/ Home & Energy

Are you losing money due to faulty electricity meter clocks?

Clock with light

They say time is money. But would you be surprised to hear that simply checking the clock on your electricity meter could save you hundreds of pounds a year? Clocks showing the wrong time are going unnoticed…

That’s the experience of a number of Which? members who have told us about problems with time-of-use tariffs, such as Economy 7 or Economy 10.

These types of tariff offer electricity at a cheaper rate during some hours and a higher one the rest of the time.

So, if your meter clock is wrong, you may find you’ve been charged over-the-odds for what you thought was cheaper electricity.

That’s what happened to Which? member Gary Day, who told us he found his own and his neighbours’ meter clocks were up to three hours out.

Thousands in over-payments

GaryRetired engineer Gary only spotted the problem when he went away for a few months, leaving just his heating on during the low-rate hours. When he returned he was shocked to discover a bill showing he had used most of his electricity at the higher rate.

Gary then found his and his neighbours’ clocks were all telling the wrong time and has told us how they won back about £2,300 in over-payments from supplier Swalec. He told us:

‘I have only checked four meters and every single one of them was wrong. I am horrified that there are probably hundreds of others that have these clock errors and don’t realise it.’

Checking your clock

Swalec said staff don’t have to check the clocks when they read meters – but added if they happen to notice any problems they must report them.

Unless the customer owns the meter, it is the supplier’s responsibility to ensure meter clocks are correct. However, current rules don’t require suppliers to check the clocks.

They do say suppliers must take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure the accuracy of the amount and time the electricity was supplied – but this isn’t exactly the same thing.

If you suspect your electricity meter is faulty, the supplier must investigate. But this means the emphasis is on you to check.

And that’s not always simple. Peak and off-peak times vary between tariffs, regions and seasons. Add the fact that the clock can be hard to find on many meters and it can become a pretty tricky task.

Do you think it’s fair that suppliers don’t have to check the accuracy of clocks? Have you found that your own clock is inaccurate?

Comments

I have an electric aga and 4 teenage sons who all get up early to go to school. I run all my appliances early in the morning to use the cheap electric. I am in an area which has regular electricity cuts. My meter clock has been goings backwards over the year and I am now over an hour out. EDF suggests that I will get the 7 hours cheap electricty and should be content, however my point is I should get it 1230 to 0730 therefore having the use of cheap electricity at peak family use. I have asked for a new meter but the new meter is larger than the old and will not fit. I was told that my house should have a standard space for a meter. This might be sno in a modern house when this legislation came out, but my house is over a hundred years old and space is at a premium. Why is this subject not covered in consumer programmes, its a scam and robbing people of money that they are entitled to and paying for.

Bob Higgins says:
18 February 2016

Smart meters. having had one fitted to save me reading it regularly it was a surprise the when I changed supplier it stopped being smart. For the change over reading I assumed the two companies would know what was happening but they didn’t.

In fact the most useful thing the monitoring device might have told me was what the reading is, but it didn’t do that.

Both meters have a button A and button B along with numbers 0 -9 to get a manual reading I now know I press button 9 twice and quick read the screen before it scrolls through several other data points.

Smart meters really are not that smart yet?

I live with, and am carer to my 85 year old mother who has dementia and severe arthritus. We have solar panels and a low carbon print council bungalow. Our heating is from a main boiler on the estate which runs on pellets. Our first electricity bill with N Power was steep and they said we was on economy 7. I explained the meter was wrong as we did not have economy 7, we had a new system which was meant to lower bill excessively. They told me I was wrong and even though I was a minimal user, the tariff I was on gave me high bills. I kept ringing and even got the council involved. It took me from June last year until February this year to get them to realise I was right and they eventually changed my meter, We have received an electricity bill for 10 months for 1225.76. I have phoned and said we are not paying this as it’s not my fault the wrong meter was in. I was told I had to pay from the old meter and as I also used their heating, the bill was fine but they would knock 200 off as goodwill. We pay switch 2 for the heating and do not use N Power but the gentleman would not entertain this. I mentioned the solar panels and where was the rebate from that?He brushed that aside and told me the meter was correct. The energy is in my Mums name and she received 3 bills in one day, all with different amounts. As she has dementia, if I had not lived with her, she may have tried to pay all 3 as she is still fixated on all her bills being paid on time. I have wrote to OFGEM but think this kind of treatment to an 85 year old woman is absolutely disgusting and has caused us a lot of sleepless nights and my Mum becoming very upset.

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Phoning the company is only for things that can be explained to someone “with 2 GCSEs”. Anything that requires “listening” and careful thought should really be put in writing, for both your sakes.

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my meter clock is 1 hour behind and my electricity bill for winter 4 months is nearly £800 using only 2 night storage heaters and an immersion in the alleged off peak hours .operative said the clock would not make a difference ????

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Anon says:
11 July 2016

Your time switch can be an hour out to reflect BST and GMT. Even if its an hour later starting in the evening, you get the extra hour in the morning and vice versa.

What I want to know is out within the hour taking into account BST, how much can a meter legally be out by? It can work to some peoples advantage i.e in my area, off peak starts at 11:30pm to 7:30am but my cheaper rate comes on a bit later which means I get the benefit of it in the morning turning my washing machine on at 8am gives me off peak rates. Some people with an external timeswtich who work nightshift switch them opposite way around to they get cheap rate during the day when they’re home and off peak at night when they’re out. I’m so confused.

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We have a 2 bed flat and are on economy 7, lived here 10 years. Electric only here, electric heaters switched off and only switched on when needed. Always paid fairly high electricity, around £130 a month. I have queried it a number of times as on the bill our day usage is through the roof and night is low. My claim that something is t right has been continuously dismissed over the years. Told we have received a bill with a note to say the direct debit is going up to £185 and we have a debit balance of almost £500. Shocked and angry I called Edf. Was advised to take meet readers today and tonight and they are calling me in the morning to discuss. I can’t possible see how this is correct. We are both out at work during the day and rarely use the heaters in the evening when home. We also religiously turn off every socket when we go out apart from the fridge. Meter is also in a communal room at the other end of the block so wondering if we are paying for someone else’s supply? I am going to check the pm/am on the clock in the morning so I can get to the bottom of it then I’ll be looking to move the supply. Projected annual usage is 8439kw for day and 2771kw for night! Does this sound completely upside down to anyone or am I losing the plot over it!

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That’s what I though Duncan! The concierge holds the key but anyone in the block can get the key and we’ve had builders on site for most of the 10 years we’ve been here due to issues with the original design. First job in the morning before work is to check the clock and take readings again as I’ve taken a number this afternoon and evening. I’m on a mission to get this sorted now as it’s got out of hand. Thanks

Nancy, unless you use at least 40% of your electricity off peak (probably after 11:00 pm or midnight) then you will be using an expensive tariff for heating; economy 7 has a higher daytime tariff than others. I’d suggest changing your meter to a single tariff one and getting a new tariff organised through Which? Switch.

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So Energy always sort everything out very quickly too! I don’t think it’s about the BIG SIX anymore guys. Times are changing, markets are ever more competitive, go and get yourself a good deal!

Balaji says:
22 July 2016

Hi, I have an Economy 7 meter. I am on Southern electric. I noticed that my ‘Rate 2’ reading is higher than than the ‘Rate 1’ reading. I am surprised to see that the clock is different. The time on meter shows 20:20 when it is 22:20 BST. This means it is 1 hour ahead i think. Am i correct? Do this affect my bill?

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Balaji says:
23 July 2016

Hi Duncan,
Thanks a lot for the detailed advise. Have a good day.

I was wondering if i could get some advice please? Ive lived in my flat since March 2015. The boiler has not been heating water properly since moving in and now it has completely stopped (since June) unless i put the booster on.
Ive had countless people from Gledhill come and check the boiler, and have been told there is no problem with it. The last guy who came round checked my electric meter and i noticed that my low rate reading had not changed since i’d last checked. He then told me i probably have a faulty teleswitch, and that i should call scottish power to get it fixed and ask for a possible refund. Ive checked my bills and it seems that ive been using less and less low rate electric and the dial completely stopped in August and has stayed the same since. My electric bill is always really high, i hardly use the heating because i cant afford to and am sick of having no hot water! I called Scottish Power on 2nd November. They said they will arrange someone to investigate, and to allow 5 working days to hear back from them. I havent heard anything back and am getting abit fed up.
Do you think i could be entitled to a refund? Has anyone been through a similar thing?
Thankyou.

Hi Kim – A good start would be to give Citizens Advice a ring for advice. I hope you can get the problem sorted out soon and maybe get some compensation. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Kim, i think you need to be persistent with Scottish Power. If you haven’t already done so, try emailing Dirsupp . I had prompt response from them in the past. I assume they will need to examine your meter, change it probably and then estimate how much off-peak you should have had recorded.

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Yes all correct. I only have electric in my flat. The gledhill engineer told me it looks like the switch isnt going to low rate ever. So thats probably why my boiler isnt heating up at night, like its supposed to when its cheaper rate electric. He told me he knew someone with the same problem, and their supplier actually called and told them there might be a problem and sorted it straight away. When I called Scottish Power, the lady told me there was no way of them knowing if the teleswitch was faulty, which I thought was a bit odd. I will call them tomorrow again, and call citizens advice too. Just checked my meter and it is still on the same reading. Im paying on average £100 a month for electric but have no hot water, and the storage heaters arent working.

Sorry for the name change. Slightly confusing.

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Thankyou, Duncan. I called them again this morning, and was told someone will give me a call back by the end of the day. Noone has called unfortunately… I am going to send an email to them and speak to citizens advice tomorrow.

Kim, I gave a useful email address above but for some reasons it seems to have disappeared. When I used it I got a reply that appeared to come from one of the directors. dirsupp@scottishpower.com

I have a prepayment meter & am on economy 10 tariff with SSE. My weekly electricity usage is horrendous. I have just noticed that the clock on my meter is 9 minutes slow for both off peak & peak times. Could 9 minutes make a difference?

That seems unlikely, Dawn. The top priority is to check that storage radiators, water heater and anything that involves heating is running only on cheap rate electricity.

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In this day and age it ought to be possible to look this up with just the postcode!

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Having trawled through various websites, I have learned that suppliers have different off-peak times. It is obviously vital to know when cheaper electricity is available and setting the timers on storage heaters so that they only use electricity at these times.

If consumers are at all important, maybe there is a case for standardising off peak times across suppliers. There is simply no excuse that meter clocks are inaccurate and some users have reported some significant errors. Ofgem is supposed to be addressing the fact that prepayment can be the most expensive way of buying energy but perhaps they could look at standardising times and requiring suppliers to deal with inaccurate clocks.

Pre-pay customers are often those who struggle to pay their bills and common sense suggests that we prioritise their needs.

Thanks, Duncan. I am not personally interested in Economy 10 but if the low-rate hours are different on a geographical basis irrespective of which supplier is used then it is surely not too much to expect the industry to make it easy for consumers [and people moving house or dealing with elderly relatives’ affairs] to find the relevant details for each specific area by reference to the property postcode.

It’s not just storage heating, Wavechange. People with only electricity need to heat their water in the low-rate period as well as using washing machines, dishwashers, electric showers, and so forth, as economically as possible.

As Duncan says, the standard peak-time tariff is considerably more expensive than the low off-peak rate. Electric showers can be rated up to 7,000 Watts and it makes a big difference whether your morning shower will be inside or outside the overnight low-rate period merely by an accident of clock-setting. Admittedly the shower is not in use for long but the little wheel still sprints round the track and clocks up the units. If there’s a family in the property, getting the timing right will save money.

Of course, and I mentioned all forms of heating in my first post. Obviously there are practicalities, especially for those who are working or out of the house a lot. The first priority, in my view, should be to ensure that the meter time clock is accurate and I do not know why the problem of inaccurate clocks has been allowed to continue.

It is worthwhile estimating your off peak usage and your peak time usage. Some people assume that they’ll always benefit if they have cheaper night time electricity but because of the considerably higher daytime tariff that may be the wrong assumption. You generally need around 50% or more of your usage to be off-peak to get a benefit. Remember that in summer, when it is warm, you won’t be using storage heaters but your daytime usage is likely to be little changed.

Yes, and switching to LED lamps and choosing A++ [or better] appliances when renewing them will also reduce peak-rate consumption. Doing any cooking during the daytime off-peak period on Economy 10 will also help.

My house is all-electric and was converted to Economy 7 when I moved in 40 years ago. Great for doing all sorts of stuff other than heating – GMT 1-8 am and BST 7-9 am – as I get up at the crack of dawn anyway and do most of my chores on the cheap. It was hassle-free and economical until Jan 2016, when (like a fool) I was conned into replacing two dead Creda storage heaters with 2 hellishly expensive Fischer heaters, which were supposed to save money despite using very little E7 as they are low-input heaters, but use daytime boosters (on th expensive rate), having hone cold by 10 a.m.. I switched them off after a couple of months last winter because I couldn’t afford to use the extra daytime units and have this week replaced them with two of the modern Creda automatic heaters which only use E7. However, Fischer converted the old heater sockets from E7 to normal 13 amp use and this week my electrician had to return them to the original E7 only.
Now I have a problem – the new Creda heaters will not turn off when E7 switches off and are clocking up the expensive units while I watch the digital meter whizzing round. Got the electrician back – of course, everything worked perfectly normally while he was there and I’m sure he thinks I’m crazy – but he checked everything again and changed one of the switch covers to one with a neon so I can see when that circuit is using power. I had a whole day of perfect peace of mind as it all did what it should, but then this morning when I got up the house was far too hot (18C which most people find a comfortable minimum but is too much for me ) – so I switched the heaters off at the wall an hour before switchover time, which I’ve always done without problems, and anyway you have to do that in the summer. Later I decided to check them again and now I can’t get the heaters/circuit off unless I do the manual switch-off. I phoned the electrician who can’t believe it and has no idea what to do – suggested I contact the supplier.
Since the Fischer problem, I’ve taken daily readings of on- and off-peak usage and have noticed that every few days the night-time reading would be almost half the normal amount and the amount of difference has been added to the daytime reading, even when I’ve been out all day or used nothing more than fridge, freezer and kettle during the day. Perhaps the extra usage problem was not entirely down to the Fischer heaters, as this strange pattern is now continuing with the Creda storage heaters which CANNOT use off-peak power. But of course they could have messed something up when they changed two heaters from E7 to 13 amp. It doesn’t appear to be a problem with the mechanical clock (separate from the meter) which I can read and handle easily, but with the switching process. Perhaps I’ve done something by switching off manually at the wall while E7 is still on, but as I said I’ve always done this for the past 40 years with no problems. What can I do? The electrician’s given up and if I get another one, will he believe me either? Help!

PS Can only access library computer, so may not be able to reply immediately.

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Thanks for the pointers about what to do, Duncan. As I mentioned, I’ve been using storage heaters for 40 years or so, so I know how to operate them properly, and that’s not a problem. My electrician, who I’ve used for years, was apprenticed to the old electricity board and was in on the start of E7; he’s done innumerable repairs and installations for me, including storage heaters,, so I trust him to have done it right in this case. That leaves the other option, which I’d suspected myself but needed advice on – i.e. a faulty control switch. The day after the electrician fitted the neon on one of the heater fuses it worked well, but for the next three days everything went haywire again, and the heaters even switched themselves on 15 minutes after switching off normally at the end of the E7 period. Yesterday I contacted my supplier who agreed it sounded dodgy, so I have to take readings for 24 hours and report back – ironically, since I spoke to them everything has been working correctly and I don’t have a problem any more. Still, I thought that was the case last week, so I’m hanging on before phoning them again in case it does the occasional (every 3 or 4 days) trick of going out of control again. I’ll post news when this part of the procedure is over.

Yes – I know about Fischer heaters, but despite that I thought I’d make enquiries. I insisted to the salesman that I would never be able to use daytime power, only E7, and he actually reassured me several times that I could get perfectly good results and adequate heating from E7 only if I wanted. So I ordered them, thought better of it and phoned to cancel the order, but he again told me categorically that my proposed use would be quite satisfactory and not to worry, so like an idiot I let it go through. I used them for less than 2 months last winter. Not being a computer owner or regular user I was unaware of all the forums and other info available to prospective purchasers of anything, so I didn’t find the ASA judgments until I’d started a long (6 months) campaign to claim my money back on the grounds of mis-selling. It’s been a long and tedious process, with long letters back and forth in which they set out all kinds of technical-looking date which was incorrect when looked at carefully and claims about satisfied customers, none of which had anything to do with my mis-selling claim which they chose to ignore. Finally, as they offered only 20% of the purchase price if they got the heaters back in pristine condition and inspected them in their workshops(!), I settled for a smaller “goodwill gesture” and still have the heaters available for re-sale – in truly pristine condition. Incidentally, the ASA did reject one claim, which was my main point – that “compatible with E7” is not the same as “suitable for E7”, my point being that compatible means they can be used with E7 (plus day rate), but the additional day rate makes them unsuitable.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply. I’ll follow my plan mentioned above and hope I have a happy outcome to report.

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Just noticed big chunks of my reply to Duncan are missing. Basically saying I know how to use storage heaters after 40 years.

…for the next few days the heaters switched themselves on and off and on again at random, regardless of time of day – after the electrician (trained with old electricity board and in at the start of E7) had applied the neon and they’d behaved properly for 24 hours.

…I have to take readings for my supplier who will see what they can see.

… I told the Fischer salesman I’d never be able to use daytime power and only wanted to use E7, which he assured me that would provide perfectly adequate heating without using the trickle charge. When I had second thoughts and phoned to cancel the order, he again lied to me (as I know now) and said I need have no worries about the E7 charge being insufficient to keep me warm all day.

…finally, they made a stupid offer of 20% refund if they got the heaters back in pristine condition (! ) Imagine them manhandling them when taking them out, transporting and inspecting them in their workshops…

… ASA rejected a claim that “compatible with E7” is the not the same as “suitable for E7” – my main point.

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Good for you, Duncan! Since the start of this conversation I’ve been on to the suppliers, who asked for a daylong reading (v. expensive) and decided it must be my wiring. I got two more electricians to look at the whole wiring system – absolutely correct, nothing wrong with it – and they said it must be the meter/switch control problem, so get back to the suppliers. They’ve now agreed to send an engineer in two weeks’ time. The whole thing is now so confusing – sometimes the heaters switch off at 8 a.m , 10 minutes after the meter switches from night to day rate, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they switch off and on again 10 minutes later, etc. At present I’m having to keep them off at the wall socket all day, just in case, but be there at around 1 a.m. to switch them on next day. At least we’re not yet on BST when it would be 2 a.m. I’m crossing my fingers for the engineer’s visit and hoping the heaters don’t behave normally as they have done every one of the days when I’ve phoned someone or other for help!

You probably have upset someone – sure I have now. Mustn’t give in to pressure to keep quiet.

I have economy 7 and my meter starts updating the night rate reading at 8am and the day rate at 3pm even though the clock timer is set correctly 12am to 7am. My storage heaters come on at 12am and switch off at 7am. It appears that the meter updates several hours later. Does anyone else have this problem?

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Many thanks Duncan. I have checked and the times are 0030 – 0730. However it is strange that the meter reading for night rate does not start changing until 0800 to 1500.

Back at last, with a new (re-furbished) meter. It was supposed to arrive two weeks from my last complaint to the suppliers, but the contractor arrived a week early and was surprised I wasn’t home! Eventually he came back three weeks later and took out the old meter and the 1970s timer clock, so everything is all connected up inside the one box, and appears to be working accurately, switching over exactly in time with the BBC pips. I’m still crossing my fingers as I can’t quite believe it yet, but my daytime (expensive) units are now back to 3 daily as they’d been for 40 years instead of the terrifying numbers that had been clocking up. Only problem now is that instead of my monthly statement turning up a couple of days after a phoned-in meter reading, I’m still waiting a month later.

Good luck to all the others with problems and don’t be conned into having a smart meter – the chap who installed this new one of mine says they are not suitable for E7, and you do NOT have to accept one if you don’t want it. The government has only said that by 2020 all customers will have to be OFFERED one – so you can refuse.

Hi,

Nice article. I have written article on Six Reasons Your Electricity Bill is High. Kindly have a look on it – http://vswitchusave.co.uk/blog/six-reasons-electricity-bill-high

OK up to a point, Karen, but you overlooked the biggie: government levies and obligations imposed on top of tariffs and also caught by VAT. This bears the heaviest on the most vulnerable people who have to heat their homes to higher levels throughout the day.

This component of bills has also been omitted from all the talk about price caps on energy as if to suggest that it’s only the energy companies that are hurting consumers.

While looking at electricity bills is certainly worth while, most people with both electricity and gas spend much more on gas and their electricity bill is less significant than other household expenditure.

Gail says:
11 June 2017

Has anyone got an answer for this please….
I only have3 night storage heaters, and the only things on economy 7 are these! (confirmed by electrician) . They are all off completely yet I still have 2 or 3 kw consumptionon on the economy 7 every night!!!
Also our red light on meter display, ,suddenly blinks crazy, when we haven’t done anything, haven’t switched anything on. Checked freezer n fridge, water heater in case they are boosting, but nothing! This happens several times a day, and our bills suddenly horrendous . We are in touch with EDF at the mo trying to get to the bottom of it!

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Please can you give us a link to the relevant ASA ruling against Fischer, Duncan. The company has attracted considerable attention from the ASA.

I’m not sure. I was looking for reference to storage heaters using standard rate electricity in addition to Economy 7.

I no longer have Economy 7, but my understanding was that all electrical devices, not just storage heaters, registered on the meter during the low-tariff hours. So if any device is used – washing machine, dishwasher, kettle, water heater, tv, fridge/freezer for example – this will show at the lower rate. I presume that by 2 or 3 kW per night Gail might mean kWh or units, which is not a great deal.

Maybe I have misunderstood 🙂 .

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I wonder if many years ago, storage heaters were installed with their own cheap-rate circuit that might have operated twice a day that is now questionably referred to as Economy 7?

alfa, I think there were, to give a boost if needed.

Years ago, I seem to remember trying to work out someone’s “Economy 7” and I think we came to the conclusion it only operated storage heaters and possibly the immersion heater twice a day, once at night and again in the afternoon.

Duncan – I have read enough to be suspicious about Fischer storage heaters, but could not find the ASA ruling that you mentioned. I’ve little experience of storage heaters but I had thought that the user could choose whether or not to use higher rate daytime electricity to boost the output later on in the day.

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OK, but however the controls work, it’s essential that the user can see when the heater is using cheap rate or standard rate electricity.

The heaters would need to be on an independent circuit to use this. However, one ASA ruling was against Fischer who were claiming you just plug them into to your standard socket – implying no dedicated wiring needed. They were also criticised for promoting their electric heaters on the basis that gas prices were rising – without mentioning that electricity costs were also likely to rise.

By the time you’ve wired up the house, bought appropriate heaters for every room, and looked at the energy cost I guess you’d be better off installing gas central heating (assuming you are on the gas main).

I agree, Malcolm. A lot of homes in the country areas around us and without a gas main use LPG. I don’t know the economics but sufficient homes have large LPG tanks to suggest they have gone into it and it is cheaper than oil or electricity.

Electric heating is often the only available provision in flats and many just have simple convector heaters running on the same meter and tariff as the supply for all other consumption; IF the insulation standards are high, a good programmer is installed, and the residents’ lifestyle fits the system [out all day, in every night] it is probably comparable with gas CH since it has much lower maintenance implications [saving £70-100 a year].

If the electricity supply is divided at the intake and there are separate meters and circuits for (a) room heating and water heating, and (b) other consumption, alternative suppliers could presumably be used for each service to provide the most appropriate tariff. Otherwise a dual-rate meter and one supplier are necessary with the inbuilt inflexibility and tariff limitations, but at least that does offer the option of a daytime boost [at a much higher unit rate] if required. The hot water cylinders in all-electric homes can often have two immersion heaters, one at the bottom running throughout the seven-hour low rate period overnight and the other one [half way up] controlled as & when required by a one-hour or two-hour boost control [which can be advanced or over-ridden to limit high rate consumption].

Do the Fischer units have certain technological advantages that make them more economical or efficient in space heating than either convector heaters or conventional storage radiators? Would underfloor heating – where possible – be a better solution? They seem to be heavily advertised and promoted but I have not given them any serious consideration in view of the amount of hype.

Storage heaters are an expensive way of heating homes where mains gas is available. They are also less flexible because if you are out all day they will be providing unnecessary heating, whereas a gas central heating system can be turned off when the house is unoccupied. I don’t see any significant differences between Fischer storage heaters and other brands.

I would like to see advertising that mentioned the drawbacks of products (such as the two I have mentioned above) as well as the advantages, so that potential customers can make an informed choice.

Fischer heaters seem to be targetted at people who do not have mains gas, but where practicable LPG or oil might be more economical than using electricity [albeit more expensive than mains gas].

I think it is unlikely that manufacturers will identify the deficiencies of their products in their advertising. which is all the more reason why we need a good consumer champion that will examine all aspects of major expenditure items and report objectively on them. Worrying over trivial or expendable products seems to have equal prominence these days.

On the basis that insurance companies manage to set out major exclusions to the cover offered, I don’t see why manufacturers of fixed electrical heating systems should not point out that they might represent an expensive and inflexible alternative to gas central heating. Campaigning for more honest marketing would be the best way of using Which? resources, in my view.

The postman has just delivered a leaflet from Fischer Future Heat. At least they offer a ten year guarantee, though only two years on the thermostats.

It is our job to assess the worth or otherwise of products and services that we buy, aided by experts where necessary and by consumer organisations. One reason why Which? has been active for so long. Regulations have required manufacturers to publish data, produced on a common basis, on which our assessments can be helped. I’d like to see this extended to repairability and durability.

All electric heaters will produce heat at the same intrinsic efficiency. What can be controlled are the times at which heat is created and distributed – we only need it when it is predicted to be cold and when room occupancy and temperature demands it – and where it is distributed – convection or fan assisted for example. There is scope here for sophisticated prediction software, engineering in insulated storage, for example but I don’t see this as key features of these storage heaters. Gas is inherently much more controllable.

I wonder how many have spent their money on electrical heating systems and found them expensive to run. Why not inform potential customers that they are best suited to properties where mains gas is not available? Maybe Which? could devote more resources to issues such as durability and repairability if they did not have to focus on helping people who are sold inappropriate products.

I assumed because of their slender profile [which is another selling point] that Fischer radiators used something other than heat-retaining blocks to store the heat. I also assumed that they could be run off any 13A socket because each radiator had its own programmable timer that could be synchronised with the night and day rates and for flexibility room to room rather than all the rads being supplied from one circuit that was either all on or all off. Perhaps the postman has a Fischer leaflet to deliver to me; I have seen the adverts in numerous publications but I have never taken any notice of them.

If you have full-house electric heating you’d need dedicated ring mains to handle the current.

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A long time ago when I had two conventional storage heaters installed in my flat to replace the uneconomical convector heaters, the electricity board [which did such things in those days] ran a separate radial circuit to each heater and provided a new white meter for the dual-rate tariff. Water heating was by immersion heater and the cold tank was directly on top of the hot water cylinder as a combined unit so the ingoing water was pre-warmed before entering the hot tank. The immersion heater was also programmed to match the night rate times. A very compact installation. The storage radiators were quite effective and had damper controls to contain or release hot air later in the day but it was only ever background heating by today’s standards. With single-glazed ‘landscape’ windows on a central pivot cool air was continuously available and it was necessary to have a 2-bar plus convector electric heater on in the lounge in cold weather. But we also had the fondue set to keep us. warm.

Instantaneous electric showers are incredibly uneconomical, often rated at 6000 Watts or more for a trickle of hot water. People who stand under one for a long time or leave it running while they lather and massage themselves must have enormous bills. If the house already uses gas for water heating it really is worth spending some money on plumbing in a shower off the hot water supply.

Some electric showers are over 10kW these days and while they are not in the same league as power showers (pressure washers for humans), they produce more than a trickle. It is easy to calculate the running cost of an electric shower, whereas trying to calculate the cost of using hot water will depend on many factors. In the summer months when the heating is off, a smart meter makes it easy to see the cost of heating water by gas.

I was on a two-tier economy tariff when we first moved here, because we had storage heaters. Once they were removed we changed to a single tariff. The sort of economy tariffs we looked at were only worthwhile if we used more than around 50% of our electricity in the cheap hours. For the majority of people this is unlikely unless they use electric heating.

When not on mains gas I did look at the possibility of an electric boiler feeding a conventional wet radiator system, operating off peak, allowing a simpler to change to gas when the main arrived. From memory. my calculations showed that for a very modest heating load (Ofgem low user) in the winter I would need to store around 600 litres of water at 70 deg in a well insulated tank- around 2.4m tall and probably weighing in at around 650-700 kg. My heating load would be significantly above that minimum so it didn’t make sense. I didn’t investigate central brick-core storage boilers that carried water heating pipes. Has anyone experience of these?

Without knowing about inefficiencies of heat loss in stored water and piping, it is difficult to estimate comparative costs. Installing a wet system can be a messy and disruptive job, particularly where there are solid floors and piping has to run in walls, so it might make very good sense to install the system before moving in, even if the running cost proves to be high until mains gas arrives.

One of the ASA’s judgements against Fischer Future Heat was in exaggerating the heat loss from the pipes in a wet system.

I installed my wet system, partly under floorboards and partly in rooms with solid floors and it just requires planning. I don’t like embedding water pipes in concrete so ran them behind the skirting boards, and spaced the skirting off the wall by about 20mm to accommodate them. They are accessible, it works well and looks fine. Pipes under floors and in the loft should be insulated to minimise heat loss but installing a wet system need not be the big problem some see.

That makes a lot of sense, especially if the pipes can be taken between floors inside a cupboard rather than by embedding them in the walls.

Generally you have routed hot and cold water pipes to a bathroom, maybe boxed in, and tall cupboards in the kitchen that can conceal pipework. No need normally to sink them into walls with a bit of planning.

Fine if you do the job yourself but a contractor is likely to embed the pipes in the wall if that is the cheapest way of doing the job.