety and efficiency.

Electric Boiler 

Electric boilers provide an alternative for homes without access to natural gas. The boiler will heat water through electricity and is praised for its simplicity, safety, and environmental friendliness, given its zero emissions at the point of use. However, the cost of electricity compared to gas means they can be more expensive to run, making them suitable for smaller homes or those with lower heating demands.

LPHW Boiler Systems 

Low-Pressure Hot Water (LPHW) boiler systems are a versatile and widely used heating solution in the UK, renowned for providing consistent and controllable heating to commercial and residential buildings. These systems operate by circulating hot water, typically below 100°C, through a network of pipes and radiators to efficiently distribute heat throughout the premises.

LPHW boiler systems can be powered by gas or electricity, offering flexibility in energy source selection based on availability, cost, and environmental considerations. This versatility makes them a practical choice for a wide range of settings, from homes to larger commercial spaces.

Combi Boiler System 

Combi boilers represent a compact and efficient heating solution, combining space heating and hot water supply in one unit. Approximately 30% of UK homes have a combination (combi) boiler, which heats water directly from the mains when a tap is turned on, ensuring an unlimited hot water supply without needing a separate water tank. Their efficiency and space-saving attributes make combi boilers popular among modern households, particularly those with limited space for a hot water cylinder.

Underfloor Heating  

Underfloor heating presents a modern and increasingly popular method of warming homes, known for its efficiency and unique comfort. This system works by installing pipes or electric heating cables beneath the floor, which gently heats the room from the ground up, offering an even distribution of warmth without the need for radiators or visible heating elements.

There are two primary types of underfloor heating: water-based (wet) systems and electric (dry) systems. Wet systems circulate warm water through pipes under the floor, typically connected to the home’s central heating system. In contrast, electric underfloor heating systems use electric coils placed under the floor in a wiring system to generate heat.

Both systems have their merits, with wet systems being more cost-effective to run but more expensive to install, making them better suited for new builds or major renovations. Electric systems, meanwhile, are easier and cheaper to install, making them ideal for retrofitting existing properties or individual rooms.

Underfloor heating is celebrated for its ability to provide a consistent temperature across a room, eliminating cold spots and reducing dust circulation, which can benefit those with allergies. Additionally, it frees up wall space, allowing for more flexible room layouts and interior design options.

For particular floor finishes, it’s most effective under tiles or stone, which have good thermal conductivity, whereas carpets might require a lower tog rating for sufficient heat transfer.

Source Heat Pumps 

Heat pumps are used in around 1% of UK homes. Still, they are at the forefront of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly heating solutions, harnessing natural heat from the environment to warm homes. The UK government aims to phase out high-carbon fossil fuel heating systems, particularly in off-gas grid properties, by the 2020s. These systems operate on the principle of heat transfer, extracting warmth from external sources and amplifying it for indoor heating and hot water. Both heat pumps are compatible with underfloor heating systems and traditional radiators, although lower temperature systems like underfloor heating allow them to operate at higher efficiencies.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) utilise the earth’s stable temperature a few meters below the surface to extract heat. This process involves circulating a mixture of water and antifreeze through a loop of pipe, called a ground loop, buried in the garden. As this fluid travels through the loop, it absorbs heat from the ground, which is then concentrated and transferred to the home heating system. GSHPs are highly efficient, with the potential to produce four times more energy as heat than they consume in electricity, leading to reduced heating costs and CO2 emissions.

However, the installation requires significant space for the ground loop and can be more costly and invasive, making it best suited for new builds or major renovations.

Air Source Heat Pumps

Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) extract heat from the outside air, even in temperatures as low as -15°C. They use a fan to draw outdoor air over a heat exchanger, which absorbs and concentrates the heat before it’s transferred into the home. ASHPs are easier and cheaper to install than GSHPs, making them popular for retrofitting existing homes and new constructions. While they are slightly less efficient than GSHPs, especially in colder weather, ASHPs still offer significant energy savings and environmental benefits over traditional heating systems. They can also be used for cooling in the summer months, adding to their versatility.

Despite the higher upfront costs compared to conventional heating systems, the long-term savings on energy bills and the potential to reduce household carbon footprints make heat pumps an attractive option for many homeowners. 

Upgrade your Central Heating System with GLP

Choosing GLP for your central heating needs offers solutions for domestic and commercial properties, with installations and upgrades of heating systems. GLP’s expertise extends to a wide array of heating technologies, including the latest in boiler systems, heat pumps, and bespoke heating solutions designed to meet the unique requirements of each property. Whether it’s a new installation in a residential home or upgrading the heating infrastructure of a commercial building, GLP provides tailored services that ensure optimal heating efficiency and system reliability. Our commitment to delivering quality heating solutions means homeowners and business owners can benefit from a partnership with GLP, securing a heating system that promises performance, comfort, and cost-effectiveness. Contact us today.

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