OK, so you’ve just moved in and you’re cold. You can’t find the boiler, but there are large beige (or brown) metal electrical appliances fixed to the walls here and there. Suspecting them to be heaters, you switch them on and nothing happens… The more adventurous of you will have already checked the switches, circuit breakers and various controls. They’re all OK, but still nothing happens!
Welcome to the world of off-peak, or night storage heating! In some corners it’s still called Economy Seven Heating. Your heaters are likely not working because they first need to be “charged up” in order for you to obtain heat. This charge happens overnight, at a cheap rate, so if they weren’t switched on previously, then you’ll have to wait for the next charge period. Some electricity suppliers offer an afternoon boost period of a couple of hours, though this is only a top-up measure and will be insufficient to fully charge the heater. You’ll still have to wait for the overnight charge!
If you can find manufacturers’ instructions to your heaters, always read that in preference to the advice listed here.
1. Firstly, ensure that the consumer unit main switch, circuit breakers and wall switches to all the of heaters that you want to operate are turned on.
2. If there are two controls on the heater set the input control to the mid-position and the output control to its lowest point.
3. If there’s only one control knob on the heater and it says output or boost, make sure this is also turned to its lowest point. This will be an automatic heater and won’t require any more adjustment at this point.
4. The heaters are now ready to accept the full charge when remotely switched on by your electricity supplier.
5. Depending upon the charge period, your heaters will be able to fully dispense heat by approximately 07:00am the following morning.
6. If, when arising in the morning, your heaters are operating sufficiently for your requirements then you need make no further adjustments to the controls. If, however, you are not receiving adequate heat, then adjust the output controls until you feel convected heat coming from the top of the unit. Back off this control if the heat pours out at too great a rate. You need to conserve as much heat within the unit in order to have heat for later in the day.
7. If you have a fan assisted storage heater you may need to turn the output control up before you can get any heat out of it at all. The insulation to newer units is so good as to prevent heat leakage when the fan isn’t running; even when this might be desirable. This is a heat conservation measure.
8. If you have one of the older less sophisticated heaters and are going out for any great length of time, it may be worth turning the output control down, and turning it back up when you get home.
9. If you find that the stored heat peters out by late afternoon or early evening, progressively increase the input control setting until the heating levels match your requirements. Likewise, if when the weather is mild, the unit is too hot, turn the input control down. Doing this will save you money.
Should you obtain very poor, or no heat from your heaters, then you’ll need to seek advice.
What Are Electric Storage Heaters?
Electric storage heaters are heaters that differ from ordinary direct heaters because they use off-peak, or night rate electricity to heat/”charge up” efficient, thermally retentive bricks within them. This stored heat is then slowly released to provide space heating throughout the next day. While this statement may appear facetious, it is the first rule of storage heating and none the less true: If your heaters weren’t switched on yesterday, you won’t have any heat today!”
Your energy supplier controls when and how your heaters are switched on, by a device connected adjacent to the electricity meter, or within it. Modern devices can even vary when this switching occurs, so don’t be surprised if you notice that your heating period sometimes differs. You should understand that you only get off peak cheap electricity because traditionally, it was a means of allowing the electricity suppliers to balance the loading of their generators. For the sake of efficiency, generators need to keep running at a constant speed; not speeding up and slowing down every time you turn the kettle on and off! Night storage heaters were a means of ensuring that loadings could be evened out when everyone turned out the lights and went to bed… We don’t live like that anymore, being almost a 24 hour society now, therefore it’s unclear whether the electricity suppliers are making any money keeping Economy Seven or night rate tariffs going.
At the time of writing (12/02/12), the big six energy companies had just reported billion pound profits, so it’s clear they’re not likely to go bankrupt any time soon… (Note the Guardian headline below also from 2012)
Energy firms’ profits per customer rise 733%, says Ofgem
Energy regulator proposes ‘radical reform’ of energy market and simpler tariffs as it reveals net margin for typical customers has risen from £15 in June to £125 in October
Advantages of Storage Heaters
They are considerably less expensive to run compared to direct electric heating and provide good comfort levels where heaters are correctly sized. This is, of course, true only if the dwelling has good thermal insulation.
They provide a viable alternative to gas or oil where these heating types aren’t available.
Modern units are (quite) stylish and don’t require any unsightly pipework.
Disadvantages of Storage Heaters
They can’t respond to unexpected cold snaps because you won’t have switched them on the day before!
They don’t provide instant heat, unless you have a combination heater (storage heater and direct convector heater/fan heater combination).
They can’t provide further heating once the “block” has exhausted its heat. It’s therefore essential that you familiarise yourself with the subtleties of all of the controls. This means making sure that the main switch is on at the consumer unit and that all circuit breakers are switched on. (Any tripping circuit breakers or blown fuses require immediate attention)
Why You Might Have Storage Heaters Instead of Gas Central Heating
Ronan Point, May 16th 1968 : This date changed everything, and highlighted in a very tragic way, the unsuitability of gas in inappropriate places. Building regulations have since prohibited gas installations in certain constructions, particularly high rise developments.
There may be no available mains gas supplies locally available.
The developers of your property may have deemed the costs of bringing gas to your dwelling financially unacceptable.
Storage Heater Types
There are three main storage heater types (excluding underfloor heating):
Manual Heaters These heaters generally have two control knobs and require you to vary the input charge and output controls.
Automatic Heaters These heaters can have either one, or two knobs, but handle aspects of the charging and output process themselves.
Fan Assisted Heaters These units are generally fan assisted variations of either automatic or manual storage heaters.
Electric Storage Heater Controls
Manual Storage HeatersOutput Control
(Sometimes called boost, though not to be confused with that below) The output control doesn’t totally govern how much heat is given off by the heater after it has been charged up, as once the heater is hot it will generally begin to radiate at least some heat to the room. (Well insulated modern units can reduce this lost heat to insignificant amounts.) Instead, the output control governs the rate at which heat is convected, or in the case of fanned heaters, blown into the room. The higher the setting, the more quickly the heat will be convected into the room. Likewise, the higher the setting, the quicker the “block” goes cold. If you are likely to be out for the day, turn this control to one of the lower settings, and turn it back up when you get home. (This should save you from sitting around in your overcoat at eight o’clock in the evening on very cold days.)
If you find yourself sweltering in bed in the early hours of the morning and freezing in the early evening, it’s a sure sign that more attention to this control is needed. If you are suffering from poor heating levels, you should try this: (most heaters don’t require you to do this as they handle this automatically) you should experiment by turning this control down when you go to bed and back up again in the morning to see if the heating lasts longer into the evening. While this is a chore, if successful, it will be a money saver. (You also might not need that overcoat by the time Coronation Street is on!)
Input Control The input control is responsible for governing how much energy/electricity is used to charge the storage heater during the low, or off-peak tariff period, usually a seven-hour period between approximately 11.00pm and 7.00am (or variations of this extending into the late morning). The higher the setting, the hotter the storage heater will get.
A downside of constantly setting this control too high, is large electricity bills and tripping of the internal safety device. These devices will not automatically reset and will invariably require a service visit from your friendly neighbourhood maintenance personnel. You should be particularly vigilant in monitoring the setting of this control.
Automatic Storage Heaters Many properties are fitted with storage heaters having automatic controls. Sadly, there are so many different types of heaters in use, that guidance can only be general. All newly fitted storage heaters are likely to be automatic. The controls to these heaters are more forgiving and attempt to compensate for outside temperature variations for you once you have established what your acceptable comfort levels are.
Some heaters completely control the input charge, leaving nothing for you to do other than to leave it switched on. You will recognise yours as being one of these if there’s no input knob and only an output knob. What is clear, is that in order to ensure that the heater takes in as large an input charge as possible overnight, you must make sure that the output knob is turned down as far as possible during the overnight charge.
Many heaters also automatically close dampers to contain the heat while charging. Finding the correct settings will always be a matter of “suck it and see” with these technologies, therefore you should extensively experiment in order to attain your personal comfort levels. Thermal insulation values, ventilation levels and differing heater sizes all make each property unique. It almost goes without saying, as this is always all too obvious: but monitor your bills and relate this to the way that you set your heating controls.
The guidance notes for manual heaters may also apply to your automatic heater(s).
The Boost Control Once again, boost controls do different things on different heaters, but what this control should really be called is the “Cost Control”. These knobs allow heat to escape much more quickly from the heater, or in the case of some combination heaters, actually switch on a direct fan heater. Unless you actually need it, don’t be “free” with your use of it.
Ventilation There may be a tendency, when the storage heaters perform poorly, in cold or damp weather, to close all windows tightly in order to conserve heating. While understandable, this is not the correct course of action. To prevent condensation doing damage to your property, ventilation is essential, therefore don’t be tempted to block up trickle vents. The volume of airborne moisture generated purely by the processes of day to day domestic living is remarkable and needs to be removed, or exchanged with fresh air.
Add this to the fact that warm air contains significantly more water than outside cold air, then you will understand where all that condensation on the walls and windows has come from. If you have a kitchen fan or extractor, use it when cooking. Equally, if your bathroom has a fan and it doesn’t function automatically, switch it on. Lastly, if you feel that blocking all airflow is your only means of heat retention, do seek advice.
Again, please ensure that you read the manufacturer’s instructions in preference to the information above. There are so many heater variants, that you may miss out on specific heater features. Ignorance is rarely bliss…