QotW: Leave the heating on low, or turn it off?

17 December 2019

THERMOSTAT

A close up of a thermostat dial

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Question

Tim asks: The experts at the Energy Saving Trust and British Gas say it's cheaper to heat your home only when you need it. But my heating control panel says that it uses less energy to keep a background temperature when the room is unoccupied than it does to allow the dwelling to chill too much. I'm confused. Which advice is correct?

Answer

Amalia - Over on the forum, user alancalverd said: Heat loss depends on source temperature, so if you let the room cool down in your absence, you won't be using or losing any heat. Frost protection is still essential but the trick is to set the lowest protection temperature (obviously above 0 deg C) that you can tolerate on your return. However some refrigerators and freezers won't work in an ambient below 15 deg C, so beware!

We put Tim’s question to Mike Childs, Head of Science, Policy & Research at Friends of the Earth:

Mike - The answer is to only heat your home when you need it. You can think of your home like a slow puncture on a push bike that you can’t be bothered to fix. like a slow puncture that releases air, our homes slowly leak heat. You wouldn’t pump air into the tyre of your bike every ten minutes if you only needed to use the bike in 8 hours time. That would be a waste of energy. Instead you’d just pump it up when you are ready to cycle home. In the same way you only want to heat your home when you need it. Of course the best option is to fix your puncture. And the best option for your home is to stop it leaking energy, through fitting insulation. That’s better for the planet and your pocket.

Amalia - And if you want to make your place warm by the time you get home from work - you might consider a timer, or smart  controls that allow you to adjust your heating remotely. But, as Mike points out, what type of heating you have could be a factor here...

Mike - If you’ve shifted away from using a gas-fired boiler for your home to an electric powered air-source heat pump, you do need to stop your house getting too cold because it takes longer to heat-up. The upside is that by fitting an air source heat-pump you will significantly cut the climate change causing carbon emissions that our heating systems pump out every day.

Amalia - Heat pumps work by transferring heat from a source to a liquid, which is compressed and used to warm up water, which is in turn used to heat your home. As Mike mentioned, air can be the heat source, as can the ground.

Mike - So the answer is fit insulation, only heat your home when you’re in it, and think about switching to eco-friendly heating.

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