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Are Electric Radiators Efficient?

Radiator experts are frequently asked whether electric radiators are “efficient” and, more specifically, whether storage heaters are more “efficient” than other types of electric heating.

When it comes to radiators, the word “efficiency” can be interpreted in many ways. From our experience, when a customer asks “Which radiators are the most efficient?” they could mean:

  1. Which radiator gives out the most heat for its size?
  2. Which radiator is the cheapest to run?
  3. Which radiator uses the least fuel?
  4. Which radiator heats up the quickest?
  5. Which radiator is most environmentally friendly?

Electric radiators are generally regarded as being 100% efficient as almost 100% of the electricity consumed by the radiator is converted into heat and released into the room. (This differs from piped hot water central heating systems where some of the heat can be lost through the pipes on route to the radiators and the boiler.) Therefore it could be argued that all electric cheapest radiators are equal in efficiency as the energy put into the radiator will equal the amount of heat put out.

So the questions above cannot be answered by looking at efficiency; instead the key to choosing the best electric radiator is to decide which would be most effective in your specific situation.

This article aims to give clear information and facts to help you choose the electric heating product that best matches your unique lifestyle and heating needs. This will then enable you to minimise any wasted energy, which in turn will help reduce the amount of fuel you use, therefore reducing the cost of your electricity bills and your impact on the environment.

Whichever form of electric heating you opt for, we always suggest looking at the various energy providers’ tariffs to compare pricing as the cost of electricity can vary significantly; pricing does not only vary between suppliers but also between the wide varieties of tariffs offered by each supplier.

Below we have provided a summary of the electric heating options available on the market detailing their pros and cons to help you choose which option is the best for your home.

Electric heaters or electric radiators generally come in two distinct styles:

  • Storage heaters; or
  • On demand heaters, namely;
    1. Radiant heating panels;
    2. Convectors; and
    3. Liquid-filled electric radiators.

Storage heaters

These make use of the cheaper electricity that is available at night on an economy tariff. Electricity is used to heat up ceramic bricks within the heater overnight which then “store” the heat and slowly release it gradually over the course of the following day. Storage heaters were historically seen as the only real alternative to gas central heating and are still a common sight in homes across the UK.

Example: Using a storage heater in a room that requires 1kW of heat

  • Require a storage heater that consumes around 3.2 kiloWatts or kW per hour.
  • Economy 7 tariff = 7 hours electricity at a cheaper rate during the night.
  • Storage heater is set to “charge” for these 7 hours, consuming 3.2kW per hour for 7 hours.
  • Consumes a total of 22.4kW per night.
  • Releases the 22.4kW of heat consumed over a 24 hour period = heat output of 0.933kW of heat per hour.

This means that storage heaters are efficient, insomuch as they give out all the energy that they consume, however they do consume a lot of energy. Interestingly, storage heaters were originally developed during the strikes of the late seventies and there is an argument that the government encouraged their use at this time as they were keen to keep the power stations running to make the country dependent on the coal industry.

Storage heaters can offer a practical solution for many homeowners; for example, as the heat is released throughout the day, storage heaters are more suitable for people who are retired or at home throughout the day. Alternatively, if you work full time and do not require heating during the day, storage heaters may not be the best option as heat will be emitted even when you are not there, resulting in unnecessary energy wastage.

The nature of storage heaters does make them harder to control than “on demand” heating products. For instance, consider the following scenarios:

  • You spontaneously decide to go out for the day, but you have already paid for that day’s heating;
  • You go on holiday and turn the heating off, but there will be no “charge” in the heater when you return, meaning time sat in a cold house; and
  • You may want to turn the heating off in summer, but an unexpected cold snap might mean you need to do an urgent “boost” on the heaters during the day, which would be charged at a high peak rate.
  • This lack of controllability makes homeowners reluctant to deviate from the pre-determined charging hours and standard usage.

Also as storage heaters age, their internal insulation can break down; resulting in heat being expended too fast and so supplementary heating may be required for later on in the day; this supplementary heating would be charged at the peak rate per hour, rather than the economy rate. Bear in mind that the peak rates on Economy tariffs are usually significantly higher than at any time on non-Economy tariffs and these rates apply to all appliances used during peak hours, not just radiators.