Nightmare storage heaters?

Why it’s important to understand how they work

16 October 2015

Night storage heaters. At this time of year, our website is inundated with visitors trying to find out how to use them. Have you found them baffling? Useless? Always cold? Too expensive to run?

In fact, if your home is off the gas network and reliant on electricity for heating, night storage heaters should be the cheapest way to heat your home. The problem is that people often come across them with no instructions, and struggle to work out how to use them properly.

If you too are baffled by storage heater controls, watch our 2 minute video on how to set them.

Or take a look at the advice on our website here.

What’s the problem?

This is actually a very important issue. According to our calculations, 14% of people in England who heat their homes using storage heaters are in fuel poverty this year, a larger proportion than the national average.* Using storage heaters wrongly can be very expensive and will only add to the problem of unaffordable energy bills and freezing cold houses for these people who are already struggling to cope.

The energy advisors on our Home Energy Team come across a few common complaints with night storage heaters. They come equipped with two dials: ‘input’ and ‘output’. To most people, it’s not at all obvious what these mean. And if you set them wrongly, running out of heat on cold days and paying for heat that you don’t need on milder days are likely problems.

An expensive mistake

Night storage heaters are designed to be used in conjunction with an Economy 7 electricity tariff. This means that you get a cheaper rate of electricity for seven hours at night (typically between midnight and 7am), but a more expensive than normal rate the rest of the time. Night storage heaters therefore charge up at night during the off-peak period, store the heat, and give it out gradually during the day without using electricity.

If you don’t understand what the controls do, you may not tell your heater to charge enough at night, meaning you run out of heat halfway through the next day. Or you might let all the heat out too fast in the early morning, so there’s none left later in the day. You might then press the ‘boost’ button, or use an extra heater to keep warm during the day, which will use expensive premium-rate electricity.

More tips for electric heating

If you have electric heating, Economy 7 can help you keep the bills down, but you need to adapt your lifestyle. Keep in mind that with Economy 7, any electricity used outside of the off-peak period is charged at a premium rate, typically around 18p per unit. So any electrical appliance that you use during the day will cost you a lot to run.

Along with night storage heaters, you should have your water immersion heater on a timer so that it heats your water at night if you’re on Economy 7, rather than keeping it on 24 hours a day. A good insulating jacket for your hot water tank will keep it hot for when you need it. You’ll also save on electricity if you run other appliances (like the washing machine and dishwasher) at night.

Our Home Energy Team has further advice on Economy 7 tariffs – and lots more – on our advice site. Helping people get to grips with their heating systems is all part of our mission to end the misery of cold homes.

Find our energy advice site at:

* according to the Hills definition of fuel poverty. Under the old (10% of income spent on fuel) definition, the picture is worse, with the proportion at 34%, compared to a national average of 24%.

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