Cut the Cost of Your Energy BillsAs the seasons change and the temperature drops, it is now more important than ever to make sure that you are getting an efficient and beneficial amount of heat from your radiators and heating system. In the UK, on average, 50% of the money spent on fuel bills is on heating and hot water. With the average household spending £1344 a year on gas and electricity, the price of these amenities has definitely risen and it’s a trend that looks like it will continue. Due to tightening international gas markets, transmission costs, social levies and environmental programs, customers have seen their energy bills rise by a shocking 140% in the last decade. There are a number of factors which have contributed to the downward trend in energy usage. Advances in engineering means that new homes are better insulated while older ones are being encouraged to improve their insulation methods. Combine this with rising energy prices and the warmer winters means that in general, people are using less energy to heat their homes. As a result, without stating the obvious, there are a number of steps you can take to counter the increase in costs. i.e. control your heating, insulate where necessary, monitor your electricity use with a timer, embrace low energy light bulbs, compare energy providers and pay by direct debit. So, with all this in mind, it has become imperative that you have an efficient heating system which will help you save money and boost your green credentials. Basic overview of a heating system A heating system is most commonly made up of a boiler and radiators. We all know that the radiators are heat distributors for this system and that these days, they are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes – from standard panel to ultra-chic designer models or from mild steel to cast iron heaters – the possibilities are endless. Basically, a radiator works by allowing hot water from your heating system to be circulated through it. Hot water enters through the flow side of the radiator. From here the hot water is circulated throughout the radiator causing the material of the radiator to heat up, this heat is then transferred into the room via the process of convection. Convection occurs by warming the cold air that rises and travels through the radiator. It follows then that the higher the BTU output of the radiator the more effective the radiator will be at heating the air that is flowing through it. The warm air rises to the top of the space compressing the cooler air downwards, this is then circulated around the radiator, effectively creating a warming cycle of hot air that will flow through your room. Due to heat being transferred from the radiator to the air, the water passing out of the return end of the radiator is cooler than that at the flow end, this water then travels back to the boiler to be warmed again for another rotation of the heating system. With this in mind it should always be remembered that you can improve your heat efficiency without installing an altogether new home heating system. Common issues that can affect the efficiency of your heating system There are some easy ways to check to see if your heating system is working as efficiently as it could be. Common issues that regularly get highlighted are: • Why are my radiators cold at the top? • Why is my radiator cold at the bottom? • Why is one radiator not heating up at all? • Why do my radiators heat up at different rates? • Do I need to balance my system? Below we cover some of the basic measures that you can do to solve any of the problems mentioned and to boost your heating systems efficiency. Bleeding your radiators Over time air can get into your heating system by various means and prevents water from filling the entire volume of your radiators - thus affecting the over-all performance of your system. An easy way to check this is to feel if the radiators is hot all the way up or whether there are any colder spots, be careful not to burn yourself. It's good practice to bleed your radiators periodically. To do this, you simply need a radiator key or small screwdriver and a cloth. Open the valve by using the key or screwdriver to turn the bleed valve clockwise or to the left. As the air rises to the top of the radiator you should be able to hear the sound of air flowing out. Be sure to only release the air gradually, once water starts to drip out of the bleed valve use the cloth to catch it, at this point you will then know that all the air has been removed from the radiator. Tighten the bleed valve back up by turning the key or screwdriver anticlockwise. As air rises in the system its best practise to bleed each radiator individually but systematically starting with the radiator furthest away from your boiler, or on the top floor.
Power Flushing and caring for your central heating system This may require getting a heating engineer in, it is not a complicated process although it is quite time-consuming as you will have to fully drain and then refill your heating system again. Unless you have just installed a brand spanking new heating system, it is more than likely that debris and a build-up of sludge will be circulating in the system along with the hot water. The purpose of a power flush is remove all this debris and sludge from the system thus allowing the warm water to easily pass through the pipe work, radiators and boiler. Expected gains of such a process should be that your radiators have a more rapid response to the hot water passing through them i.e. Heating up quicker. All this leads to less stress on the heating system, increasing the reliability and hence longevity but the greatest gain will be seen on your wallet. Once you have had your power flush done, your system should be in good shape. Adding chemical inhibitor Things you can do to help maintain the health of your system include using chemical inhibitor and also fitting a magnate filter. A chemical inhibitor slows down the reaction of the water to the metal inside your heating system, which can cause the sludge, ultimately leading to a lower performance. Also fitting a Magna-clean filter will help capture and eradicate any of this metal ferro debris i.e. rust, which is travelling around your system. Alternatively, as a quick last resort option, if only one radiator is not heating up at the bottom, it may be possible to isolate the radiator by removing it, taking it outside and flushing it through using a hosepipe. Cold spots on my radiators - How do you balance radiators? What is balancing radiators and why would I need to do it? Put simply, balancing your radiators entails creating an equilibrium between all your radiators so that they heat up at the same rate and at the same time. If for example, one of your radiators on the system is too cool it needs more hot water flowing through it and conversely if another is too hot it needs the flow restricting. This is done by adjusting your radiator valves, in particular, the lock shield valve – the lock shield valve should be connected to the return end of the radiator - the opposite end to the main on/off wheel valve or TRV. This is a simple process and can easily be done by a home enthusiast with minimal tools. To do a proper job we recommend having a digital thermometer but it's not completely necessary. Firstly, ensure all the radiators in the house have been bled; see earlier in the article if you require instructions on how to do this. Turn off your central heating system and let all the radiators cool down. While the heating system is cooling remove the plastic caps off the lockshields, this should expose a half moon shaped brass spindle. Ensure all the valves are in the fully open position, this applies to both the TRV & lock shield. The TRV will just turn the lock shield may require a spanner or adjustable spanner. Turn the heating back on and make a note of the sequence in which the radiators heat up. Best place to start is with the radiators closest to the boiler and work back from there. Once done turn the heating back off and allow the radiators to cool. Turn the heating back on. Starting with the first radiator on your list, close the lock shield by turning the brass spindle clockwise. When fully closed, turn the spindle anti-clockwise a quarter turn to open. With the radiator fully warm, use your digital thermometer to take a temperature reading of the flow pipe leading to the TRV, note it down. Take your thermometer to the opposite pipe, after the lockshield. Keep slowly opening the lockshield valve by turning anti-clockwise, allowing a couple of minutes for the temperature to fully adjust, constantly monitoring the temperature until you get a reading that is 11-12 degrees less than the temperature reading of the water coming into the radiator. Repeat going through all the other radiators on your radiators on your list.
How can I make my heating system more efficient? There are ways and means of being more efficient with your home heating system but it is no secret that at best, there are only a handful of practical tips that can help, ranging from bleeding radiators and installing radiator boosters, through to something as simple as regularly maintaining the boiler. It should be noted though that the first point of call, is to check that you are on the cheapest energy tariff by using a comparison site and switching if necessary. Radiator Boosters & Foil Liners Whether you prefer the DIY approach or hiring a heat engineer, a simple measure like using a radiator booster or foil liner will help to reduce your outgoings and operating costs. If installing a foil liner behind the radiator, fit only on external walls, not internal walls and do use proper hard backed foil liners not simply fitting a layer of foil. Fitting Thermostatic Valves to your radiators Another money saving option, if you are experienced and wish to follow an instructional video, is to fit thermostatic valves to the radiator. To control your spending, you have to control your radiators. A thermostatic valve works by adjusting the hot water flow into the radiator in relation to the temperature of the air in the room. It is a common misconception that the valve regulates from the temperature of the radiator - it does not. The valve is operated by turning the head. The numbers relate to the ambient room temperature the valve will try to maintain. These will be printed in the instructions with the valve. A loose rule of thumb is: • 1 regulates to 13C-16C • 2 regulates 17C-19C • 3 regulates to 20C – 23C • 4 regulates to 24C – 27C • 5 regulates to 28C – 29C Where is the most efficient place to fit radiators? One of the most common myths that people believe when trying to be more efficient with their heating system is that a radiator should be placed under a window. Since the advent of double glazing, the convention of placing a radiator under a window somehow aids convection is no longer an issue and more and more these days you can simply place the radiator anywhere in your room. It used to be the case that a window against the wall below a single glazed window would make the air rise above the radiator taking the cool air with it up to the top of the room, the warmer air starts to cool and falls down the opposite side of the room but there isn't cold air to drag into the centre of the room so it is more comfortable. More traditionally, radiators have been placed under windows for comfort reasons. A radiator sets up a convection current which circulates air around the room, as explained above, however nowadays there are better more efficient options to hand, such as measures listed above. Is it more efficient to leave your heating system on constantly? In fact, the truth of the matter is that leaving your heating on 24/7 is another efficiency myth. The UK housing stock is at best leaky and inefficient so even at a low temperature money is definitely being wasted. What is recommended is getting to know your heating system and being aware of how long it takes to warm up and cool down your home and have it on only when you need it i.e. before you come home and before you wake up. How can I make my home more heat efficient? The majority of homes in the UK suffer from drafts and heat loss regardless of their age. Here are some of the measures you can take to keep your home as efficient as possible and in turn – save money. Draft proofing your home. This is probably the most straight forward and effective measure you can implement yourself. The idea is simple - by blocking up those unwanted gaps that let the cold air in and the warm air out, with self-adhesive foam strips or metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached, you will use less energy and ultimately save money on your energy bills. One of the most common areas that benefit from draught proofing are around the windows and doors of your home. According to the Energy Saving Trust you can expect gains of around £25 per year and more importantly as you are not losing as much heat you can get to the holy grail of lowering the thermostat while maintaining a more than comfortable room temperature. You’ll find draughts at any accidental gap in your home that leads outside, just be careful in areas that need good ventilation such as the kitchen or bathroom. Ventilation allows your home to stay fresh, dry and healthy by allowing air to flow in and out. Make sure you don't block or seal any intentional ventilation such as: • Extractor fans • Under floor grilles • Air-bricks • Wall vents • Trickle vents. Whether you choose to hire a heating engineer or go the DIY route costs will vary depending on how much and which areas of your home you want to draught proof. Although the DIY option may at first seem more cost effective, remember that a professional will know exactly what materials to use and where. When buying materials for draught proofing it is worth looking out for those products with a kitemark as this signifies the industry standard for draught proofing and has a shelf life of 20 years when correctly installed and maintained. Other cost saving measures First of all, make sure you do not have any outstanding maintenance issues, such as fixing the window panes or clearing out the gutters and drains which cause damp and cold. Get on with the cost effective and practical options that do not harm the essential fabric of the building, turning the thermostat down a notch, a thick pair of curtains can be just as effective as more expensive alternatives. For example, covering the floor with a thick rug can help block air infiltration and similarly covering the key hole or letter box on your door will aid efficiency. Think practically about how and when you use your building. Get to know your homheating system - exchange your boiler controls from a timer to a programmable thermostat and switch off what you can when you can. Also, manually controlling thermostat valves will help no end. With programmable wi-fi radiator valves becoming more readily available, the option is yours. Upgrade incandescent and halogen bulbs with LED ones. The cost of roof insulation is typically much lower than the cost of solid wall insulation, so it is more often than not in your interests to do the roof first. Consider the fact that around 25% of your heat output is lost through this area of the house alone. Remember that loft insulation can last for around 40 years so it will pay for itself many times over. RELATED ARTICLES • Are Cast Iron radiators efficient? • How modern circulating pumps have improved energy efficiency • Energy efficiency vs aesthetics