Electric Heating - Jargon Buster

Electric heating can often seem daunting if you’re used to different means of heating your home. There’s a myriad of specific terminology, concepts, and options to get to grips with that can impact your overall decision. To ensure you make an informed choice when considering the move to electric, we’ve compiled a glossary of terms that tackle some of the most common and important issues surrounding electric heating.

Electric Heating – The Basics

What are the different types of electric heater?

“Electric heaters” is a somewhat broad term that encompasses any electric heating appliance, whether that’s fully-fledged electric radiators designed for all-day use, electric panel heaters designed for occasional use, or infrared patio heaters designed for outdoor use. To ensure you’re choosing the right electric heaters for your home, we’ve explained the key differences below.

What are electric radiators?

Electric radiators fulfil the role of traditional central heating but use electricity to create heat rather than hot water. Electric radiators either plug into the wall or need hardwiring into the mains by a professional electrician – either way, these radiators use a heating element to cycle warm air around a room and radiate heat to raise the temperature of your space.

Electric radiators have come a long way since their conception and the days of costly, inefficient appliances are well and truly over. For 21st century homes, electric radiators can be invaluable. They precisely maintain temperatures using precision digital thermostats, come with a range of heating mediums depending on their intended application, can be controlled independently from other systems, and offer an energy-efficient means of keeping warm. Many can be controlled using WiFi or Bluetooth and come in a range of styles, shapes, and designs.

What are conservatory radiators?

Electric conservatory radiators offer the same advanced technology as regular electric radiators but often come with higher outputs to combat high ceilings and additional glass that often accompanies a conservatory. Some conservatory radiators use heat retentive thermal bricks or thermal fluid to ensure these tricky to heat areas remain adequately heated and many come with a reduced height so they can slip onto low-lying dwarf walls. Aside from these small changes, conservatory radiators are identical to electric radiators.

What are panel heaters?

Electric panel heaters offer on-demand heating for rooms you use less often. Unlike electric radiators, which can be used throughout the home for all day heating, panel heaters are designed for short bursts of heat and shouldn’t be relied on for constant use. They’re a superb heating solution for guest rooms, home offices, or awkward spaces that don’t seem to get warm enough – providing supplementary heating whenever you need it most. The majority of panel heaters can also be moved from room to room, offering portable heating for a range of spaces.

What are electric towel rails?

Electric towel rails are a superb addition to bathrooms, kitchens, en-suites, and washrooms – offering an independent heat source that keeps your towels dry and ready for use. Electric towel rails come with high IP ratings for bathroom use and can be positioned wherever the need arises. They simply hardwire directly into the mains and create heat by warming thermal fluid within the rails that radiates heat out into your room. Running independently from your primary heating system, these bathroom heaters don’t need to follow an existing heating schedule that applies across the whole home - so you can choose to dry towels without having to turn on your central heating.

Available in a range of styles, shapes, and colours, you’re not just restricted to ladder towel rails with a chrome finish. Our range includes everything from striking matt black towel rails to slender rails that can be squeezed into the smallest of spaces.

What are infrared panels?

Infrared panels are the pinnacle of energy-efficient, discreet interior heating – offering an altogether different system for keeping spaces warm. Infrared panels are super-slim electric heaters that use infrared heat to gently warm objects, people, and surfaces directly rather than heating the air like a conventional heater. They can be hung on the wall like a TV or picture frame and offer a line of sight heating solution that can be directed wherever the heat is needed the most. Infrared panels come in discreet white finishes, mirror finishes, and even glass finishes, to suit a range of interior design schemes.

Unlike electric radiators or panel heaters, infrared panels don’t come with integrated controls and need to be purchased with an additional controller to access their full potential. Using a controller, you can minutely adjust their heat output and group individual heaters together in different “zones” to control them en-masse.

What are storage heaters?

Modern electric storage heaters offer a contemporary upgrade on older storage heater designs, providing a cost-effective means of keeping warm on an Economy 7 energy tariff. In essence, storage heaters draw power overnight and “store” heat for use the following day. The heat is stored in heat retentive thermal bricks within the heaters’ housings, dispensing heat over the following day until it’s time to charge again in the evening.

In the past, this is as far as storage heater technology went. Today’s storage heaters however, come with WiFi control, automatic charge regulators that monitor and adjust the amount of heat that’s stored overnight, and a range of energy-efficient features designed to trim your monthly bills. If your home uses Economy 7, a modern, redesigned electric storage heater is a valuable investment to ensure you’re getting the most out of your heating system.

How Do Electric Heaters Work?

What is the difference between radiation and convection?

Depending on your chosen heating system, your home might be warmed via convection or radiation – each has a different application and thrives under different circumstances. To ensure you’re choosing the best heating technology for your needs, we’ve broken down both types of heat so you can consider which suits you best.

How does convection work?

Convection is the process whereby air is heated and circulated around a room to raise the temperature, offering a quick and simple way of heating rooms of all shapes and sizes. Most electric radiators and panel heaters use convection to heat rooms and it’s a tried and tested method of keeping spaces warm. Unlike radiant heat, it doesn’t require a line of sight to be effective so you can place your heaters anywhere in your room and feel the benefit.

Where convection falls down, is the fact that the total volume of air in a room needs to be constantly reheated in order to keep your space warm. If a door is left open, the warm air can escape and your heaters need to start from scratch to keep your room warm. Convection also disrupts dust and allergens that are disturbed by the flow of air, stirring them up and cycling them around the room.

How does radiant heat work?

Radiant heat is the oldest form of heating known to man. Everything emits radiant heat to some extent and you’ve felt it every day of your life from the sun: the largest heater we have. Radiant heat is a form of harmless electromagnetic radiation that travels in waves, hitting anything in its path and imparting heat. When radiant or infrared heat comes into contact with our skin, it’s absorbed and vibrates our tissue on a molecular level, creating the sensation of warmth.

Electric radiators create radiant heat as a consequence of being warm but it isn’t the primary way those appliances keep you warm. Infrared panels and patio heaters however, do use radiant heat as their primary and only source of heat. In infrared panels, heating elements are laid across the panel’s surface which conduct electricity. These elements get so hot that radiant heat travels outward from the heaters and warms objects, people, and surface directly – bypassing the air altogether.

Radiant heaters require a line of sight to the area you wish to heat. Because of this, heater placement is crucial, and you’ll need to make sure you have an unobstructed view of the spaces you want to heat. As radiant heat is absorbed and retained by surrounding surfaces, your rooms won’t need to be constantly reheated and no heat can escape through open doors because it’s directed to exactly where it needs to go. However, convection heaters can be positioned with less care and still effectively warm your spaces.

Infrared heat doesn’t disturb dust or allergens either because it doesn’t cycle air around a room – making it a useful heating solution for allergy sufferers.

Radiant heat comes in different strengths that can be tailored to your needs. Longwave infrared is the gentlest type and is perfect for use in indoor spaces, mediumwave infrared is stronger and is better suited to larger spaces, and shortwave infrared is the most powerful, which makes it perfect for exposed outdoor spaces that need to combat fluctuating temperatures and weather.

What is a thermostat?

All electric heating products come with integrated thermostats that measure the temperature of whatever room they’re in. A vital component in all electric heaters, modern digital thermostats are manufactured to be as precise as possible – ensuring your heaters are provided with super-accurate information in order to maintain your desired temperature without wasting energy through fluctuating readings.

What does wattage mean for an electric heater?

The strength and intensity of an electric heating system’s heat output is expressed in watts. The higher wattage, the more heat that’s produced and the warmer you will theoretically feel. For example, an electric radiator with 1500w of power will warm larger spaces than an electric radiator with 500w of power. This is also reflected in the “heats up to” areas that we provide for each of our products, calculated by taking into consideration the specific wattage of each heater.

When choosing an electric heating system, it’s important to understand that choosing an underpowered or lower wattage heater will result in it working too hard to maintain temperatures. Overspecifiying, that is choosing a radiator or heater with a higher wattage than necessary to heat your space, will ensure the appliance functions within its parameters and doesn’t use as much energy to maintain temperatures.

If you’re unsure what wattage is required to heat your space, our electric radiator calculator can help to shed some light. It takes into consideration some basic questions about your property, such as your room dimensions and level of insulation, and provides a total wattage needed to heat your space.

Heater zoning

Unlike central heating, which is one interconnected heating system, electric heating is a modular system, allowing you to connect and control individual radiators within a larger framework. Running different electric heaters in different areas of your home, each following a heating schedule specific to that area, is called heater zoning. It allows you to group and control heaters in one area independently from other heaters in a different area. This allows you to “zone” your heating and ensure different spaces are heated in accordance with your needs.

Perhaps the heaters in your living room are used more frequently and at higher temperatures than the heaters in your bedroom? Using heater zoning, you can control all your living room radiators separately from the ones in your bedroom – ensuring they follow their own schedule rather than forcing them to follow a generic schedule that applies to your entire property. It’s an intuitive, compartmentalised way of running your heating and is especially useful for larger installations or commercial spaces with varying temperature requirements.

What is an Economy 7 electrical tariff?

Often called an economy tariff, Economy 7 is designed for households that use storage heaters as their primary heating system. Economy 7 provides cheaper night-time electricity rates in exchange for inflated daytime rates, which brings with it a different approach to energy use. Storage heaters “charge” overnight and expend their heat throughout the following day and Economy 7 capitalises on this, allowing cheaper rates throughout the evening and into the night. 

Heating Technology & Control

Heating elements: what’s inside an electric radiator?

Electric heating products use heating elements to create heat. These elements are an integral part of an electric heater and there are subtle variations in design depending on a heater’s intended application.

Dry thermal electric radiators

Dry thermal elements are typically lightweight strips of metal that conduct electricity. They’re housed within an electric radiator or panel heater and become warm when the appliance is drawing power from the wall. Air is drawn into radiators, gets heated by the element, and is channelled back into the room - creating a convection cycle that raises the temperature. Dry thermal heating elements are usually quick to heat up and quick to cool down, which provides responsive heating that adapts to changes almost immediately.

Thermal fluid & oil-filled electric radiators

Some electric radiators use thermal fluid to create heat. These radiators are filled with a heat retentive fluid or gel that is heated by a dry thermal element. When heated, the fluid spreads heat along the length of the radiator, creating even heat distribution that radiates warmth into a room. Electric radiators that use thermal fluid take longer to heat up but stay hotter for longer – using less energy to maintain temperatures. This makes them useful for spacious rooms where a stronger, long-lasting heat is preferred.

Dry stone electric radiators

Electric radiators that use dry stone heating elements offer a similar solution to thermal fluid radiators. Within these heaters, pieces of ceramic are either laid on top or sandwiched around a dry thermal heating element. When the element gets warm, heat is transferred to the ceramic stones – which remain heat well after the radiator has stopped drawing power. Perfect for tricky to heat spaces such as conservatories, dry stone electric radiators provide a longer lasting heat compared to other elements.

Modern heating control

In recent years, the need for intuitive, interconnected technology has become almost commonplace. In the home, smart technology is beginning to become more and more prevalent as the demand to control appliances from one convenient location grows. Modern electric heating systems have adapted alongside smart technology and now the majority of them can be controlled using compatible smart devices.

What does “app-enabled” mean?

An “app-enabled” heating system simply means that you can download an app onto a compatible smart device and control your heating via Bluetooth or WiFi. It’s the 21st century way of controlling your heating, offering quick and convenient temperature management at your fingertips without having to use additional controllers or manually adjust each radiator. App-enabled electric heaters can be controlled with ease from any room in the home using Bluetooth and anywhere in the world using WiFi - so you’ll always be able to access your heating and adjust your settings, saving energy even when you’re on the move.

Bluetooth heating control

Bluetooth allows an electric heating system to be controlled from a smart device for convenience and flexibility. Your device is connected to your chosen heater via an app and any changes made are wirelessly transmitted to your heating system. Bluetooth requires close proximity between your device and your heaters and any changes made when you’re not close enough will be made when you return home.

WiFi heating control

WiFi control goes a step further than Bluetooth, enabling you to adjust and control your heating from anywhere in the world on a compatible smart device, providing you have an internet connection. Electric radiators that support WiFi control either come with integrated WiFi capability or require an additional component, often called a WiFi hub. The hub connects to your home router and then to an associated app that you control using your phone. Any changes made on your phone are transmitted to the hub, which then adjusts your heating. If you’re using a radiator with integrated WiFi, any changes made on your phone are directly relayed to each unit.

Energy-saving features

Electric heaters come with a range of energy-saving features designed to cut energy use and trim your monthly bills. Many of these features are a prerequisite of 2018’s Lot 20 legislation, which aims to reduce the UK’s energy consumption. Whatever the reason, energy-saving features ultimately save you money on your monthly bills and provide intuitive, 21st century technology that helps day to day running.

What is adaptive start?

Adaptive start allows an electric radiator to “pre-heat” ahead of its schedule, ensuring it’s at the right temperature at exactly the right time. If you’ve set your heating to come on at 8am so that at 9am it’s exactly 20 degrees, adaptive start will learn how long your heating actually takes to reach temperature for 9am and preheat accordingly. Without adaptive start, your radiators will begin heating from a cold start and might not reach the right temperature at the right time. Or, in this example, they might waste energy by using the entire time between 8 and 9am to reach 20 degrees, which wastes energy and money.

What is open window detection?

Open window detection will temporarily pause your heating system if it detects a sharp drop in temperature that it won’t be able to combat. Without open window detection, if a door or window is left open, your heating system will pick up on the drop in temperature and try to overcome it by heating at full power, wasting energy and ultimately money by overheating your space. Open window detection removes this issue and allows your system to pause until it detects the temperature has equalised – then it will restart at its last setting.

What is 24/7 programming?

Electric radiators can be programmed to fit around your lifestyle and many offer 24/7 time slots. This allows you to create a schedule with different temperatures for every hour of every day – ensuring you’re always warm at exactly the right times, without wasting energy or money by heating when you’re not at home or not in certain rooms.

Unlike central heating, which controls every radiator in your home, electric radiators can be programmed individually, so you can tailor your heating to your exact needs. If you only use your bedroom when you’re sleeping, the electric radiator in your bedroom can be programmed to be dormant for most of the day until you head to sleep. If you work from home and only use one room for most of the day, you can ensure that room alone is heated. The choice is entirely yours!

WiFi or Bluetooth controlled electric radiators go a step even further, allowing you to schedule your heating from your phone – making instant changes from the palm of your hand.

Bathroom Heating Explained

What are IP ratings?

IP ratings, or ingress protection ratings, measure an appliance’s level of protection from foreign bodies – whether that’s moisture or solid objects. IP ratings are expressed by a series of numbers following the letters “IP” - the first number denotes the level of protection from solid objects and the second denotes its protection from moisture. The levels of protection are detailed below:

Solid Objects

Moisture

1 – protected from solid objects greater than 50mm

1 – protected from vertical falling drops of water

2 – protected from solid objects greater than 12.5mm

2 – protected from 15 degree falling water

3 – protected from solid objects greater than 2.3mm

3 – protected from sprays of water up to 60 degrees

4 – protected from solid objects greater than 1mm

4 – protected from water splashes from all directions

5 – protected from dust

5 – protected from jets of water

6 – completely dust tight

6 – protected from powerful jets of water

 

7 – watertight from 15cm – 1m for 30 minutes

 

8 – watertight for extended periods

 In terms of electric heating, an IP rating is used to denote whether a product is protected from water. Contrary to popular belief, many electric appliances can be used in wet conditions providing it has a high enough IP rating and is installed in an applicable location.

What are bathroom zones?

When considering the position of an electric bathroom heater, it’s important to understand how the bathroom is divided in terms of electrical appliances.

A bathroom is split into three zones, each taking into consideration the proximity of water and an electrical supply.

  • Zone 0 requires a minimum of IPX7 - this is the area immediately within a bathtub or shower tray
  • Zone 1 requires a minimum of IPX4 - this is the area directly above a bath or within a shower cubicle
  • Zone 2 requires a minimum of IPX4 - this is the horizontal area up to 60cm from a bath or shower
  • Zone 3 is any area outside of Zone 2 and no IP rating is required here

It’s a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when installing anything electrical in wet conditions. All electric heaters will need hardwiring into the mains by a professional electrician if used in a bathroom but this is usually a straightforward task.

Electric Heating Legislation

Lot 20 & EU Eco-Design Directive

On the 1st January 2018, a part of the European Ecodesign Directive came into force, which is a piece of legislation ensuring that all electric appliances meet new energy-efficiency targets. A subsection with this directive, called Lot 20, specifically deals with electric heaters in an attempt to reduce energy consumption throughout Europe. By law, any new electric heating product must conform to a set of rules governing its energy-efficiency.

This isn’t anything consumers need to worry about – the onus is on the manufacturers to create products that meet these targets. If you come across an electric product that says it’s “Lot 20 compliant” – you know you’re purchasing an optimised, eco-conscious appliance that conforms to the UK’s new energy-efficiency targets.

EPC  / SAP ratings

An EPC rating or Energy Performance Certificate, is essentially a property’s energy-efficiency rating – taking into consideration a range of factors such as how much energy is used in heating, lighting, and general day-to-day running. Historically, electric heating hasn’t fared well on EPC ratings but this is set to change following updates to the SAP rating legislation.

A Standard Assessment Procedure or SAP is a government-approved method of assessing the energy-efficiency of a new home. A SAP rating is a calculation that takes into consideration multiple factors, such as insulation, building materials, ventilation, heat transmission, and heating systems, to score a new building’s energy-efficiency between 0 and 100+.

When calculating an EPC rating, something that SAP directly impacts, the unit cost of a heating system’s fuel is taken into consideration rather than its energy-efficiency at point of use. Gas is the cheapest fuel, so it’s always been a preferred choice over electricity – despite the fact that electric heaters are 100% efficient at point of use.

Impending changes to the SAP regulations will mean that electric heating systems score more favourably, which makes them an attractive offer for new and existing properties.