/ Home & Energy

Have you switched your heating on yet?

cosy cat on radiator

Every year I swear I won’t do it until the clocks go back and every year I almost always fail.

This year’s been no exception. Yep, I’ve finally let go of summer for another year (sob!) and switched the heating back on.

This year I really did try to persevere, mostly because I’ve finally got my heating bill down to an affordable monthly payment and I’m loathe to see it get hiked up again next year. So I resisted the thermostat and layered up instead.

I duly put on fluffy socks and slippers, and a furry gilet, snuggled under a faux-fur blanket (there’s a theme here), filled up hot-water bottles and wedged the novelty draft excluders into the gaps at the bottom of my doors.

Alas, I had to admit defeat at the end of last week when the cat abandoned me and I could see my breath and feel my ears and nose burning from the cold.

The great boiler switch-on

But it seems I’ve held out for longer than some. According to data collected from British Gas Hive Active Heating customers, 35% of my fellow Londoners switched their heating on at the tail end of September. In the same week, 78% of Hive customers in chilly Scotland ramped up their thermostat, while 65% did it in the North East, 63% in the West Midlands and 40% in the South West.

And although I can’t remember exactly when I turned my heating on last year (I definitely vowed to not do it until the clocks went back though!), it seems that, thanks to the late summer, most of the country has held out for four weeks longer this year.

Cost-effective heating

I’m still not giving in entirely though. I’m only giving my Victorian conversion (think very high ceilings) a quick blast to ‘warm it through’ every now and again, and I make sure I switch off the heating altogether when I go to bed at night. But could this practice actually be costing me more or should I just leave the heating on low all day from now until winter is over, even when I’m not at home?

According to our experts, if you keep the heating on low all day, you’re losing energy all day, so it’s better to programme your heating to only work when the house is occupied. Set your timer, so it’s nice and warm for when you get in. Read our tips for how to save money on heating your home and getting the best from your heating controls.

Tom Sullivan from Active Plumbing and Heating Solutions, who is endorsed by Which? Trusted Traders, also suggests the following:

  1. 1. Install thermostatic radiator valves
  2. 2. Use a seven-day, programmable thermostat
  3. 3. Try weather compensation controls
  4. 4. Use your controls effectively
  5. 5. Ensure you have the right boiler for your home
  6. 6. Give your system a regular check-up

And with some forecasters predicting this winter to be the coldest and snowiest for six years, it certainly pays to bear these tips in mind.

Still, I’m holding on to the hope that I can switch it off as soon as the clocks go forward at the end of March.

Have you put on your heating yet? What are your top tips for keeping warm in-between seasons?

Have you switched your heating on yet?

Yes, my heating is on now (80%, 1,993 Votes)

No, but I may do soon (12%, 302 Votes)

No, I'm holding out until after the clocks go back (8%, 204 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,499

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I do not understand why it is recommended to put a thermostat in the hall – hardly an important place to maintain a constant temperature.

In my previous home – a bungalow – I upgraded the central heating controls and decided to move the thermostat to the room I used most. That already had a thermostatic valve, but that did not matter because I left it fully open. I was very pleased with the result.

I have lived in bungalows for most of my life, so I’m trying to get to grips with how best to heat mine before upgrading the heating controls. As Beryl says, heat goes upstairs. At present, the thermostat is in the hall, so the hall radiator has to remain on, even when the weather is mild and I am only interested in making the lounge a little warmer.

Is there anyone else who has chosen to put their thermostat anywhere other than the hall?

Our house is inverted, so the hall thermostat is situated in what in most folks’ houses would be the top landing. However, since we’ve had the heat pumps installed they suffice for keeping the upstairs cosy, with the full heating only being needed to occasionally ensure the downstairs doesn’t freeze solid.

I think it is trial and error wavechange, depending on the thermostat and layout of the property. We tried our Hive thermostat all over the place before settling on the front hall. If the thermostat responds quickly, then it is probably ok in a living room, but if it responds slowly, put it where the temperature fluctuates the quickest and adjust the TRVs accordingly.

I cannot give a definitive answer on why central heating system designers avoid having a TRV in the same space as the controlling thermostat but it seems that they always do, if the experience of the last five houses I have lived in is anything to go by, three of which had completely new installations. I can only think it is because the hall is a neutral zone not affected by other heat sources [like kitchens, or living room fires, or the location of the boiler]. By not having a TRV fitted the hall radiator becomes a standard permanent heat source against which the room thermostat can regulate the flow of heat throughout the house, the TRV’s being used to manage the heat level in each room. It might be that the temperature set on the room thermostat needs to be different to the desired temperature in the main living room in order to achieve a balanced heat level available throughout the house – allowing for such factors as heat rising up staircases [or not in the case of a bungalow].

The major influence on comfortable temperatures in my view is the correct specification of radiator sizes and locations for the volume and purpose of each room. Bedrooms generally were not heated to the same level as living rooms but things have changed over recent decades and more use is made of bedrooms during the daytime and in the evenings than previously; this is where the TRV’s can be very useful as they can be set to achieve the ideal temperature for the kind of use required and, despite some people’s view that once set they should never be altered, they are designed for easy adjustment to allow more or less heat as and when required [see the picture at the top of this Conversation – even a cat can do it].

The time controller also comes into play in enabling residents to achieve the most suitable conditions for their lifestyle. As Alfa says, getting it right involves a fair bit of trial and error and the vagaries of the weather do not help. We find our sitting room television gives off enough heat on some days to enable the TRV’s to close the radiators down early but then reopen once we have stopped viewing. Obviously, the more sensitive the controls the easier it is to get the balance right.

Your point about not having the thermostat in a room with other heating sources is absolutely right, John. If it’s in a room with a solid fuel or gas fire, these will cause the heating elsewhere to shut down. Put it in the kitchen and the dining room will be cold by the time the roast is cooked.

Ideally I would like to have zoned heating, but this is best done when the system is installed. My old bungalow was easy because all the plumbing was in the roof space and it was not even necessary to fully drain the system to add motorised valves. I think I might go for a single wireless thermostat, which some people seem to be happy with. That will let me experiment with where to put it. If thermostatic valves are fitted, it’s important to fully open the one in the room with the thermostat.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that thermostatic radiator valves (or thermostats) should not be altered, though are happy with this arrangement. I often turn mine up when sitting down in the evening.

Thanks for the encouragement to experiment, Alfa. In my younger days I would not think twice about doing this. I’m wondering what Ian means about his inverted house but mine seems boringly conventional.

Our house is built into a mountain, so from the front it appears to be a bungalow, and it’s only when you descend the steep and lengthy driveway you find that it’s actually a 2 storey building. You enter on the top floor, which is where we live during the day, and that appears to be on the level. But to reach the back door you have to go down a flight of stairs, and the bedrooms, bathrooms and study are all located down there. Several rooms are actually underground, viewed from the front.

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Wireless thermostats are good because they avoid the need to change the wiring if you want to alter the configuration of the house, or indeed if you just want to try out different positions in order to optimise their performance for your needs. Our house has a second programmer with time control and thermostat for the ‘bedroom’ zone. It is positioned in the main bedroom which is not ideal since we usually leave a window open in there and there are two radiators with TRV’s. It wouldn’t be any better moving it to the landing as the airing cupboard, a radiator, and the rising heat from downstairs would affect it. Personally I am not convinced of the advantages of splitting a house into zones, especially as in our case where the use of some of the ‘bedrooms’ does not conform to the house-builder’s stereotype. Unless the zones are physically separated [or all the doors a kept closed], it seems to be difficult to regulate the temperature throughout the house. Like a lot of things in modern life, too many features can be a nuisance.

A word of warning about wireless thermostats. I have found it difficult to know when the battery has expired unless you check the display frequently. It would be helpful if they had a little green light on top to prove the battery is still functioning; perhaps some makes do have such a feature.

You are right about batteries in thermostats, John. I fitted an excellent programmable digital thermostat (not wireless) in my bungalow and forgot that it contained a battery that would need changed periodically. When the heating stopped working three years later the display was normal and I assumed that the boiler had failed, but it was just a case of changing the battery. I started to do this annually rather than risk the heating failing when I was away over the Christmas holidays.

Wireless thermostats will run their battery down faster because they have to communicate with their base station. It would make sense to change the battery frequently and use up the removed one for some other purpose. That’s what I do with smoke alarm batteries.

Perhaps the one advantage of the Hive (there are plenty of negatives) is that it sends you an email when the battery is low !!!

Thanks for the reminder John, I will add changing the battery to our holiday to-do list.

Our smoke alarms make an infuriating pip-pip noise when the automatically recharging batteries are nearly flat which compels me to install new ones. The smoke alarm batteries are no use to me anywhere else so I wait until the annoyance starts and then do it; I keep a small stock of replacements handy. I also keep a step-ladder handy.

The batteries are backup to mains power, in case the mains supply fails, so are less important than those in a standalone battery powered smoke detector.

As far as I know, new houses have to have mains powered smoke detectors that are interlinked, so that the alarm can be heard throughout the house.

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That is the case, Wavechange – ours ran down prematurely because we have experienced quite a number of power failures. This has also affected the security system which meant the alarm went off while we were away for a few days and kept the neighbours awake [it defaults to sounding the alarm signal and didn’t go off until the back-up battery was exhausted]. The consequences of that episode were quite astonishing but not relevant here.

Thanks for prompting me to check my smoke alarm backup batteries, which were dated March 2016 but still in good condition. New ones installed and back to central heating. I wonder if Sophie has turned the heating on yet.

I’m confused about the expert advice on putting the boiler on around 82c in winter. This seems very high. I worry if the boiler is on 70c if it’s really cold! I live in a 106 year old Edwardian house which has the normal drafts of a house of this age.

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Viv, the sizing of the radiators in your house will be determined by the temperature of the water pumped through them. If the water is too cool then your room(s) will never reach the design temperature on the coldest days.

I don’t know about modern boilers with the pump inside the boiler, but separate boilers often have a speed control with three or four settings. It’s worth seeing what effect changing the speed has on how quickly the radiators reach temperature from cold. Comparing the temperature of the boiler input and output – by touch or laser thermometer – when the system is running is also useful when choosing the best speed. Maximum speed may not be necessary and could be rather noisy.

Thanks all for your replies. My boiler is about 5 years old and is a Combi I don’t have a thermostat on the wall but do control the radiators with individual thermostats.

Viv – The next time you have the boiler serviced ask the technician what the recommended operating temperature of the boiler should be for the size and type of your house and ask for it to be set at that level. I presume from its date your house will have high ceilings so a good output from the radiators might be required on the coldest days. Any open fireplaces could also lead to heat loss. Draughts are not always bad if they help to ventilate a house but you don’t want a roaring gale! Once the boiler temperature is set at the appropriate level you can adjust the timer and the radiator valves to give you the warmth you need in the most economical way.

Thanks John, wil do

Viv, I wouldn’t guarantee the service technician knows.

Our boiler has a dial from 1-5. One year the service technician told us it should be on number 5 so we left it there, the following year, the service technician put it on 1 and couldn’t answer why. We have asked other technicians at service time and they just don’t know what number it should be on.

We did try to see a difference between 1 & 5 but couldn’t notice anything. So ever since then we have left it on 3.

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I’ve often found the same as Alfa with regard to the service people. Some seem to know what they’re doing but often it seems to boil down to a matter of opinion. Having said that, it seems the same applies to Plumbers and GPs…

Yes, Alfa, there is always a small risk of a faulty technician in the system, but replacements are easy to obtain.

I accept that CH installers don’t put thermostatic valves in the hall or wherever the thermostat is situated, presumably because the thermostat would not be able to do its job. That does not prevent the user turning off the manual valve, which is why these radiators are sometimes fitted with a lockshield valve (at both inlet and outlet) to prevent the user from shutting them off.

There are evidently many different reasons for the placement of a thermostat according to ones own lifestyle, including how well the house is insulated, whether the hall faces north, south, east or west, the number and age of its residents, the number of hours spent in each room, and interestingly the ratio between male/female occupants, not forgetting our feline furry friends, but perhaps most surprisingly of all, the amount of brown fat contained in ones system 🙂

With the cost of heating our homes very much determined by competition in the energy market and how often you are prepared to switch energy suppliers, it would be almost impossible to put an exact figure on whether you would save more by placing a thermostat in the hall or in the lounge.

The average life of a new boiler is said to be about 12 years, as opposed to more than that for one of the older type floor standing ones, dependant of course on whether you remember to have it regularly serviced, but you stand to use less energy with a more efficient up to date modern one, so it seems to me to be very much a case of swings and roundabouts and individual choice as to the amount everyone pays to heat their homes.

I looked round quite a number of houses after last Christmas and was delighted to see how many older non-condensing boilers were in use and still working well. I have inherited one that may be as old as the house – about 18 years. It has been serviced recently and I cannot fault it. One of my neighbours has the same boiler. I understand that modern boilers have lightweight aluminium heat exchangers (for reasons of efficiency) and it is important to use a corrosion protector and add more periodically to maintain protection. I wonder what the lifespan of a modern boiler is if the installation and maintenance instructions have been followed.

A common problem with condensing boilers is poor installation of external condensate drains. Narrow diameter piping, a near horizontal pipe run and lack of insulation can result in freezing and leakage or boiler shutdown at the time when heating is needed most.

I hope you are feeling better, Beryl.

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I’m not surprised, Duncan. With small electrical goods, spares might not be available at the time of purchase.

My Glow Worm Hideaway floor standing boiler must be about 19 years old and is still going. It’s due for its annual service next month so I must remember to book it tomorrow. I use a local independent company who appear to carry out a thorough service every year and very kindly grant a price reduction for seniors.

I am recovering slowly as each day passes thank you Wavechange but admit to feeling a little frustration at not being able to do everything I would like to. Thankfully my brain is not affected as much as the rest of me and Which?Convo is keeping it quite active at present 🙂

Conventionally it is recommended that when you have thermostatic valves fitted on radiators you put the thermostat in the coldest room in the house. The thermostat controls the circulating pump that causes the boiler to fire up. This ensures that hot water is available to any radiator that might need it.

Ignoring advice, our thermostat is in the living room, because we occupy it most. This works well for us but it can deprive bedrooms of heat some of the time. However it doesn’t leave them uncomfortable and you can tuck down. The hall may be the coolest room in many houses.

A funny story……….

We have a digital display carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen. I came home one evening and as it did its usual periodic flash, I saw 25 on the display. …..PANIC !!!!

I ran outside thinking the worst, then held my breath as I went back inside to turn off the boilder, grab the service booklet and a phone and called the emergency number who said they would be with me within a couple of hours.

It was a cold evening in December, but I sat on the front door step waiting for them to arrive as I might miss them if I went to a neighbour.

Deciding to check the detector, I held my breath and went for another look at it. It had gone down to 22 thank goodness, then I noticed a C after the 22, then a little o between the 22 and the C………….WT?!?!?!?!?

We do keep all product instructions so I found the instructions and lo and behold, unbeknown to me the damned thing also had a temperature display. Later hubby told me he had tested it. (arghh!!!, strangle!!!) One test press and it switches to the alternate display.

I called the emergency number to tell them I feel a bit of an idiot…… but they still insisted on coming out to do a check.

LOL! Better safe than dead, though.

I respect people who are prepared to admit that they do silly things.

No, I haven’t turned my heating on! The reason being, I tried to transfer my gas account else where. Sadly to this time of writing, some two whole years have past. I’ve had to suffer their thugs banging on the door and charging me for the privilege. I’ve been lied to by this company. At no time have I agreed to cancelling the transfer. Sadly after all the threats and harassment this company still doesn’t now the correct bill. I’d rather freeze to death than have anything more to do with this company!

Hello Nicholas, this sounds awful. Is there something we can help you with at all?

Hi Lauren Deltz, Thank you very much for your reply. Yes there is, so much has gone wrong with this account, I now don’t no where to start. My annoyance started with a cold call from a competitor company who eventually took over the electric account. At the time a weird conversation with the gas company regarding the electric account revolved around this employee indicating how clever he was to find the payment on the gas account. This informed me that I was going to have trouble transferring. I didn’t no that I would end up with debt collectors banging on my door demanding money based on an estimate and charging me extra for there services. All utility companies always over estimate their bills. In my view this company is not aware that I have a condensing boiler, so boiler is only on for washing dishes and showering during the summer. Sadly winter is now fast approaching and soon I’ll have to turn on the heating. I would like to know how to get this account transferred before turning my heating on and compensation from the offending company, which has been before a Parliamentary Committee. So there has not been an improvement.