Types of Central Heating Systems

There are many different types of central heating systems available to home owners The way we heat our homes has undergone somewhat of a revolution over recent years with the introduction of energy saving technologies designed to try and help reduce our ever increasing energy bills.  Understanding the types of central heating system available to the homeowner can be daunting so the following article will hopefully demystify it and answer questions you may have:

Wet Central Heating Systems 

Wet systems are by far the most popular type of central heating system in the UK. Essentially, any system that circulates warm water through pipes for the purpose of heating is a wet system. 

The most familiar of these is the traditional boiler and radiator system where water is heated in the boiler and then circulated via a pump to radiators where the process of convection warms the air around the radiator. Another wet system similar to this is under floor heating where pipes are passed under the floor which, when hot water is pumped around them, warms the floor and room.  In both cases, there are many different types of fuel and boiler that can be used to heat the water.

District heating is also another form of wet system where hot water is heated centrally and pumped to many households via underground pipes. These are more popular in parts of Europe.

A more modern wet system alternative to the traditional boiler and radiators is to use a heat pump. This type of central heating system is particularly popular in areas where there is no mains gas. There are two main types of heat pump:

  • Ground source heat pumps.
  • Air source heat pumps.
A ground source heat pump takes heat from the soil via a loop of piping, known as a ground loop that is buried in the garden. The pipe contains a mix of water and antifreeze (refrigerant) that absorbs the heat from the ground. This is then passed into a compressor which raises it to a higher temperature that can be used to heat water. The hot water can then be used in a traditional wet system to circulate to radiators.

An air source heat pump works in much the same way as a ground source heat pump only there is no ground loop, instead heat is absorbed from the air. As a result, this type of central heating system less efficient than a ground source heat pump but may still be more cost effective than oil or lpg heating. 

Warm Air Central Heating Systems

Traditional warm air systems were popular in the UK in the 60s and 70s but more recently, because they are relatively inefficient, they are harder to find. Warm air systems work by heating air with a boiler and then the warm air is pumped around a series of vents usually located in the floor or walls of the room.  The boiler type and fuel used for this type of heating can be similar to those used for wet systems but most typically, a gas boiler is used.

Another warm air system that is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in areas off the mains gas grid is an air source heat pump air-to-air system.  In this system, heat from the air is absorbed into a fluid that, when it passes through a compressor, raises the temperature of the fluid. This heat can be used to produce warm air to heat the home in a similar way to traditional warm air systems. 

Storage Heaters

Storage heaters contain bricks that absorb heat and release it slowly over a period of time. The storage heater heats the bricks overnight on off peak electricity known as Economy 7 and sometimes during the day as well. Heat is released throughout the day and, on more modern storage heaters, there is an element of control as to when the heat is released. 

Other electric systems

Whilst storage heaters are the most common type of electric central heating system, there are other options that use electricity. These include electric underfloor heating where electricity is used to warm cables installed underneath the floor. In some respects these systems are easier to install and maintain than underfloor heating using a wet system as there is no need for pumps and no worries about leaks.

It is also possible to get electric boilers that will provide your home with hot water and central heating. These are essentially wet systems as they use electricity to heat water for radiators or under floor heating. 


For more information about home heating systems see http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/heating-cooling/home-heating


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