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Electric Heating Options Explained

Electric heating systems don’t produce any emissions as they work to heat the home, making them more efficient and safer than burning gas or oil.

With so many electric heating options for homeowners to choose from, including electric boilers, infrared heaters, storage heaters and heat pumps, we can help you find the right one for your home.

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What is an electric heating system?

Conventionally, homes have a boiler that burns either gas or oil to provide central heating and domestic hot water. Electric heating systems do the same job (or provide only central heating) but don’t have to burn a fuel as they use electricity instead.

Electric heating options for homes

When it comes to finding a heating system that runs on electricity, there’s no shortage of options:

  • Electric boilers
  • Infrared heaters
  • Storage heaters
  • Air source heat pumps
  • Ground source heat pumps

While all of the above electric heating options can heat a home (whether to the whole property or individual rooms) only some can provide domestic hot water too.

Electric Heating System Central Heating? Domestic Hot Water?
Electric Boiler Yes – whole home Yes
Infrared Panels Yes – one needed per room No
Storage Heaters Yes – one needed per room No
Air Source Heat Pumps Yes – whole home Yes (air-to-water systems only)
Ground Source Heat Pumps Yes – whole home Yes

For infrared panels or storage heaters to provide central heating around an entire property, one will need to be fitted into each room – like conventional radiators. However, they will still be independent of each other.

What are the benefits of an electric heating system?

Rather than burning fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, electric heating systems use electricity to provide central heating for a home. Not having to burn any fuel comes with several benefits:

Alternative for properties off the gas network The common alternative for homes that aren’t connected to the gas network is an oil-fired heating system. However, this isn’t always practical as the oil needs to be stored on site and there’s not always room, especially in smaller properties or flats.

Electric heating systems only need an electricity supply to function and electric central heating boilers are compact units that can be installed just about anywhere around a property – unlike gas and oil boilers.

Emission-free heating

Electric heating systems don’t produce any emissions as they operate which will help to reduce the carbon footprint of your home.

Having said this, the majority of electricity generated in the UK is done by burning fossil fuels – a process that produces twice as much carbon than natural gas production. We’ll explain this further later in the article.

No risk of a carbon monoxide leak

Carbon monoxide is a harmful gas produced during the operation of gas and oil boilers. While it is expelled out into the atmosphere, away from the property, there’s the chance of a leak – which is why a carbon monoxide alarm should be installed close to the boilers.

As electric heating systems don’t burn any fossil fuels, no harmful gases are produced, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Highly efficient

During operation, electric heating systems are able to convert all of the energy into heat, while there is always some waste with gas and oil central heating systems. Heat pumps can even achieve efficiencies of 300-400%.

Quick response for heating and hot water

You’ll notice that when you turn the central heating on, an electric heating system won’t take long to respond.

Rather than firing up an entire central heating system, some electric heating systems will be able to focus the heat into the area you need warming up – a much more cost-effective way to heat a home, not to mention more comfortable.

Little maintenance necessary

Electric heating systems, including heat pumps, don’t need much maintenance at all, issues are much more common in conventional heating systems. So the chances of you having to call out a heating engineer for an emergency are much lower.

Gas and oil supplies running low

Supplies of gas and oil are expected to dry up within the next 40 years which will inevitably see the price rise as supplies can’t meet demand. Electricity, on the other hand, can be generated using renewable technology (solar, wind, hydro) which will never run out.

Renewable Heat Incentive

Turning to a heat pump for your central heating needs could make you eligible to receive government payments through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – a scheme designed to encourage more UK homeowners to turn to renewable heating systems. These payments aren’t available for electric boilers, infrared heaters or night storage heaters.

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Electric heating options: pros and cons

With a number of electric heating options available and each working in a different way, some will be better suited to your home than others.

Electric boiler

The best option for smaller homes and flats that aren’t connected to the gas network is an electric central heating boiler.

Electric boilers resemble conventional boilers in their appearance but as they don’t burn any fuel, there’s no need for a flue which makes installation much simpler and more flexible.

Electric Boiler Pros Electric Boiler Cons
Quiet during operation Only suitable for smaller homes and flats
Less chance of an issue as there are fewer moving parts Electricity is more expensive than natural gas
An annual service isn’t essential as it is with gas and oil boilers Can take up most of the amps on a fuse
Installation is more flexible and often cheaper than other boiler types A power cut would prevent the boiler from working (all modern boilers are fitted with electrical components)

Infrared panels

Infrared panels directly heat the people and objects in a room rather than the space, which is what traditional radiators do.

Infrared heat is the same heat sent down from the sun but without the UV light. There are sometimes concerns about the health risks of infrared heat but it’s actually perfectly safe – it’s even used in baby incubators. In fact, infrared heating panels could benefit your health as they don’t circulate dust around the room like conventional radiators.

Infrared Panels Pros Infrared Panels Cons
No emissions Can be more costly than storage heaters
Quietly heat the home Most efficient in rooms with little furniture
Flexible installation as there’s no need for any piping Pipework from old radiators will need to be removed

Electric storage heaters

During the night, electricity is available at cheaper rates with tariffs such as Economy 7. Electric storage heaters, or night storage heaters, make the most of this by generating and storing heat through the night. The stored heat is then slowly released into the room during the day.

While the benefit of cheaper night rates might be appealing, there’s a chance that the stored heat could have been used up by the evening – when you’re likely to need it the most.

Electric Storage Heaters Pros Electric Storage Heaters Cons
Lower running costs are available during the night (Economy 7) The stored heat could be released by the evening
Timers and thermostats are featured on modern unit Rooms could overheat as all heat is released into the room

Heat pumps

Air source and ground source heat pumps are slightly different to other electric heating options as they’re renewable heating systems.

Air source heat pumps generate heat for a central heating system by extracting heat from the air outside – even in temperatures as low as -20 °C. There are 2 types of air source heat pump: air-to-water and air-to-air.

Both need a fan to be installed outside which rotates to bring in the air but the air-to-water system circulates hot water around a wet central heating system (radiators or underfloor heating), while an air-to-air system blows hot air into a property through vents. Air-to-air heat pumps can also be used for cooling during the summer.

Meanwhile, ground source heat pumps take advantage of heat underground, where temperatures sit at 10-15°C all year round. The installation involves a series of pipes being installed underground in the back garden which a refrigerant fluid circulates around. This fluid takes in the underground heat and transports it back to the heat pump.

You’ll need plenty of outdoor space for the installation of a ground source heat pump and also need to provide access for the necessary machinery.

Air Source Heat Pump Pros Air Source Heat Pump Cons
Highly efficient performance Higher running costs than A-rated boilers
Can perform for up to 25 years Retrofit installation might not be possible
Operate all year round Some outdoor space is essential
Ground Source Heat Pump Pros Ground Source Heat Pump Cons
Could lower a home’s carbon emissions by 2-8 tonnes annually A fairly substantial amount of outdoor space is needed
Quiet in operation Home needs to be well insulated
Long lifetime Best suited to underfloor heating

Plus, both types of heat pump are eligible for payments through the Renewable Heat Incentive.

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Electric heating options for your home

The ideal electric heating system for your home depends on the size of your property and whether you have any garden space to spare.

Infrared panels, for example, can be fitted into a room of any home while an electric boiler can only meet lower demand for heating and hot water. When it comes to heat pumps – especially ground source heat pumps – sufficient outdoor space is essential.

House Type Bedrooms Bathrooms Garden Electric Heating Options
Small house, flat, terrace or bungalow 1-2 1 No Electric boiler, infrared heaters or night storage heater
Medium terrace, bungalow or semi-detached house 2-3 1-2 Yes Infrared heaters, night storage heater, ASHP or GSHP
Large semi-detached or detached home 4+ 2+ Yes Infrared heaters, ASHP or GSHP

How much do electric heating systems cost?

Electric storage heaters and infrared panels tend to be available at the lowest price while ground source heat pumps are the most expensive. Remember that you will have to invest in several storage heaters or infrared panels as they’re both designed to be installed around the home like radiators.

The table below shows the least you might expect to pay for each of the electric heating options before factoring in the installation.

  • Electric boilers: £1,000 – £4,050+
  • Infrared heaters: £150 – £500+
  • Night storage heaters: £100 – £550
  • Air source heat pumps: £4,000 – £11,000
  • Ground source heat pumps: £8,000 – £18,000

The minimum price between the 3 electric heating systems is pretty significant but remember that when it comes to infrared panels and night storage heaters, you’ll need to invest in 1 for each room – potentially taking the cost up to the £1,000 mark.

Not included in the prices above is the installation, which you’ll also need to factor in. To make sure that you get the most competitive price for installation, we highly recommend comparing multiple quotes.

Electric heating system running costs

It’s well known that electricity is expensive and that can often put many homeowners off an electric heating system.

In the UK, the majority of electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels which isn’t exactly an environmentally-friendly way of doing things. In fact, electricity generation produces twice as much carbon than natural gas production. Due to this, electricity is considered carbon intensive and pays the price of a fuel factor which, in turn, increases the price of electricity.

So, in terms of an electric central heating boiler, the unit itself doesn’t produce any emissions as it works to heat a home and domestic hot water. This makes electric boilers 99-100% efficient. However, the ErP rating (used to show the efficiency of an appliance) is often a lowly D because of the fuel factor that makes electricity expensive.

Fuel Average Running Costs per kWh (UK)
Natural gas 3.8p
Oil 5.2p
LPG 6.8p
Electricity 14.4p

As more energy suppliers turn to renewable generation, the price of electricity could begin to drop as less carbon is being produced. Some suppliers are already offering up a completely ‘green’ service and National Grid expect electricity generation to be carbon neutral as early as 2025.

Use our Guide to Switching Energy Supplier to find the best tariff for your home.

Electric heating installation quotes

Comparing multiple quotes will help you to find the most competitive price when it comes to the installation of an electric heating system.

To help you find those quotes, visit Boiler Guide where you can get free quotes from up to 3 heating engineers based in your area by taking a few moments to complete a simple form. Once you’ve received the quotes, you can compare them and be confident that you’re hiring the most suitable installer.

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