Guide to Central Heating Systems

If you are looking to update or replace your central heating system, our comprehensive guide to central heating systems should assist in making the right choice.

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a heating system for your home.

The size of your boiler should be determined by the amount of hot water you use in your home and the number of radiators you have. For instance, if you are a sole occupant of a 1 bedroom house, a 12 kilowatts boiler will easy meet your central heating needs. On the other hand, if you have a large family that lives in a 7 bedroom house, you need a boiler with 50 kilowatts output to produce enough power to heat water for the radiators and occupants of your home.

In most cases, you will fall right in the middle, and you will have plenty of central heating systems to choose from. Before you any purchase decision, it’s important to establish what type of heating system you have. The price of the fit and supply of a new boiler will vary based on the manufacturer, size and cost of installation. The cost of installation may rise significantly if you choose to replace your current system with a totally different one; based on the condition of your current heating system, this may or may not be affordable to do.

It’s also crucial to highlight that there can be a considerable cost difference between one installation company and another. At Boiler Guide, we recommend that you compare at least 2 types of central heating systems so as to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible.

 

Electric vs. Gas Systems

 

Your central heating system is not something you think about often. Most people actually ignore it most of the time and assume that when the cold weather sets in, your radiator and boiler will be up to the task.

However, which is better? A gas or electric heating system? Which is more cost-effective to operate? In the sections below, we discuss these and other important questions to help you determine which heating system is the best for you.

 

How Does a Gas Heating System Operate?

 

What are the Running Costs of a Gas Heating System?

 

Pros of Owning a Gas System

 

Cons of Owning a Gas System

 

Electric Central Heating Systems

 

Pros of an Electric Central Heating System

 

Which is Cheaper; Gas or Electric?

 

The 3 Most Popular Central Heating Systems

 

How Does a Gas Heating System Operate?

 

Gas heating systems are the most popular in the UK. They operate through a ‘wet system’ where a gas-fuelled boiler heats water which provider hot water via taps and heating through radiators in your home. Here’s the step by step process of how they operate:

A gas boiler gets a continuous supply of gas from a pipe that is connected to the mains supply of natural gas.

Gas jets heat a pipe containing cold water until it reaches at least 60 degrees Celsius.

The water pipe that is heated is part of a large network of pipes that run throughout your house. The pipe travels through each hot water radiator and tap, before returning back to the boiler.

As the water flows through the radiators, it gives off some of its heat and this in turn warms the air in each room. The boiler has to keep working in order to keep the water in the pipes at optimal temperature to heat your home.

An electric pump is used to propel the water through the network of radiators and pipes in your home. Homes that are not connected to the mains supply of natural gas can use heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), which work in more or less the same way but are slightly more expensive.

 

What are the Running Costs of a Gas Heating System?

Gas boilers can offer substantial savings. It’s possible to save up to £250 every year when compared to other fuels like LPG, coal and oil. High-efficiency condensing gas boilers are capable of converting up to 90% of the fuel they use into heat. Condensing gas boilers also produce less CO2 when compared to traditional boilers.

 

Pros of Owning a Gas System

Gas is very efficient. You get a good value for your money on every unit of gas you consume. Unlike other LPG and oil systems, you are not required to physically store any fuels at home. 

Also, it’s easy to replace a traditional gas boiler with a high efficiency condensing gas boiler.

 

Cons of Owning a Gas System

Gas prices are on an upwards trajectory and they are not likely to go down anytime soon. As a fossil fuel, gas emits CO2 when combusted and is thereby not considered to be an eco-friendly source of energy. 

Gas boilers require servicing every year to make sure they operate smoothly and efficiently. On top of this, connecting your home to mains gas can be costly depending on where you live.

 

Electric Central Heating Systems

Electric boilers are ideal for small to medium households, and with recent technological advancements we are seeing boilers that can meet the heating needs of large households.

Electric systems usually have less parts than gas systems making them compact, small, light, and most of all – silent. Who want a noisy heating system in their house? They are also 100% efficient. Electric heating systems are still relatively new to the central heating space. Most of these systems are used in rural or remote areas where gas or oil supply is not readily available.

But, we are now seeing many new housing developments being fitted with electric heating systems due to their eco-friendly nature.

If you are thinking about switching from gas to electric, you should know that the cost of switching may be significant once you have factored in the new pipework, boiler and cost of installation.

 

Pros of an Electric Heating System

 

If mains gas is not readily available in your area, an electric system should be an ideal alternative because it is both affordable and efficient when compared to stored heaters that use LPG or oil.

 

Electric heating systems can be run using low-cost electricity.

 

Heat is available on-demand, whenever and wherever you need it.

 

Fewer servicing requirements when compared to gas systems.

 

Electric systems are 100% efficient.

 

Should I Heat My Home With Electric Or Gas?

 

Popular Types Of Central Heating Systems

Gas-fuelled central heating systems are generally the cheapest option over the long term. The electric broilers are 100% efficient, while the modern gas boilers usually experience around 95% efficiency. As you can expect, some of the energy produced by a gas boiler will be lost through the process of heating. 

Despite the shortfall in energy efficiency, the electric boilers cannot compete when it comes to the cost-effective 4p / kWh price of gas.

If you are still not sure which type of central heating system will match up to the needs of your home, you should hire the services of an experienced and professional engineer. Send your enquiry today, and we will get 3 installers in your area to contact you to assess your home, give you advice, and provide you with a quote to replace your current boiler. 

 

The Most Popular Central Heating Systems

Today, there are many types of central heating systems on the market, that are classified into these categories:

 

#1 The Combi Boiler System

 

The Combination Boiler central heating systems have become increasingly popular over the last few years. 

This system does not require an expansion tank, feed tank, or hot water cylinders since they heat the water on demand (as and when you need it). This also means that these are more economical and take up less space since they only provide hot water when you need it. 

 

Here are some of the advantages associated with combi boilers:

 

- The combination boilers supply heated water on-demand, which means no tank is needed in your loft space. 

 

- Electronic controls are paired to the boiler.

 

- The main supply is directly fed to the combination system.

 

- The latest thermostatically-controlled radiators are sized accordingly.

 

- An excellent choice if you are looking to save space. 

 

- Endless amount of heated water as you need it.

 

- Performs very well in showers.

 

- Eliminate the risks of the pipework freezing in your loft.

 

- Far less pipework is needed which makes the installation costs much cheaper.

Similar to the other central heating systems, the combi boiler system also comes with a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is the flow rate that can be somewhat low since the water heats up while travelling through your boiler since there isn't a storage tank filled with heated water to rely on. 

This will mean that a combi boiler is not the best option for houses with 2 or more bathrooms since using 2 or more outlets at the same time will negatively impact how fast the water comes out of your taps even further. 

 

The combination boilers feature 2 heat outputs:

 

- Heated water for showers and taps

 

- Heated water for the radiators and central heating system

It will take more of an effort and heat in order to get heated water to a shower and taps than it will a radiator. For this reason, you need to think about the heated water output that your home will need, before choosing a central heating system. 

 

#2 Mains Pressure Heating Systems

The mains pressure heating system will supply the mains pressure heated water through taps in the home. 

The water is extracted from your cold-water mains where it is then heated by the boiler. The water is stored in an unvented cylinder (a storage tank) until it is needed. 

When opening a tap, the cold water that comes from your mains will force hot water into your central heating system, which is then forced out through the taps. 

The pressure levels at the taps of high-pressure heating systems will be at the same level of pressure as your mains. This is typically much higher than what most would usually experience. 

This type of central heating system is ideal for homes that already have high mains pressure, but for low mains pressure, these systems are unsuitable. The installation process is also expensive and some of the authorities will also require that you submit a certificate every year for annual maintenance. 

You will need to make sure that your flow rate and mains pressure are high enough in order to drive one of these mains-driven central heating systems. If you have gone through the hassle and expense of installing one of these heating systems, and the water only trickles out the taps in your home, there is not much you will be able to do in order to rectify the problem at this stage. 

 

#3 Regular Or Conventional Boilers

This central heating system uses a boiler, either a system boiler or regular boiler to heat the hot water and the radiator. The heated water will circulate around your system and then store in a cylinder until you need it. 

Water that flows into your boiler before it is heated will often come from an expansion tank or feed tank in your loft space, making sure that the water volume in these systems is kept at an optimum level. 

Over and above your feed tank, these systems also usually include a bigger tank that will replenish your hot-water cylinder after you have used water around your household. 

The water stored in the larger tank draws down into these systems using gravity. The primary drawback associated with these systems has to do with the space required in your loft to accommodate the 2 tanks, along with an "airing cupboard" or a similar space to store your hot water cylinder. 

The gravity-based heating system works well in homes with low mains pressure, since the force of gravity linked to these systems often provides an increase in water pressure when the mains pressure is not suitable for the job. 

However, it is common to find that most heating engineers won't recommend these systems since they are associated with more negatives than positives. One of these examples has to do with the requirement of 2 tanks in the loft, with a cylinder in the airing cupboard, which translates into more expensive installation costs due to the extra pipework and the extra tanks. 

If your home already has this type of central heating system in place, it can cost less to replace parts like your loft tank, opposed to ripping everything out to replace it with another system.

#4 Wall-Mounted Boilers

Most of the boilers manufactured today are designed to be wall-mounted. They also feature lighter and more compact heat exchangers made with materials such as stainless steel, lightweight cast-iron, aluminium, or copper. 

Wall-mounted boilers are available in several versions, including the Room Sealed or Fanned Flue. Similar to all the other modern boilers, wall-mounted boilers must have a system-by-pass fitted, which is needed to filter the water through the boiler to stop the "kettling" noises that boilers were once known for.

 

 

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About the Author

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Heat Quick Direct are Vaillant accredited engineers

Heat Quick Direct is accredited by all the major gas boiler trade bodies, such as Gas Safe and we are approved G3 unvented hot water storage engineers approved by Worcester as accredited engineers and we are approved advanced Vaillant engineers.