As the outside air temperature drops, the effectiveness of your home’s heating system will become more apparent. If yours isn’t keeping you warm enough, there are numerous different heating systems available, as well as several ways you can improve the insulation of your home to ensure it retains heat for longer. Some solutions are more substantial and expensive than others, and not all of them will be suitable for every property, but these ideas for toastier homes should provide plenty of inspiration.
Install a stove
If you like the idea of a real fire, but are deterred by the work involved in starting it and cleaning it once it’s burnt out, consider an enclosed, glass-fronted, wood-burning or smokeless fuel-burning stove instead, which should be approved by HETAS. These still give out lots of heat and are just as enjoyable to sit near as an open fire.
Before purchasing, check whether your home is in one of the UK’s designated smoke control areas. If it is, you can only burn an authorised fuel.
Remember, also, that you need to have your existing chimney lined to comply with building control requirements. This is because any cracks in an existing brick chimney would cause harmful gases to leak through into your rooms. Some fireplaces also require a certain degree of mechanical ventilation to be installed in the room – your building control officer will be able to advise you on this.
Consider water-based underfloor heating…
In large, open spaces with any type of flooring, water-based underfloor heating can be very efficient. A plumber will be able to check whether your existing boiler is powerful enough to run such a system.
While the installation may not be cheap, once the system is up and running, it requires less energy than its electric counterpart to run efficiently, making it potentially more economical in the long run.
…or opt for electric
As it’s more expensive to run, electric underfloor heating tends to be better suited to bathrooms and other compact tiled areas. And it may be your best option if you don’t want to or can’t connect it to an existing boiler.
The most common systems use thin electric mats, installed under your tiles. A similar system can be used in the form of a demister behind your mirror, to keep the surface steam-free when you have a shower or bath.
Look at the new infrared designs
‘Where is the heater in this child’s room?’ you might be wondering. Well, look hard and you might work out that it’s above the bed. This wall-hung electric heater that looks like a piece of typographic artwork is heating the room with infrared energy. This kind of system works best when hung on the wall and designers are now disguising these slimline heaters by turning them into art.
People are always looking at ways to reduce energy bills while still heating their homes more effectively and infrared panel heaters are a great solution. As they only heat the areas you want warmed, at a time when you need it, they can substantially reduce energy costs when compared to central heating systems, storage radiators or other forms of convectional heating. They can be used to supplement your existing heating system or to replace it, and can be controlled individually or as a whole and on varying scales.
Update your radiators
Radiators now come in all shapes and sizes and the latest styles are designed to maximise their heat output. Ideally, you should place your radiator under a window or, as in this kitchen, near a large glazed opening, as it will immediately heat the cold air coming in.
They can be powered by water from your boiler or electricity. While electric radiators are simpler to install – you just plug them in – they’re more expensive to run, as electricity is more expensive than the gas your boiler runs off (unless you generate your own ‘free’ energy from solar panels or similar green methods).
To find out which size radiator is appropriate for your room, you’ll need to do a British thermal unit (Btu) calculation. Some manufacturers will help you with this for free: you need to provide the width, depth and height measurements of the space, and specify the type of room and type of glazing. The recommended power output for your heating can then be calculated from this information. In general, though, the more surface area a radiator has the more heat it will generate.
Photo by Seymour-Smith Architects - Browse contemporary living room ideas
Bring in heat recovery ventilation
Ventilation is necessary, as it prevents condensation and also brings in much-needed fresh air. Heat recovery ventilation, or a ‘whole house ventilation system’, as it’s often called, is an efficient and clever system that should work without having to open a window or door, which would remove your warm air.
With this system, the fresh but cold air is heated by the outgoing warm air it replaces. This may not directly ‘heat’ your home, but it reduces the amount of conventional heating you need. There are various systems on the market, and the main unit can be installed either in your loft space or in a wall cabinet, usually in the kitchen.
To install a heat recovery system in your existing house, you will need a location for a half-boiler-sized unit on an external wall, or close by, and space for ducts from and to each of your rooms on all levels. While it’s certainly possible to retrofit such a system in an existing house, you need your installer to place ventilation grilles in each of the rooms, so you’d mostly likely have to decorate afterwards.
Go for intelligent heating
Look out for companies that provide smart heating controls. This involves installing an intelligent set of sensors to coordinate, zone and schedule heating throughout your property, saving you money and making your home more energy-efficient. For optimum effect, these systems should be installed at the same time as your heating system, but they can also be retrofitted to an existing installation.
Typically, you will have a very small, almost invisible, heat sensor in each room, linked to a local control panel of your choice – wall-mounted or mobile – and, in turn, every sensor is connected to a control unit.
Dig in an air source heat pump
If you’re building a new house, you can install a heat pump deep under the ground of your property or garden. The pump works by using the natural temperature difference between the different levels of the deep piles to give you, in effect, free heating – after you’ve installed the relatively expensive equipment, of course.
Together with energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines, this is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate energy to heat your home.
Invest in new windows
Retaining heat can be as much a part of having a warm home as your heating system. As such, changing your old, single-glazed windows to new, double- or even triple-glazed ones can make a huge difference. Making the change will be expensive and may even require planning permission, but the impact on reducing heat loss will be instantly noticeable.
If you live in a conservation area or a listed building, you can install custom-made double-glazed sash windows to match your existing single-glazed ones, in order to keep proportions as close to the original as possible. Thinner double-glazed units have been especially developed for historic properties.
Improve your thermal insulation
If your home was built before 1930, your walls are likely to be made of solid brick, which is actually very inefficient when it comes to retaining heat. It’s obviously more practical to add insulation to your walls, floors and ceilings during construction, but it can be done as part of a refurbishment, too. The effect is the same – less heat escapes, meaning your property stays warmer for longer and is cheaper to heat.