SEMI-DETACHED SUBURBAN HOUSE: Wood-burning stove
Homeowners with autonomy can adapt their heating systems without needing to completely change their set-up, as they can be connected to the gas supply but need not rely on it.
Wood-burning stoves will appeal to traditionalists and the environment-conscious, because they’re a renewable energy source – trees can be replanted.
Also, having undergone a recent renaissance in popularity, stoves will impress potential buyers, so add value.
They’re cost-effective too – a basic model starts at £500, plus about £1,500 to install it. But you do need a regular supply of wood, enough storage space to keep it dry – and you need a chimney, which entails maintenance and an annual clean.
‘This is important,’ warns Trevor McCann, manager of Vogue Fireplaces (voguefireplaces.co.uk), ‘because blockages caused by creosote, nests and twigs are highly flammable.’
A chimney fan can make it easier to light and control the fire. However, a stove is unlikely to heat an entire property, just the room it is in.
If space is an issue, underfloor heating may be the answer. There are two choices: a dry (electric) system or a wet (water) one.
The first is easier to install because it consists of laying mats with heating cables winding through them underneath laminate flooring or tiles, so involves minimal upheaval.
A wet system means installing a network of looped pipes through the sub-floor, with low-temperature water piped through to act in a similar way to a traditional radiator. It’s a lot of disruption, and the system will still need to be powered by a boiler.
However, it will save money in the long run as the pipes do not need to reach the same high temperatures as radiators to heat the room.
RESTORED FARMHOUSE: Ground source heat pump
This type of property is romantic and idyllic, but it can be a nightmare to keep warm. If your location is too rural to be connected to the national gas grid, you will need to sort out the fuel supply for yourself.
This lends itself to more creative, and potentially environmentally friendly or economical solutions than standard central heating systems.
If you have the funds and land to invest in a long-term solution, consider installing a ground-source heat pump.
This consists of digging trenches to lay a long ‘ground loop’ pipe containing water mixed with antifreeze, which connects to a heat pump. The longer the pipe, the more space the system can heat – and an advantage this has over other renewable technologies such as solar and wind is that it’s hidden, with no need for unsightly panels or turbines.
However, you can’t build over the land. Due to the fact that the temperature underground remains relatively stable throughout the year, the liquid absorbs the heat and it passes through a compressor (powered by electricity) to warm it up sufficiently to heat your property and water supply.
The Energy Saving Trust (energy-savingtrust.co.uk) says: ‘Unlike gas and oil boilers, heat pumps deliver heat at lower temperatures over much longer periods. During the winter they may need to be on constantly to heat your home efficiently and the radiators won’t feel as hot to the touch.’
For this reason, it is very important to insulate your home well and keep heat loss to a minimum.
A ground-source heat pump is not cheap to install, typically costing between £13,000-£20,000, but once up and running, it could virtually eliminate your annual heating bills. In fact, a government scheme called the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive pays successful applicants a tariff for using this form of energy production.
Visit ofgem.gov.uk for details.
STUDIO FLAT: Portable heaters
Many purpose-built apartments will come with individual electric heaters attached to the walls, rather than central heating incorporating electric radiators or hot-air outlets fuelled by gas.
Installing a new heating system, or even making smaller alterations such as changing the types of windows for better insulation, may not be possible without permission.
This is because the freeholder – not the individual leaseholder of the flat – still owns the whole building so is responsible for its structure and shared areas. Check your contract before starting any work.
‘Occupiers’ leases can vary even within the same building,’ warns the Energy Saving Trust.
‘The lease will determine exactly what belongs to you and whether, for example, you can make structural improvements inside your own flat – including installing new heating.’
You usually have to seek permission from the freeholder first and may even have to pay an admin fee to gain their consent.
With that in mind, your options may be limited – but on the other hand, a studio apartment can be relatively easy to keep warm.
Consider which storey you live on: unless it is the top, you will benefit from a degree of extra insulation due to being surrounded by other flats.
Heat is ‘lost’ through exterior walls; so the fewer of these you have, the more thermal energy the property will manage to retain. Judicious use of the wall heaters can save you money.
If your flat has a communal water tank and no central heating system, strategically placing a few cheap halogen heaters around can be more gentle on your energy bills than deploying electric ones, as they do not use as much power.
Thinking along the same lines, consider purchasing a portable liquid petroleum gas (LPG) heater that runs on bottled fuel. They can cost well under £100, don’t need fitting to the walls and can be placed anywhere, especially as most are on wheels.
A 15kg cylinder will give you about 50 hours of use, and replacement bottles can be delivered to your door.
Finally, do not underestimate the simple power of cooking to heat up a small room: using an oven, if you have one, to make your dinner will go a surprisingly long way towards keeping a studio flat warm.