Electric radiators: A good replacement for old storage heaters?
Posted by Alex Barrett on 10 August 2016 at 12:05 pm
Storage heaters are becoming increasingly uncommon. The high price of electricity compared to gas means that electric heating is often considered to be a bad option. However modern electric radiators have a number of advantages over their predecessors. We talked to Ian McGregor of Electrorad to find out how electric radiators work and how they can provide an efficient and flexible space heating solution.
So what is the difference between a storage heater and an electric radiator?
Storage heaters were originally designed to take advantage of cheap night-time electricity on the Economy 7 tariff. During the night they heat up storage bricks within an insulated case. These are designed to retain the heat throughout the day, and release it gradually to heat the room, but the reality is that the heat leaks and is difficult to control. The result is that old storage heaters have a habit of running out of this lower cost stored heat in the evenings. Modern storage heaters are better than they once were, but they lack the flexibility and control of a gas central heating system.
The electric radiator looks and work just like the radiators of a wet central heating system, but rather than being connected by hot water pipes, each radiator is a standalone unit. It contains an electric heating element which warms up the internal fluid or other heat transfer materials to heat the metal panel. Despite their name radiators emit heat by both radiation and convection. This means that people in front of the radiator will feel warm, but it also circulates warm air throughout the room to provide effective space heating. Some models contain a small ceramic core, to store heat for up to half an hour, but storing heat is not their primary purpose. Electric radiators are 100% efficient at converting electricity to heat.
Each of these systems has different advantages and disadvantages, making them good for different purposes.
Ian thinks that the main problem with storage heaters is their inflexibility. Modern storage heaters provide the user more control than older models did, but you still have to predict how much heat you are likely to need the next day. When the weather is as changeable as it has been over the last few months this can be a major disadvantage. If it unexpectedly turns cold then you may not have enough stored heat to get you through the day. In this case you would need to top it up with more expensive daytime electricity. If you have a warmer day than anticipated then you will end up wasting the heat that you have stored the previous night, and getting very hot in the process.
So are there situations where a storage heater might still be the best option? This is certainly possible. Storage heaters provide their most effective heating during the day. This is a problem if you are out during that time, but can be an advantage for older people who are likely to spend more time in the same room, and want it at a consistently higher temperature during the day. Likewise someone who works from home could find a storage heater a useful addition to their workspace.
Electrorad cites the control system as one of their own product’s best features. Electric radiators can easily be controlled from a phone or computer, making it very easy to ensure that they are only used when they are needed. It is also simple to set up temperature zoning throughout a house. This is a system where different rooms are kept at different temperatures depending on the purpose for which they are used.
Electric radiators create a more efficient zoning system than a wet central heating system. To set up temperature zones in a gas fired system the radiators have to be fitted with thermostatic valves. When a certain temperature is reached these valves stop water from flowing through the radiator, cutting off the heating. However these valves are on the individual radiators, so water still has to be pumped around the house before it discovers that it isn’t needed in a certain room. Heat is lost throughout the pipes. If an electric radiator detects that the right temperature has been reached then the heating element will shut off and no energy will be used at all.
The high cost of electricity will always be a problem for electric heating systems. Unlike storage heaters electric radiators are not set up to use cheap night time power. Instead they only use short bursts of energy to maintain the room’s temperature.
An electric radiator will typically take a similar amount of time as a gas central heating radiator to warm up a room. Like with a wet central heating system it is the house that stores the heat rather than the radiator. Heat is absorbed by walls and furnishings which continue to radiate it after the heating element has shut down. This means that with the proper insulation, relatively little electricity is needed to keep the room comfortable.
Electrorad have had good feedback from people who have used their radiators in conjunction with solar photovoltaic systems. Solar panels start generating electricity as soon as the sun comes up, so can quickly provide enough power to warm up the house in the morning. It doesn’t take much stored electricity to keep the house warm through the day and night. Consequently this could be a good option for those with a highly insulated house hoping to reduce their CO2 emissions to as close to zero by using only self-generated and imported electricity from renewables.
“Electric heating is the future” Ian tells us. The ease of temperature zoning means that electric radiators can be an aid to energy efficiency in the home, and sooner or later we will need to stop using fossil fuels. At that point we will have to electrify our heating system, burning gas in every home will no longer be an option.
Images courtesy of Electrorad
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