Central Heating System How It Works

Confused about what kind of central heating system is working inside your home? Or are you considering upgrading it? Learn how your central heating system works and why this is important.

How Does my Central Heating System Work?

A central heating system works by converting the chemical energy in a fuel into thermal energy and transferring that energy to air, water or steam, which is then supplied throughout the entire building. A central heating system is fitted with pipework and radiators attached to a boiler. The boiler provides the heat and the pump transfers hot water from the boiler to the radiators through the pipework, then back to the boiler for reheating. It also supplies the hot taps inside your home with hot water. The entire system can be an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system when paired with other devices.

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Hot Water and Heating

Central heating systems use either a standard boiler or a system boiler to heat both the radiators and the water in all your hot water taps. The hot water circulates throughout the device and is then deposited in a tank of hot water until you need it.

Water heating accounts for about 18% of the energy consumption in your house. Reducing the use of hot water, using energy-saving techniques and using an energy-efficient water heater for your home will help you slash your monthly costs for water heating.

An awareness of the current heating system is critical. You can consider these energy-saving upgrades if you have a central heating system:

  • Replace your boiler with a newer, more powerful model.
  • Fit better controls and use them to ensure that your boiler provides heat only where and when you want it to.
  • Make use of chemical additives to help maintain the efficiency of central heating systems.
  • Turn to a product or system cheaper or lower in emissions.
  • Make any changes you can in terms of insulation and draught-proofing.
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Domestic Hot Water Production

In addition to heating the water flowing through radiators, central heating systems also produce hot water for domestic use. A domestic hot water system (DHW) is used to provide hot water to tubs, showers, basins, sinks, and other appliances for the kitchen and bathroom.

Both water systems can be provided by the same boiler as long as both water systems do not blend. This DHW is either produced on demand or stored in a tank for use when necessary. There are also individual water heaters, including innovative versions which use heat pumps or solar power.

Radiators and Underfloor Heating

In a house refurbishment project, installing radiators is the cheapest and simplest option. A radiator is ideal for homes whose occupants are usually out during the day and need immediate heating when they get home.

With a higher initial cost and a somewhat more complicated design, underfloor heating is an excellent alternative to radiators. The major advantages underfloor heating offers are the high-quality heating it provides without draughts because it operates at low temperature and the system can be connected easily to heating sources that operate at similar low temperatures. This makes underfloor heating the perfect partner for heat pumps.

While underfloor heating is often seen as the new technology to replace radiators, radiators can work very well with underfloor heating. Zones can be created in your home, where one part is heated via the radiators and others are warmed up with underfloor heating. If you wish, you may even have both in the same room.

Whatever way you choose to install your underfloor heating, one thing is certain – your feet will be delighted that you have done so.

What are the Different Forms of Central Heating?

In general, central heating systems fall into one of the following types:

Storage Heaters

Storage heaters use electric power to store thermal energy during the night. The system achieves this by heating up internal ceramic bricks and then releasing the heat from the bricks to warm the building during the day.

Normally, a storage heater has at least two controls, one to control how much electricity is being used, which will determine how much heat is being generated for storage, and another to control how much heat is being released. That means if you’re out during the day, you can delay the heat release until you come back in the evening. More advanced storage heaters have thermostatic controls as well.

Water Heating

Unlike the hot water cylinder, water heaters can produce water continuously, but at a slower rate. It’s okay for a single tap or a couple very close together. Running it is economical and there are limited versions available, for example for a single, stand-alone sink. This device runs mainly on coal or electricity for top-up models. For apartments and small homes, a mixed wall boiler is one alternative (instant hot water in the home and hot water for heating).

Air Conditioning

An air conditioner provides air conditioning through ductwork to a building. Using a forced-air system, an AC cools the air while a heat pump warms or cools the air as needed, then an in-built blower pushes the cooled or warmed air into the device and back into the rooms. The air-conditioner compressor work is what makes the entire air-conditioning process possible.

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How is Central Heating Controlled?

When it comes to regulating the temperature of your home central heating system and managing your energy costs, heating controls are an essential piece of equipment. Central heating controls regulate your home and office temperature by automatically turning the heating on and off at the device itself based on the selected schedule or programmes.

Smart Thermostats

Smart heating controls enable you to remotely manage the heating from a smartphone or computer. One simple benefit of a smart heating control device is that if your schedules change, you can make changes remotely.

For example, if it turns out that you’ll be home earlier or later than you planned, you can change the time that your heating comes on.

Boiler Thermostats

Usually, your boiler will have a dial marked in numbers. Some will be marked Min to Max. You can use this control to set the temperature of the water that will be pumped from the boiler via the radiators.  If you want your home to be heated quickly, set it higher.

Room Thermostats

This is best located in a living room rather than the hallway, as the temperature of the hall may be affected by the use of the front door. The thermostat records the temperature of the home and if it is either at or above the set level (it’s usually adequate at 20°C/68°F) it stops the boiler from running the central heating.

Boiler Programmers

The software lets you schedule different heating and hot water times and temperatures for various days of the week. You might like the heating at the weekend to be hotter and on longer than during the week when you’re not home as much, for example.

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How Much Does Central Heating Cost?

Typically, the cost of installing central heating in homes ranges from about £2,300 for a small bungalow with two bedrooms to about £4,600 for a house with five bedrooms. Prices will be slightly higher in London and England’s South East. Costs differ mainly depending on the systems already available in the property.

Gas Heating is Less Efficient

Gas furnaces were not designed to be used for multiple rooms. Before they can heat up other rooms, they make some rooms too hot thereby wasting fossil fuels.

Electric Heating is Expensive to Run

In the UK, electricity costs are 10-15p/kWh and gas costs are just 3.5-4p/kWh. So, electricity heating is considerably more expensive on the face of it than heating with mains gas (e.g. a boiler).

Heat Pumps can Save you Money

Indeed, heat pumps save you money on energy costs. If you use a heat pump along with a primary heating system such as gas, oil, or electric, you will find additional savings by using the heat pump to offset the primary fuel consumption: one heat pump can offset up to 300 gallons of oil in a typical home, saving money on expensive fossil fuels.

Moreover, heat pumps will help to reduce the carbon footprint of your home.

Modern Central Heating Systems

Modern storage heaters. Technology has advanced since the 1960s when storage heaters were first fitted. Today a central heating system can come with new storage heaters, remote wi-fi controls, thermostats, programmable clocks, open window detectors, and fans to help distribute the heat. As of the 1st of January, 2018, all modern electric heaters must come with thermostats, temperature sensors, fans, and programmable timers lasting 24 hours and seven days. So, review carefully before purchase.

Electric radiators. These are similar to a traditional wall radiator and work by heating an element like water or oil in a metal structure that in turn radiates heat out into the room. Electrical radiators are ideal in your home for all-day use. They are effective, robust and highly controllable and come in variable wall-mounted or freestanding models. You can also install electric radiators that operate with normal energy tariffs, and you can turn them on and off anytime you want to heat your house.

Infrared panels. Infrared has the potential for being the most effective heating system in your house. Unlike other electrical heating systems that warm the surrounding air to heat a room, infrared warms objects and people directly – transferring heat from the heater to whatever is in front of it in straight lines. Infrared heaters are inherently more efficient than any other heating system, whether electric or plumbed, without needing to transport heat to the surrounding air.

Biomass stoves. This system is powered by wood. It’s also known as a biomass system. It provides room heating and hot water by burning wood pellets. Biomass boilers give an excellent heating solution which really pays for itself. Combined with the tremendous savings to be made from biomass fuels and the government’s domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), looking at biomass for your home really makes sense.

Heat pump. Like refrigerators, heat pumps use electric power to transfer heat from a cold room to a warm space, which provides colder and warmer space. In summer months, high-efficiency heat pumps often dehumidify the interior air better than traditional central air conditioners, resulting in less energy consumption and more convenience for cooling.

Geothermal systems provide the most efficient heating type possible. They can cut bills for heating by up to 70%. Like other heat pump types, they are also very safe to operate and are environmentally friendly.

Solar panels. Solar water heating uses solar energy to heat water in a panel often on the roof of the building, which in turn will supply the heat as hot water or to a central heating system. This will produce energy from which the solar heating pump can be powered. Solar heating systems are most cost-effective when they replace less affordable heating fuels, such as oil, propane, and electricity.  With an active solar energy system heating, your home can significantly reduce your fuel bills in winter.

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Underfloor Heating and How to Get it Right

Getting the underfloor heating (UFH) for your house right starts with choosing the right underfloor heating system. Two types of underfloor heating exist – water and electric heating.

Think about your room size and shape. Smaller, more cramped spaces tend to be best suited to electric underfloor heating. Similarly, choose the most ideal flooring for the top of the underfloor heating. Technically, underfloor heating can go below any kind of flooring. Some types, however, will more readily allow heat through and retain the heat better than others. Stone is an especially good heat conductor, as are certain tiles. Laminate and vinyl are good as well.

Make use of UFH controls to ensure your comfort and energy efficiency. Underfloor heating takes longer than radiators to heat up and cool down so programmable controls are essential to overcome this time lag.

Look for systems that come with an extended warranty. When looking at warranties, make sure it has some substance from the company that supports it. A number of online companies have emerged offering extended warranties, but if they no longer exist when the system fails then that guarantee will be worthless.

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Heat Pumps for DHW and Heating

There are many situations where separating your central heating systems from the DHW heating systems is a good idea. One significant benefit is the ability to switch off the central heat generator outside the heating season, thus saving energy over the long term.

Heat pumps for DHW extract heat from the air outside to heat your supply of hot water. Unlike standard heat pumps, this heat pump system supplies hot water to sink and showers only. If you don’t have heat pumps or convector radiators, this system is an excellent choice.

Heat Pumps and Air Con

Heat pumps are often referred to as packaged units. The heat pump is an air conditioner/heater when it needs to be an air conditioner/heater and a refrigerator when it has to be. When the condition calls for it, it fits both ends.

To provide heat, a standard air conditioner requires a homeowner to have an additional heating source, such as a furnace or a resistance heater. An air conditioner just cools your house, while heating and cooling are handled by the heat pump. Both use liquid refrigerant after compressing, to absorb and carry heat from one place to another. And both remove heat and humidity as part of the refrigeration process from your home or office.

Speak to the Experts

Are you moving into a new property and need heating installation? Or do you simply want to upgrade your heating systems? Speak to the heating experts at The ACE Heat Pumps UK today. We cover all aspects of heating services. Please call 01273257407 to speak to one of our experts.

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