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Alternatives to Storage Heaters


If you live in a house that is not connected to the gas grid, you are probably using a storage heater to heat your home during the cold months. Well, you are not alone in this because, as of 2015, there were roughly 1.5 million households in the UK using storage heaters. However, storage heaters are becoming rapidly out-phased as they have a low energy efficiency than modern heating solutions.

What are storage heaters?

Post World War II, electricity companies in the UK were working round the clock to produce enough energy to fuel the rapidly expanding economy at the time. However, they soon realized that electricity consumption at night was way lower, and they had surplus power they could not dispose of their hands.

So they came up with a solution – cheaper night-time energy tariffs to incentivize people to consume more power during the night. The heating industry saw this opportunity and developed the storage heater, a heating solution that would utilize the cheaper night-time electricity to heat homes during the following day.

How do storage heaters work?

Storage heaters work by storing thermal energy during the night and gradually releasing the heat the next day. They are usually made of clay or ceramic bricks with an embedded heating material that heats the bricks during the night.

The storage heater takes advantage of the cheaper night-time tariffs in Economy 7 and Economy 10 zones to heat rooms during the subsequent day. Once the bricks have reached maximum capacity, it starts releasing the energy by radiation and convection.

Running costs storage heater alternatives.

Since all of these alternatives run on electricity, you might be interested to know how much each option will cost you in operating costs. Well, to get the estimated operating cost per hour, multiply the heating system’s kilowatt-hour rating (kWh) by the cost of electricity.

Why replace your storage heater with modern alternatives

Although the storage heater was a popular heating solution in the 60s and 70s, its reign didn’t last long as people soon realized that it had significant shortcomings. People started ditching it for alternative heating solutions in the 1990s. If, however, you are still using this old, outdated heating method, here are a couple of reasons why you should replace it sooner than later.

Not enough heat when you want it

The storage heater starts releasing heat once its storage cells are full, regardless of whether you need heating at the time or not. As such, your home will be uncomfortably hot in the morning and cold in the evening.

This is particularly true given that the storage heater gradually releases heat to an empty room during the day. The released heat will then quickly rise by convection and escape through the roof and walls if not well insulated.

Highly inefficient

The idea that you save more by heating storage heaters at night when electricity tariffs are low in Economy 7 and Economy 10 zones is a sham. This is because the unjustified inflated day rates in these zones mean you end up spending more on electricity in the long run. The high electricity cost and uncontrolled heat loss render the storage heater an inefficient heating solution.

It lacks functionality

Bar from modern storage heaters with built-in timers that automatically switch to the heater when heating is required, all old models have to be manually turned on by the house owner.  As such, you must plan for it to come on the following day based on your grasp and knowledge of the next day’s weather.  With such an operating regime, the storage heater can’t allow you to react to an emergency need for extra heating in case of unpredicted cold weather.

It is bulky and awkward.

Most early versions of storage heaters are large and require a lot of space, making them inconvenient, especially where space is limited. Storage heaters also tend to project out from the wall and cannot sufficiently heat the room when pieces of furniture are placed in their way. As a result, they limit the way you can arrange your room.

Health risks

Storage heaters, especially those installed before the 1980s, have asbestos added as a fireproofing material. Asbestos can pose a health risk as it causes fibrotic lung disease when inhaled.

What are the alternatives to storage heaters?

If you have bought into the idea of replacing your old, beaten, and highly inefficient storage heater, there are plenty of options out there for the taking. Some of these alternative heating solutions include:

  • Electric radiators
  • Infrared heating panels
  • Electric combi boilers
  • Heat pumps
  • Fan heaters

Electric radiators

Topping the list of storage heater alternatives is the highly efficient electric radiator which converts almost all the consumed electricity to heat. Electric radiators work by heating a thermodynamic fluid, say, oil, and circulating it through the system. As the heated fluid circulates, it heats the radiator surface, which in turn warms up the air in the room.

Electric heaters are rated based on their output, and usually, the higher the output rating, the higher the heat the radiator can generate. It will cost you anywhere between £120 and £450 to install an electric radiator.

Some of the benefits of electric radiators include:

  • They are silent
  • They are cost-effective, thanks to their high efficiency
  • They can be portable or wall-fixed

Infrared heating panels

This is a relatively new heating solution that is taking the heating industry by a storm. Infrared heating panels differ from conventional heaters in that instead of heating the space in a room; it heats objects directly using infrared radiation.  The panels emit infrared radiations (same as the sun, minus the harmful UV rays), which warm up the things they hit.

Some of the benefits of installing infrared heating panels include:

  • They minimize energy wastage by heating objects in the room rather than empty space.
  • They are compact and silent while in operation.
  • They can reach optimum heating within 30 seconds of being switched on.
  • They heat walls and floors in the room, helping keep them dry and free from mould.

Electric combi boiler

An electric combi boiler uses electricity to heat up and produce hot water on demand. It is a good alternative if you need hot water for both central heating and domestic use. Electric combi boilers are usually compact units that you can mount on the wall or put in a kitchen cupboard. They are, however, quite expensive and will cost you between £1,500 and £2,000 per unit.

Some of the advantages of electric combi boilers are:

  • They are compact and require minimal space.
  • They are up to 99.99% efficient.
  • They are silent as they do not have movable parts.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps, both ground and air sources, are an excellent alternative to storage heaters, especially if you have plenty of outside space in your home. Ground source heat pumps extract natural heat from the ground around your home and use it to heat water stored in a hot water cylinder. The heated water then circulates your home, warming it up in the process.

On the other hand, air-source heat pumps use a fan to draw in the warm outside air. The air is then passed over a refrigerant fluid which then boils and evaporates. Next, the refrigerant vapour is compressed at high pressure to generate heat which is then used to heat water in a hot water tank.

Ground source heat pumps generally cost between £9,000 and £19,000, while air source heat pumps are less expensive and cost between £4,000 and £12,000 to install. Despite their high installation costs, heat pumps are still worth the investment as they can generate 3-4 times the energy they consume.

Fan heaters

Fan heaters are an excellent alternative to storage heaters if you live in a small property. Although they are not our favourite pick owing to their tendency to blow heat in one direction, it is still a good option for boosting heating in your home.  To sufficiently heat your home, you will need at least one fan heater per room, each costing between £9 and £15.

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