Home & Garden: Heating your home this winter
by Lisa de Silva
Cosy up your home for the coming winter months with our guide to your heating options.
As our thoughts turn to the colder months ahead, now is the time to think about heating your home. All important for warming cold toes and noses, not forgetting about the welcome ambience a real flame can bring to a room. There’s still time to get your warmth organised!
Nothing beats the cosy warmth and immediacy of a crackling fire. If you are lucky enough to have one in your house, use it! And with a wide range of accessories to choose from you can style your fireplace to fit in with your home. Think rustic country wicker log baskets to modernist chrome fire tools, neatly tiled surrounds to magestic cast iron grates.
The smell of an open fire is evocative enough already, but can easily be enhanced to fill your home with wonderful aromas. Try dried orange peel, pine cones or sprigs of rosemary for an instant atmospheric boost. If the fire hasn’t been lit for a while, it’s a good idea to get it checked by a reputable chimney sweep first and obtain a NACS Certificate of Chimney and Flue Smoke Testing to make sure it is safe to use.
For a wonderful alternative to an open fire why not consider having a woodburning or multifuel stove fitted instead? These stoves are an attractive focal point in a room, creating a warm and cosy ambience – much like an open fire but with more heat efficiency. They are generally used to heat a particular room, but can also be attached to the central heating system. When choosing your stove, take professional advice on the size and heat output required and choose from a wide range of styles – from traditional country cottage to super modern Scandi chic.
So what type of fuel can you burn? Wood is carbon-neutral, coal is less eco-friendly. Wood pellet stoves run on pellets made from wood by-products and use electricity to power automatic loading and ignition. Whatever option you choose, ensuring a good local fuel supplier and plenty of storage space will be important.
Most homes will have traditional gas fired central heating, and this is still a cost effective way of heating your home, especially if you have a modern condensing boiler. Where mains gas is not available, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or heating oil can be used to run a central heating system, but they have to be delivered by road and stored in a tank.
Many homes not connected to the gas grid use electricity for heating. It can be more expensive than gas so the most cost-effective form uses night storage heaters, which run on a cheaper night-time rate (Economy 7). Heat-retaining bricks are warmed through the night and slowly release the heat during the following day. Electric radiators are also available – but they can use up a lot of electricity very quickly unless your home is well insulated.
Do you wish you could get rid of unsightly radiators? Why not consider underfloor heating. There are two types: electric underfloor heating involves wires installed beneath or within the flooring; water underfloor heating consists of a series of pipes connected to your boiler or central heating system. The installation of water-fed systems make them best suited to new floor constructions, whereas confident DIYers maybe able to fit a ready-to-roll electric mat themselves.
Underfloor heating can be more energy efficient than radiators as the heat is more evenly distributed throughout a room, provided there is good insulation. The other advantage is that the warmth is produced where you want it: at floor level. Enjoy the sensation of warm ceramic tiles in your bathroom, kitchen… anywhere really.
With energy prices set to rise further, there has never been a better time to consider generating your own energy. Initial set-up costs can be considerable, so it’s important to take a long-term view. Look out for government initiatives to encourage renewable energy uptake, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, which can help with capital expenditure and pay you to generate your own energy.
Solar Water Heating
Solar water heating systems use the heat from the sun to warm domestic water, using solar thermal energy (STE) panels fitted to the roof of your home. A conventional boiler or immersion heater will top up the water temperature, if necessary, or provide hot water during colder months. Once your solar thermal system is up and running, you can enjoy both reduced energy bills and carbon monoxide emissions.
Biomass boilers burn wood, pellets or chips and are connected to the central heating and hot water system. Pellet boilers are easiest to use and can run automatically, in a similar way to gas or oil boilers. Burning logs is more labour intensive and you would need a constant supply to heat a whole house. Installation costs are not unsubstantial, but you maybe able to receive payments for the fuel you generate through the Renewable Heat Incentive.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
These heat pumps use pipes, known as a ground loop, buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground, which can be used to heat radiators, water, underfloor or warm air heating systems. The length of the loop depends on the size of your home. They deliver heat at lower temperatures over longer periods and could lower your fuel bills, your emissions and even provide you with an income through the Renewable Heat Incentive.
Whichever form of heating you choose for
your home, don’t underestimate the value of professional advice. Local suppliers are often happy to give free quotes and can advise on your family’s individual heating requirements to help you make your home nice and cosy come wintertime.
An alternative to the regular gas or electric cooker is the kitchen stove or range. They are very user friendly now days, with many modern programmable models available. A stove can be a central feature in a kitchen, much like a fireplace, but ultimately more useful. They sit very comfortably in both contemporary and traditionally styled homes, providing both a sleek yet majestically engineered tool and evoking a feeling of family, history and warmth.
Ranges are both a heat storage unit and a cooker. They work on the principle of heating a heavy cast iron frame from a low-intensity but continuously burning heat source. Once the heat has accumulated it can then be used for cooking. Originally designed to use slow-burning coal when they were first invented in the 1920’s, kitchen ranges are now much more adaptable. Fuel options include gas or electricity, kerosene, diesel or biofuel. The programmable models can be switched off when not in use, like a conventional oven, and some can even be operated by your smartphone. They may have come a long way from the 1920’s but the basic principles still prevail; heating, cooking and a feeling of home.