Pros and Cons of the 6 main Heating Systems in the UK

In this article, you will find an overview of the main central heating system options in the UK, as well as their pros and cons. The main UK heating systems are:

  • Gas central heating
  • LPG central heating
  • Electric central heating
  • Oil central heating
  • Renewable heating
  • Infrared central heating

You will also learn about the different options every heating system provides in this UK heating system comparison.

Keeping you warm while you keep your energy bills low means that how you heat your home is important.

When considering costs there are a number of factors that affect the cost of your heating:

  • How old is your home?
  • How well is your home insulated?
  • Where do you live in the UK?
  • What is the efficiency of your heating system?

With renewable energy sources now more accessible and cost efficient, introducing a cleaner energy source into your home heating system is also worth considering, especially given the government incentives currently available in the UK.

Whether you're installing a heating system in a new build or looking to replace an old and likely costly heating system, we have reviewed all of the home heating systems currently on the market in the UK, what types of homes they are right for and weighed up the pros and cons for you.

Gas central heating

The most common system in the UK is mains gas central heating although not all homes are connected to the national gas grid. Gas has been, up until now, considered the cheapest option if your house is connected as it is generally considered a lot cheaper to heat water using gas than electricity. It is called a ' wet system' because a gas-fired boiler heats water that is then distributed around the home through radiators and to the hot water taps. This can be by a conventional gas boiler or combi boiler (combination boiler). A combi boiler will heat your tap water on demand whereas a conventional gas boiler will heat water stored in your hot tank.

The average annual cost of using gas for heating and hot water in the UK is £542 based on an annual usage of around 12,000 kWh per year (as calculated by Ofgem- typical domestic consumption values TDCV in Jan 2020) but can range between 8,000 and 17,000 kWh).

Pros of gas central heating:

  • It is easy to replace a standard gas boiler with a modern more efficient condensing boiler, improving your cost efficiency with an upgrade.
  • Gas boilers are capable of heating larger homes as they are more powerful than electric boilers.
  • If you are on the piped network straight to your home there is no need for gas storage considerations.
  • Gas heating is not affected by power cuts.

Cons of gas central heating:

  • Installing a gas central heating system can be expensive, particularly if your property is one of the four million UK homes not on the gas network. The UK has self-sufficiency for just over half its demand, so prices are affected by global gas supply.
  • The annual cost of running gas has also to take into consideration an annual service charge and any maintenance that may arise.
  • Gas is not considered a clean source of energy; it is a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when burned.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should be used with gas heating systems and regular maintenance is recommended in order to ensure they are running safely.

Alternatives to gas: are electric, LPG and heating oil which work in a similar way. 

LPG central heating 

Liquid Petroleum Gas or LPG is a heating system usually used in ' wet' systems where an LPG-run boiler heats water which is then distributed around the home through radiators. LPG heating relies on the fuel being delivered to your home and storage is outdoors such as the garden. This can be by a conventional boiler or combi boiler.

The price of LPG fluctuates more than heating oil or gas, with LPG in general costing slightly less on average. The annual cost of heating your home and hot water using LPG is £796 based on an average consumption of 12,000 kWh based on current domestic-fuel prices (Ofgem).

Because LPG is a fossil fuel it is therefore not considered a clean source of energy. However, LPG is a highly efficient fuel and modern condensing boilers can achieve much higher efficiencies than a standard LPG boiler which help cut your carbon emissions and costs.

Pros of LPG central heating:

Slightly cheaper to run than heating oil or gas.

Cons of LPG central heating:

  • Running out of LPG and having to wait for your next delivery can be inconvenient.
  • Annual running costs must include the purchase or rental of your tank from your supplier.
  • The storage tank itself can be rather unsightly although the option of installing an underground tank is a consideration.
  • All this considered, the UK government is strongly advising against the installation of heating systems that burn oil or solid fuels by 2020 and incentivizing consumers to opt for renewable heating systems instead with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which rewards homeowners in return for using renewable energy to heat your home.

Electric central heating

If your home is not connected to the National gas grid, then perhaps you are using an electric heating system or considering one. Here are some different ways of using electricity to heat your home, bearing in mind that some electric heater options are more costly than others.

Electric storage heaters

A storage heater that 'store' heat is the most common electric heating system especially in apartments and flats, generally smaller spaces, and have been around since the 1960´s.

This method uses electricity supplied at night time and at a cheaper rate to heat heat-retaining ceramic bricks that store the heat and then release it slowly during the following day heating the space inside your home. Some storage heaters can be turned on during the day when needed but obviously at a cost.

All new electric heaters are now more cost effective than they used to be and must, by law, come with:

  • programmable timers,
  • thermostats,
  • temperature controls and
  • fans to help disseminate the heat in order to make them more energy efficient.

Storage heaters can vary in price with most costing upwards of £200 with newest models having built in thermostats and include digital programmers, open window sensors, electronic room controls and wi-fi remote controls.

High heat-retention storage heaters are also available and retain heat up to 45% for as long as 24 hours. Prices for more energy efficient and modern storage heaters however can be up to £800 per heater.

Electric radiators

An electric radiator is probably the least cost-effective way to heat your home as they work with standard electricity tariffs and can be turned on and off manually. However if you have a very well-insulated property and don't have to use them regularly or only in certain rooms of your house then could work for you.

Immersion heaters

An immersion heater or electric boiler is a bit like a large kettle, it's an electric heating system with a metal loop or coil that sits inside a hot water cylinder heating water that is then distributed around the home. The immersion is connected to the mains electricity and can be switched on and off by timer or thermostatic control.

Most households will use a gas boiler for heating and hot water and have an immersion heater as a backup. Alternatively, immersion heating is mostly used in flats with no piped gas supply.

Pros: The temperature can be controlled by thermostat that will automatically turn on and off as needed, and an immersion can be well insulated to prevent unnecessary heat loss and keep water hot for hours.

Cons: Using an electric system to heat hot water is more expensive than gas. An immersion heater uses three kilowatts of electricity per hour, on average 50p an hour or £360 per year.

Electricity in summary: The pros and cons

The annual cost of electricity in the UK is around £776 for approximately 4,200 kWh on a single-rate tariff, about £200 more annually than gas. Cheaper night-time rates are available, which may be particularly more useful for electric heaters that are designed to be used at off-peak times of use.

Pros of an electric heating system:

Electric heating systems are generally much easier and cheaper to install than gas as they do not need pipework or a flue, compared to gas they are easier to maintain with no need for annual service and mains electricity is available across the UK. No need for carbon monoxide detectors or fuel leaks to worry about.

Cons of an electric heating system:

While both gas and electricity prices have increased over time, electricity prices are about three or four times higher than gas and are not likely to decrease any time soon. Around 40% of electricity in the UK is generated by gas in power stations, so increases in gas prices will affect the cost of electricity. If you are on a night-time tariff, your daytime rate might be higher than single rate tariffs so running appliances during the day could cost you more in the long run. Overall electricity is considered a less ecologically friendly choice than gas.

Oil heating systems 

Around 1.1 million households in the UK are heated by oil which is usually used in a ' wet' heating system where a boiler fuelled by oil heats water that is then distributed via radiators around your home. Oil is delivered to your home by a supplier by road and stored outside in a tank which may have to be rented or bought from the supplier.

The annual cost of heating oil in the UK consuming around 17.000 KWh per year is £830, although this price can fluctuate, and prices tend to be higher in the winter.

Pros of oil heating:

  • You can stock up on fuel in advance when prices are lower.
  • Oil is a highly efficient fuel when using an efficient modern condensing boiler.

Cons of oil heating:

  • Prices of oil can be affected by political unrest, weather conditions and surges in demand.
  • Running out of fuel and waiting for deliveries can be inconvenient and installing this system can be expensive, not to mention the space needed for a heating oil storage tank if not installed underground.
  • Oil is a fossil fuel and cannot be considered a clean source of energy.
  • The UK government is strongly advising against the installation of heating systems that burn oil or solid fuels by 2020 and incentivising consumers to opt for renewable heating systems instead with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

The phasing out of oil central heating in the UK

Plans to phase out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing off the gas grid homes is outlined in the government's 2018 Clean Growth Strategy. By 2025 new homes will have to use low-carbon heating but homes with existing oil systems can continue to use it. The Federation of Petroleum Suppliers says that current oil boiler systems would work with low-carbon liquid or bio-fuel which is set to be introduced as a solution for off-grid homes.

Renewable heating

With gas and electricity prices on the rise, switching to renewable heating in your home could be the right move towards a more efficient and environmentally friendly future for your home heating system. Renewable energy is a source that is constantly being replenished such as wind, water or sun.

Renewable heat network systems include:

  • heat pump system.
  • solar water heating.
  • biomass stoves.
  • boilers.

A government scheme called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) pays for homeowners to install a renewable heating system by a heating engineer and thus reduce your home's carbon footprint. Renewable systems can seem expensive to install upfront but it is important to take the long term view as the time to make your money back on the investment will come down.

Biomass heating systems (biomass boiler)

Biomass or wood heating system uses organic material such as wood pellets, chips or logs in a wood burning stove to generate heat and hot water when also connected to a boiler.

Most stove owners use them in conjunction with other central heating systems when only heat for one room is needed. If used with a 'back boiler' the whole home can be heated as well as the hot water.

Stoves are not entirely 'green' as they do produce pollutants but can be eligible for Renewable Heat Incentive payments if installed with a boiler and fuel is bought from an eligible supplier.

Solar panel water heating systems

Solar panels use the power of sunlight to generate electricity. Mostly used by homeowners to generate electricity to power appliances around the home rather than your heating system. However, it is possible to divert any excess electricity you have generated to an immersion heater to heat your hot water too.

Most of the electricity can only be generated during sunshine periods, particularly an advantage if you have a mainly south-facing roof, however this is not likely to coincide with when you need heating. On a positive note, solar heating systems qualify for the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps

An air source heat pump and a ground source heat pump use naturally occurring heat in the air or ground to heat water pumped through pipes that then heat your home and provide hot water.

An electricity source is still needed to power the heat pump but still cost less to run than some other systems and can help lower your carbon footprint as it uses a renewable, natural source of heat from the ground.

Installation can be disruptive and is expensive, typically between £10,000 to £18,000 but you can get financial aid towards the cost of a ground source heat pump.

Infrared heating system

Infrared heating is a customized heating solution that is cost and energy efficient using relatively new technology, at least in its application to domestic properties in the UK.

In fact, it is likely that you have been in a room heated by infrared but have not quite realized it. Its efficiency and potential to reduce your energy bills make it a serious consideration by homeowners as a home heating system for the future. In the advent of the search for more green technologies, infrared heating is starting to appear high on the list of heating options.

Infrared heating panels are highly efficient, effective and a healthier way to heat your home. Instead of heating the surrounding air, as does conventional heating, infrared is a form of radiant heating that directly warms objects and people in the room, via infrared radiation waves, much in the same way the infrared rays from the sun feel warm on our skin. Infrared light isn't visible, nor does it contain UV light but it gets absorbed by our skin and any objects directly in front of it.

What are the health benefits?

  • Better air quality: Because radiant heating doesn't use the surrounding air to transmit heat, there is an improvement in the air quality within the home.
  • No condensation and dampness: Condensation and dampness do not form either, as this happens when warm air meets cool air which doesn't happen in this case.
  • No mould: And this then means that mould doesn't form making infrared heating better for your health, especially for allergy sufferers or people with health conditions. Other reported physical benefits including treatment for acne, detoxification, insomnia, blood circulation, pain relief, and anti-aging.

Panels are undoubtedly more stylish and can have additional functions around your home as they come with different finishes, radiators can include:

They take up very little room and are easy to install. Panels can also be ceiling mounted which take up no room and prevent the possibility of cold spots.

Pros of infrared heating:

  • Infrared heaters are easy to install - simply plug and play, achieving requested heating temperature within a very short time.
  • They are energy efficient with proven savings as much as 50% compared to other conventional heating systems, in fact they are proven to be the cheapest type of heater to run.
  • They are silent to run and require no annual maintenance.
  • Better for your health with no fan circulating dust particles around your home.
  • Heating panels can be powered by electricity, natural gas or propane with different heaters having different output levels and control systems. Infrared heating can also be powered by renewable sources such as solar panels to produce a more carbon friendly approach making it a fantastic sustainable heating system.
  • The heat produced is instant and is ideal for poorly insulated spaces or even outdoors owing to the fact the heat emitted is not affected by draughts or open windows and therefore long lasting. This also means that the air in an infrared heated room always feels fresh and airy.

Cons of infrared heating:

  • The need to keep the space around the heating panel clear from objects so the heat can travel efficiently to the objects in the room, however this is also true for conventional radiators.
  • The option to mount on the ceiling using concealed brackets is the ideal solution for this, thus reducing cold spots and proving aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
  • The initial expense over traditional heating systems can be a barrier, with the cost of a single panel heater ranging between £125 and £180 depending on the power and size of the panel with customization adding more to the price. However, bearing in mind that installation is easy and maintenance costs are near negligible, the return on your investment in the long term can be seen immediately in your next energy bill. And who doesn't want to invest in the future of clean, efficient home heating systems.

In summary, infrared heating panels are the cheapest type of heater to run, with almost no maintenance required.

For a totally renewable energy solution for your home, infrared heaters can be powered by solar panels. The heat generated is gentle and won't be affected by open windows or draughts. The panels can be discreet or add a stylish touch to your home décor all the while providing you with cost effective home heating needs.