Lies about electric heating

Certain manufacturers of electric heating appliances will claim that their products are somehow cheaper, more efficient or better than other types of heating. In most cases these are either twisted truths or just blatant lies. They are commonly marketed with such words and phrases as 'energy efficient', 'low cost' and 'eco-friendly'.

Electric heating is 100% efficient

It is true that 100% of the electrical energy put into an electric heater will be converted to heat. However there are other significant losses such as actually getting the electricity to your home (around 7%), and of course the grossly inefficient process of creating that electricity in the first place. Most electricity in the UK is generated by burning gas or coal. Vast amounts of heat are lost during this process, so clearly using that electricity for heating is very far away from 100% efficient.

If 100% of your electricity was supplied from a solar array or wind turbine then you could claim almost 100% efficiency. However unless you generate your own power and use nothing from the National Grid, this is pure fiction.

Electric heating is cheap

A total lie. Electric heating is one of the most expensive options available.

What heating manufacturers really mean is that using electricity overnight on Economy 7 or similar is cheaper than the normal daytime rate. However it is still very expensive compared to other fuels such as gas.

This is easily proven by comparing the price per kWh for electricity and gas.

Heaters which only switch on for 15 minutes every hour

Such devices do indeed only switch on for 25% of the time, and they do use a lot less electricity as a result.

Unfortunately they are useless at heating a room.

Unless you have the ability to change the laws of thermodynamics, heating a certain sized room to a certain temperature above the surroundings will always take the same amount of energy. Less energy in = the room will be cold. If you fit heating systems like this, then your home will either be much cooler than before, or you will need multiple heaters in each room, or your electricity bill will be vast as the heating will have to be on 24/7.

At least one manufacturer claims this type of heating is cheaper to run than storage heaters. Complete lies, since storage heaters use overnight cheaper electricity, wheras these heaters are on all the time at the very expensive daytime rate.

Radiant heat is somehow more efficient than heating the air

This is true in some circumstances, which is why infra-red heaters are often used in warehouses and other open areas. Most of the heat is emiitted as IR, which is absorbed by objects and people in front of the heater. This avoids heating the air, which in large areas would quickly be dispersed along with the heat.

The most efficient IR emitters are matt black. Hence most IR panel heaters are painted that colour and are located horizontally above the area to be heated. Other types have a heating element in front of a parabolic reflector to focus the heat where it is needed. These types of heater are not what you want in your home, since when standing in front of it, the heat is immense. Move to the side and there is no heat at all.

A wall mounted electric panel radiator painted white will emit very little IR. Most of the heat goes to the air, which will continually circulate over the heater and around the room. Convection is inevitable, unless you remove all of the air from the room.

Electric heating is clean and easy to use

This is true, at least for heating which is switched on/off as required. Night storage heaters are not particularly easy to use, as the amount of heat stored has to be predicted in advance. Get this wrong and your home will either be too hot or too cold if the weather tomorrow isn't what you expected.

However electric heating being clean and easy implies that other heating is not. Gas and oil heating systems are just as easy to operate as electric ones, the only difference being that they cost considerably less to run.

Electric heating requires no maintenance

Clearly untrue. Electric heating can and does fail, and replacing items such as storage heaters, electric boilers and immersion heaters can easily be hundreds of pounds - just as repairs to a gas boiler or oil system can be.

Replacing old storage heaters with overpriced panel heaters

The adverts for these things typically claim unlikely savings and tend to highlight the use of Italian aluminium, special gels or ceramic cores, stylish looks, slimline design and everything else apart from their running costs. They usually cost hundreds of pounds each.

For the majority of people, fitting such things will cost a fortune and significantly increase the electricity consumption. This is simply because storage heaters use cheaper electricity overnight. The expensive panel heaters use full price electricity whenever they are switched on.

The only way these could save money

If the occupants of a house are out at work all day, every day, and only switch the heating on for a couple of hours when they get home and then go to bed, fitting such heaters might save money. However this is only because the property won't be heated for the majority of the time, and has nothing to do with the 'advanced technology' of such snake oil contraptions.

If this really is how you use your house, switching off the storage heaters and buying some portable convector heaters for about £20 each will do exactly the same thing for a fraction of the cost.

A real option for lower cost electric heating

Air source heat pumps. Also known as air conditioners, these use the principles of a refrigerator to move heat from one area to another. They are the most efficient form of electric heating, since the energy is used to move heat, rather than for heating directly. 1kW of electricity to run the compressor and fans can result in over 3kW of heat being moved into your home.

They do work even when the temperature outside is very low, provided the system is properly designed and installed. Don't beleive this? Check at the back of your freezer when it is running to see how much heat is being removed from inside it. The inside of your freezer is the equivalent of the outside in winter.

They can of course be used to cool your home in the summer, however this will use more electricity, and in the UK, opening a window is usually sufficient.

Ground source types also exist, which take the heat from piping buried in the ground. However these are unsuitable for existing properties as installation involves digging up your entire garden to a depth of several feet - assuming you have a big enough garden in the first place.