How to work your heating system to keep warm and save energy

15 October 2021

As we head into winter, each year we see a flurry of visits to our advice site with people looking for information as they begin to turn on their heating. These systems can be confusing and it may seem overwhelming to begin with. We’ve got advice on different the types of heaters, how they work and how to save energy while using them.

We also know this winter could be tough for many of us.  With energy bills experiencing the biggest price rise in decades, support schemes like furlough ending and the energy supplier crisis continuing, fuel poverty numbers are expected to increase and more people are concerned about making it through winter. You can find out more about support available and see more energy saving tips here

Electric heating

Approximately 1.7m households in Great Britain are off gas. The majority of these homes are heated by electricity using heaters with the capability to store heat. This allows households to use cheaper electricity at night to charge the heater, and to release heat during the day. These are typically referred to as night storage heaters.

Night storage heaters. How do they work?

You may not have the original instructions or they might look complicated and you might find it difficult to figure out the correct settings. They should operate on an economy 7 energy tariff storing up electricity during the cheaper night hours and releasing it during the day when needed. This means that they are more expensive to use in the day which can be a reason why people accidently end up with a higher-than-expected bill at the end of the month. We have a handy two-minute video on how to set up your night storage heaters and more info can be found on our advice site

Other forms of heating

We have advice around other types of heating including radiators, room thermostats and gas boiler controls.


To ensure that you do not use energy unnecessarily. If you have thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) on your radiators turn them to low (1-2) in rooms that you don’t use much (to stop them getting damp or mouldy), and to middling (3-4) in main living areas. On very cold days, turn them all up a little.

Thermostat and timer

If you have a programmable timer then it is best to put your heating on a setting which means that it isn’t used when you don’t need it. If you select AUTO your central heating can run up to three times a day, according to the times you have set. Some other models of timer call this ‘timed’ or ‘twice’. If you select ALL DAY your central heating will run from the from the start of the first time period through to end of the last time period that you have set. If you select 24 HRS your central heating will run all day and night without stopping. If you select OFF your central heating won’t come on at all.

You can also use a room thermostat, if you have one, to regulate the temperature in your home. The thermostat sets the maximum temperature that your home can reach. You will need to set this according to the location of the thermostat. For example, if it’s in your hallway then the other rooms in your house which have less draughts could be much hotter than the temperature shown on the thermostat. So we’d suggest experimenting to find a setting that gives you a comfortable temperature in your main living space. Once you’ve found this, try turning it down by one degree because this could save up to £100 a year.


If you look at your boiler, you’ll see that it also has settings that you can change for central heating and hot water. Select high-to-medium in winter and medium-to-low in summer.

Practical tips to help you stay warm

Small changes can make a big difference to staying warm through the winter.

1) Set your heating to come on just before you get up and switch off just before you go to bed. If it’s very cold, set it to stay on longer, rather than turning the thermostat up.

2) Close the curtains when it’s getting dark. Tuck them behind the radiator and shut the doors to rooms you use most to keep the heat in.

3) Stay warm with a hot water bottle or electric blanket – but don’t use both at the same time.

4) Off mains gas or electricity? If you can keep enough wood or oil to avoid running out in winter. Consider joining an oil club to save money.

Extra support for those struggling

There are many different support packages available if you are struggling with high bills or unexpected debts

If you receive any type of benefit or are on a low income, you may be entitled to the following: The Warm Home Discount is a £140 rebate on the household electricity bill. If you don’t receive it automatically, you will need to apply through your electricity supplier.

A Winter Fuel Payment of £100-£300 is available for those aged over 65 on the qualifying date (usually in April). You should receive this automatically from the government, but you can call the helpline to confirm (0800 731 0160). Cold Weather Payments are made when the temperature where you live is an average of 0°C or below over seven consecutive days. It is based on the benefits you receive and will also be paid automatically.

CSE is a leading provider of advice and support to people suffering from cold homes and high energy bills, we’ve got more information and support here

Has your heating broken?

Once your boiler fires up for the heating season you may find that a fault occurs. There’s a few ways to identify a boiler that’s broken or in need of repair. So keep a look out for:

  • Water pressure that’s too low or too high. There is often be a little dial on the boiler that shows the current pressure and the range it should be in.
  • The pilot flame isn’t blue. It might be orange or yellow which means the gas isn’t burning properly.
  • Loud clunking noises or banging when it fires up.
  • Your bills going up because it’s using more gas than normal.

You might see a red or orange light on the boiler. If there’s a digital screen then there might be an error or fault code which will help the gas engineer diagnose the problem. Once you’ve made a note of these switch the boiler off and then contact a gas engineer from a local plumbing company who can come and look at your heating system.

It’s always worth checking your gas supply to see if it’s working. If you have a gas cooker, check you have supply and that the flame burns blue. If you have a gas smart meter check it has power, if the battery runs out or fails the meter won’t allow gas into your home.

Never try and fix a boiler yourself, unless you’re qualified to do so. If you smell gas, then contact the gas network to come and check the issue immediately. These are the numbers to call:

If you can afford it, the best way of protecting your boiler is to have it serviced regularly.

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