Just over 13% of the UK homes are referred to as being ‘off-gas grid’ and are not connected to the national gas supply network. There is the option of connecting to the gas grid but depending on the distance involved this can be very costly.
The electric boiler has always had a mixed reputation. The main criticism of them as a home heating system is that electricity is more expensive, so in terms of running costs they just aren’t winners compared to gas. However, for millions of homes across the UK without access to the gas network, they are a viable heating alternative and bring with them several other benefits.
What is an electric boiler?
An electric boiler uses electricity rather than gas to heat hot water. Just like a gas boiler, it will heat up the water that warms your radiators, and the water you use in the kitchen and bathroom.
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They can come in various shapes and sizes, but in all-electric boilers, you’ll see water running through the system to be heated by a heating element – like the way a kettle works. They can be installed in most small to medium sized homes easily, though for larger homes they may not be suitable.
Types of electric boiler
There are a few different types of electric boilers:
A direct electric boiler uses a heating element to heat water on demand much like a gas or oil Combi boiler does. It doesn’t keep a store of hot water.
A storage electric boiler requires a separate hot water tank so you can heat water when electricity is cheaper and store it for use the next day.
An electric Combined Primary Storage Unit, or CPSU, stores lots of hot water so it can meet demand much quicker at higher pressure.
Dry core boilers are like storage heaters as they use cheaper night-time tariffs to heat bricks overnight, but the heat is then released into the water to be used in central heating and hot water, rather than being released directly into the home.
- Electric boilers don’t release waste gases and so are considered a much ‘greener’ option than burning gas or oil.
- For homes that don’t have access to gas, can’t store an oil tank or are restricted e.g. listed buildings, an electric boiler is a great alternative.
- Electric boilers are relatively simple in terms of technology, don’t require a flue for waste gases and are compact and light. This makes them much more versatile than gas or oil in terms of where they can be placed in the home.
- Installing an electric boiler is simpler than gas or oil and so is quicker and cheaper
- They are more energy efficient than gas or oil boilers running at 99% efficiency or higher. Most gas boilers have a maximum efficiency of 95%.
- Electric boilers generate almost no noise as there are no moving parts.
- During warmer months an electric boiler pump is easily programmed to prevent blockages, which can occur in unused gas boilers.
- The upfront cost of an electric boiler can be considerably less than a gas boiler. For example, the average gas Combi boiler will cost anywhere between £800 – £2,500, while electric boilers can be found for less than £500.
- Solar panels can be incorporated with some electric boilers to heat your water during the day.
- Unsuitable for high water usage. Electric boilers are much more limited in the amount of water that they can heat at any one time. This means that larger properties, or those with higher levels of hot water usage, may be better suited to a conventional gas boiler system.
- Cost of electricity. Electricity is more expensive than gas, meaning that the running costs of an electric boiler could be higher. However, if linked with solar systems these costs could be reduced.
- Doubts about environmental benefits. While electric boilers themselves are environmentally friendly, as they do not produce waste gases, there are concerns that the initial process of generating electricity creates as much pollution as a gas boiler system, therefore negating the environmentally friendly aspects.
- Susceptibility to power cuts. As they run solely on electricity, electric boilers are susceptible to power cuts. This risk can be reduced with a solar battery or back up heat source such as a wood burner. However, some power cuts can affect remote areas for several days.
Average cost to run
If we compare the average annual cost for a 3-bedroom house, we can estimate that an electric combi boiler would be around £1,200. The average cost to run a similar gas combi boiler is £900. Although it might not be the cheapest heating technology regarding running costs, electric boiler installation costs are much lower than those of gas boilers and they do not need annual maintenance or safety inspections. Depending on the size of the property an electric boiler may be a viable option, especially if linked with a renewable electricity source.
If you are not connected to mains gas then an electric boiler is much cheaper than oil or LPG, both of which cost approximately £1,300 per year in fuel, in addition to the space required for a storage tank.