The best heating system for your home will not only keep you warm on those cold and windy nights, but will be the most energy efficient too. This means it will use as little energy as possible, whilst still keeping you nice and warm.
Choosing the most efficient heating system for your home is a very wise move, for a number of reasons;
Firstly, a heating system that’s able to better regulate and manage the temperature of your home will go a long way to create a comfortable and homely living environment.
Secondly, a heating system that uses less energy is good news for your energy bills, too. With the recent rise in gas and energy prices, it’s important to consider how your heating system can work with you to keep your monthly costs down.
Lastly, the reduction in energy is not only good news for your wallet, but our planet too, as less energy means less carbon output. Again, in light of increasing concerns surrounding climate change and global warming – taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint is commendable.
So, with these advantages in mind, let’s explore the different types of heating systems, and what kinds of houses they are best suited to.
There are generally three types of boilers available for homes in the UK. These are combination, heat-only and system boilers.
Combination boilers are the most common type of boiler in the UK, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best, or most efficient. Their name, ‘combi’ boiler, derives from the fact that they can deliver both hot water and heating at the same time.
They connect directly to your cold water system, and once hot water is requested, a signal is sent to the boiler to start burning fuel. These are most commonly burnt using gas, electricity, or oil can be used too.
As a result, the heat exchanger becomes hot enough to heat the cold water passing through it. This hot water will either be sent directly to your taps or radiators. However, this can not be done at the same time, and if hot water is being requested that usually takes priority.
The benefits of combination boilers
The main advantages of combi boilers include:
- Unlimited hot water on demand – Unlike other types of boilers, with a combi boiler – you don’t have to wait for a tank of water to heat up before you can use it.
- Compact and neat – Given that there are no tanks or cylinders to install, combination boilers are easy to fit in small spaces. This means they can be stored away easily in a cupboard, and won’t impact the aesthetics of your interior design.
- Easy to service – In light of their popularity, most engineers are well versed in combi boilers, so you’ll have no trouble finding one if you run into any issues
The drawbacks of combination boilers
The main disadvantages of combi boilers are:
- Only one hot water tap at a time – With a combination boiler you can only run hot water through one system. For example, you wouldn’t be able to have a shower whilst someone else runs hot water in the kitchen.
- No back up system – In the event that your combi boiler breaks down, there is no back-up in the form of an immersion heater.
- Dependent on water pressure – Combination boilers don’t tend to work as well in houses with poor water pressure.
Homes a combination boiler is best suited to
Given the combi boiler’s ability to heat hot water on demand, without having to store in tanks, and its compact size, it is best suited to smaller homes, with only one bathroom.
This is reinforced by the fact that combination boilers can only service one hot tap at a time, and for larger households this is more likely to be an issue.
Heat-only boilers, also known as ‘regular’ or ‘conventional’ boilers, have two parts. One part is a water tank that stores the cold water, and the other is the boiler itself.
Heat-only boilers heat up the water in the tank, and then distribute that water to various parts of the house, such as radiators or taps, in line with your instructions.
If you know you are going to be needing lots of hot water, conventional boilers will usually have a setting so that you can heat up the water in preparation for this.
The benefits of heat-only boilers
The main advantages of heat-only boilers include:
- The supply of water to multiple taps – Unlike combi boilers, heat-only boilers can service multiple taps at the same time with hot water.
The drawbacks of heat-only boilers
The main disadvantages of heat-only boilers are:
- Hot water is not instant – Given that heat-only boilers work by heating up a cold tank of water, you may have to wait a while for this process to complete. Additionally, you may find that you run out of hot water and have to wait for the tank to both refill, and become hot again.
- Takes up space – The second tank needed for the water means that heat-only boilers require a lot more space than other types of heating systems. As they can’t be tucked under the floor like underfloor heating, or stored away in a cupboard like combi boilers.
- Less efficient than other heating types – Though heat-only boilers may be beneficial for larger households, they are less energy efficient than other types of heating systems. This is because the constant heating of water will use a lot of resources, and hot water might be heated and then not used, but then needed to be reheated again at a later point.
- High installation costs – Depending on whether you already have the cold water feed and expansion tanks, heat-only boilers can be quite expensive to install.
Homes a heat-only boiler is best suited to
Heat-only boilers are better suited to larger homes, with more than one bathroom and multiple people most likely to need to use hot water at the same time.
System boilers, also known as closed vent or sealed system boilers, work similarly to heat-only boilers, except that all the external parts found in heat-only boilers, such as the valves and pumps, are simply built into a system boiler.
System boilers do not use a cold water tank, instead they use a hot water cylinder. They heat water through a pressurised system, and the water is either sent to the radiators or to the taps.
The benefits of system boilers
The main advantages of system boilers include:
- The supply of water to multiple taps – Just like heat-only boilers, system boilers are capable of sending water to more than one location at the same time.
- More compact than regular boilers – As there is no large water tank needed for a system boiler, they take up considerably less space than a regular boiler (but not a combi boiler).
The drawbacks of system boilers
The main disadvantages of system boilers are:
- Hot water is not instant – You will need to wait for the water in the cylinder to heat up before you can use hot water. Again, it can also run out, and you will have to wait for it to refill and reheat.
- Less efficient than other heating types – Again, because system heating will heat water that may not be used, this can lead to energy wastage.
Homes a system boiler is best suited to
Similarly to heat-only, system boilers are better suited to mid-large houses that will need to use hot water taps at the same time, on a frequent basis.
As a system boiler takes up less space than a heat-only boiler, it may be more desirable for homes that, though may be mid-large in size, are still conscious about saving space.
When it comes to heat pumps, there are two different types to choose from; air or ground source heat pumps.
Air source heat pump
Air source heat pumps operate in a similar fashion to ground source heat pumps, but instead of using energy from the earth, they absorb heat from the air. They work even when the temperature is well below zero, which is pretty impressive.
Air source heat pumps do use electricity to run, but they will produce more than they need – making them an energy efficient heating source (around 300-400%).
The benefits of air source heat pumps
The main advantages of air source heat pumps include:
- Energy efficiency – Air source heat pumps are a low carbon alternative to traditional heating system types. Whilst they aren’t a zero carbon heat source, they are still a very good option for those looking to reduce their carbon impact.
- Less disruptive installation than GSHP – If you think a heat pump is the way to go, but the thought of having your whole garden dug up is putting you off having a ground source heat pump, then an air source heat pump offers the perfect solution.
- Eligible through Boiler Upgrade Scheme – As with GSHPs, air source heat pumps are also eligible for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme government scheme, and those who are eligible can receive up to £7,500 towards this heating system.
The drawbacks of air source heat pumps
The disadvantages of air source heat pumps are:
- Installation cost – If you’re not eligible for the BUS scheme then air source heat pumps can be quite expensive. Additionally, even if you are eligible for the scheme, it won’t cover the entire cost, so you will still need to invest some money into it.
- Noise & cold air – Although not so much a problem in modern ASHPs, the condenser units of an air source heat pump can sometimes be noisy. You will also feel cold air being blown in the vicinity surrounding the unit.
- Space – You will need to make sure that there is enough space in your garden to house the external condenser unit. However, these aren’t that big in size, so most houses should have room for these.
Homes an air source heat pump is best suited to
Air source heat pumps work best with homes that are well-insulated. Again, air source heat pumps also work better when used in tandem with underfloor heating, or larger radiators.
You’ll also need enough space in the garden to fit the condenser unit, and will need to be accepting of the sound, too.
Ground source heat pumps
Another low carbon heating option is ground source heat pumps. Ground source heat pumps consist of a large network of underground pipes, and a heat pump at ground level.
A mixture of anti-freeze and water is sent through the pipes, and that consumes energy from the earth. This is then used to heat water that is sent to your taps or radiators, or gets stored to be used later.
Though ground source heat pumps need electricity to run, they will produce more than they consume. Plus, they still use less energy than traditional boilers.
The benefits of ground source heat pumps
The main advantages of ground source heat pumps include:
- Low carbon option – Given that ground source heat pumps still use electricity, they cannot be classed as completely zero carbon. However, they do use considerably less energy than traditional heating systems, and so are still a viable option for those looking to reduce the carbon output of their home.
- Energy efficient – Ground source heat pumps provide an energy efficient heating solution. For example, for every unit a ground source heat pump uses, three – four are then generated. This renders ground source heat pumps around 300-400% efficient.
- Eligible for government grant – As of October 2023, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme will see eligible households potentially receive £7,500 towards the purchase and installation of a ground source heat pump.
The drawbacks of ground source heat pumps
The main disadvantages of ground source heat pumps are:
- High installation cost – Again, the purchase and installation cost of a ground source heat pump is not cheap. With the average ground source heat pump costing £10,000 they are a considerable investment. However, the hope is that given their energy efficient values, over time you will make this money back.
- Disruptive installation – In light of the fact that a large percentage of this heating system is underground, installing it can cause a temporary disturbance.
- Compatibility with other heating systems – Depending on how you heat your home, a ground source heat pump may not be the best option for you. They work best with either underfloor heating systems or very large radiators, and are not very compatible with certain types of central heating.
Homes a ground source heat pump is best suited to
In light of the fact that ground source heat pumps will need a large outside area in order to function, they are best suited for homes with mid-large gardens.
Additionally, if you have large radiators or underfloor heating then you will see the most benefit from a ground source heat pump.
Solar thermal panels
Solar thermal panels are a completely different type of heating system to those we’ve previously explored. That’s because they are a low-carbon alternative to traditional heating types.
Solar thermal panels are placed on the roof of your home, and they use heat from the sun to heat your water.
It’s incredibly unlikely that solar panels can produce enough heat on their own, to be the sole heating source. As such, they are normally used in tandem with a boiler, or another kind of heating system.
The benefits of solar thermal
The main advantages of solar thermal include:
- No carbon emissions – Given the fact that solar thermal panels rely on a completely natural source, the sun, they have a very low carbon impact. This makes them a popular choice for the conscious consumer looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Low maintenance – Once installed, it’s very hard to ‘break’ solar panels, and they need little to no maintenance. Solar panel maintenance is also relatively cheap, should you ever need it.
- Lower energy bills – With solar thermal, you can potentially save hundreds of pounds on your energy bills per year.
The drawbacks of solar thermal
The main disadvantages of solar panels are:
- Compatibility with other heating systems – Not all boilers are compatible with solar thermal systems. So if you are thinking about investing in solar thermal, but your boiler isn’t compatible, you will have to factor that into the cost too.
- Purchase and installation costs – Solar thermal systems aren’t cheap. The average cost of buying and installing solar is significantly higher compared to boilers.
- Weather dependent – Given their reliance on sunlight, solar thermal panels can be inconsistent. Additionally, the panels will produce significantly less energy in the winter, especially in colder parts of the UK, and they won’t produce any at night.
- Roof conditions – Not only will you need to ensure your roof is strong enough, and south-facing, but you will also need to make sure it’s not obstructed by trees or buildings. If it is – the panels will be ineffective.
Homes solar panels are best suited to
In light of the fact that the average, three-bedroom house needs ten panels, this kind of heating system is most effective for mid-larger sized houses.
Additionally, the roof will need to be at least a 30-degree angle, and have a south facing side.
Water based underfloor heating
With water underfloor heating, a collection of pipes are placed underneath the floorboards of your home. These pipes are then connected up to a heating system, such as a boiler or a heat pump.
The pipes are connected to the heating system through what’s called a manifold. The manifold houses all the taps, and the bigger your underfloor heating system, the more complex the manifold will be.
The warm water is then pushed through the pipes, and in turn, that heats the room. Underfloor heating is increasingly becoming more popular, due to its ability to heat rooms much more evenly than radiators.
Electric underfloor heating
Electric underfloor heating works in very much the same was as water based underfloor heating. But instead of pipes, wires are installed that heat up when the system is turned on.
The benefits of underfloor heating
The advantages of both types of underfloor heating include:
- Maximises space – As underfloor heating operates underneath the floorboards, you eliminate the need for radiators in that area. This both frees up space, and makes for a stylish and attractive living space.
- 25% more efficient than radiators – Whilst underfloor heating isn’t zero carbon, it is able to heat the room much more efficiently than traditional heating types. Warm water underfloor heating is around 25% more efficient than radiators, and this figure rises to 40% when paired with a heat pump.
- Low carbon alternative – In light of the fact they are a low temperature heating system, warm water underfloor heating is kinder on our planet than other forms of heating, and will help you to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Luxury feel – One of the main advantages of underfloor heating is the way they feel. Walking on a comfortably heated floor feels both luxurious and cosy, and is much better than stepping onto a freezing cold one.
- Compatible with all floor types – Despite popular opinion, underfloor heating isn’t only compatible with wooden or tiled floors, it also works with carpet, vinyl, and many more floor types. This means it’s unlikely you’ll need a new floor when you purchase underfloor heating.
The drawbacks of underfloor heating
The disadvantages of wet underfloor heating include:
- Installation – Whilst underfloor heating is still relatively easy to install, even retrospectively, it can still cause some temporary disturbance. However, this is to be expected with any new installations. Additionally, warm water underfloor heating can sometimes be complex to install, which is why we provide detailed design drawings to make it as simple as possible.
- Cost – Underfloor heating often has a higher installation cost than traditional heating systems when used in a renovation. However, many low/no carbon heating systems do tend to have higher purchase and installation costs, with the idea being that over time, they reduce your energy consumption significantly, so that you make that money back.
Homes underfloor heating is best suited to
Underfloor heating works incredibly well when paired with a heat pump, so houses that already have one, or are considering one may wish to consider underfloor heating too.
Underfloor heating also works well in open-plan living space due to the large floor area.
So, what is the best heating system for your home?
Objectively, the best heating system is the one that is the most energy efficient and cost-effective. So exactly which type of heating system that is, will be different for each household.
For example, solar panels might be considered the best option for a house with a large, south-facing roof with no obstructions, but also no garden.
However, the same won’t be true for a house with a completely flat roof, obstructed by tall buildings.
There is no denying that low carbon, renewable heating systems such as solar panels, heat pumps, and underfloor heating, bring considerable value in terms of their energy efficiency and carbon impact.
And, considering the likelihood that gas boilers will soon be banned, these types of heating systems make strong contenders for their replacement.
If you’d like some more information on the best heating system for your home, then we have some more blogs that you might find useful here:
How can Nu-Heat help?
At Nu-Heat, we specialise in creating bespoke underfloor heating and renewable energy systems.
We are proud to offer an award-winning service that exceeds all your expectations. If you’d like to speak to one of our helpful experts then get in touch with us today.