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Central Heating And Boilers

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 12 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Boiler Thermostat Conventional

One addition that can really add value to your home, as well as make it more comfortable, is to install central heating or upgrade it if you already have an installation. The magic letters GCH are ones that most buyers are looking for on the estate agent’s details.

Why Central Heating?

New properties, especially flats and apartments, often have electric storage heaters installed purely because they’re cheaper to put in than central heating with hot water radiators. Although they’re not as bulky and inefficient as the first ones that came out, they are still difficult to control and often run out of heat when you most want it, when you’re at home in the evening.

Gas or oil central heating is a lot more controllable, although whether or not it’s cheaper to run depends on the vagaries of the oil market. It used to be a lot cheaper than electric heating but now the difference is not as great.

Boiler Choices

There are a number of different boiler types these days. Conventional floor-standing or wall-mounted boilers are cheap and operate at about 75%-80% efficiency, but condensing boilers, which have secondary heat exchangers, increase the efficiency to around 95-97%. They are therefore cheaper to run, but cost more to buy in the first place. As well as heating water to go round the radiators, these are usually linked to a water cylinder for hot water. But combination, or ‘combi’, boilers heat hot water for taps only when it’s needed and can be cheaper still to run.

Back boilers, that is, boilers that go behind a fire or heater in a lounge, are a useful alternative when you might not have room in a kitchen or utility room for a boiler. Another minority ‘boiler’, but getting more popular, is a heat exchanger, which takes heat from pipes run under the ground. When looking at green solutions, this is probably more suited to the United Kingdom’s climate better than solar panels.

Alternatives to Gas

If you aren’t on mains gas and have to use oil delivered by tankers, then the boiler choices are effectively the same, but there is less choice and usually a little more expensive. The same goes for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) which is less smelly than oil but currently a little more expensive.

Radiator Systems

The system that the boiler will link to is likely to be a sealed system of connected radiators. Older houses will have ‘vented’ systems, which use header and storage tanks in the roof, but a modern sealed system does away with those.

It makes sense to fit thermostatic valves to all the radiators, though bear in mind that many systems will require at least one radiator to be left without one to act as a heat outlet if something goes wrong. It’s usually put in the bathroom as that’s a place where people nearly always want heat!

Where to Put Radiators

Think carefully about where to site radiators. If they are on the wall opposite a window then the air circulation current will take hot air up and across the ceiling to the window, then down, dragging the cold air from the window and taking it past your ankles to the radiator! This is less of a problem with modern double-glazing but it still needs thinking about.

It may also be worth considering a radiator in the airing cupboard as a modern insulated water cylinder doesn’t; give off much heat, and if you have a combi system there’ll be no water cylinder anyway.

Underfloor Heating

Although it’s very difficult to install in anything other than a new build, unless you are completely rebuilding a property, underfloor heating is gaining in popularity for two reasons. More expensive than radiators to install, the temperature that the coils under the floor are heated to is only around 45-50 degrees (centigrade) compared to the 80-90 degree temperature of conventional radiators. This dramatically drops your fuel bills as heating water takes a lot of energy. The second benefit is that it has none of the circulation problems that poor radiator positioning can cause, as the heat simply rises uniformly from all areas of the floor.

Get the Plumber In

It is likely that you will need a plumber’s help to choose and fit boilers and central heating, and in fact if you are using gas, it’s now illegal for anyone other than a CORGI registered gas fitter to connect up a gas boiler. Follow the usual golden rules when looking for someone to do the work for you: get at least three estimates before choosing a supplier and try and get someone who’s been personally recommended to you.

If all goes well and you select your options carefully you can have a system that’s cheap to run, keeps you warm and makes your house more saleable into the bargain.

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