Learn how to use your heating controls

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Go greener by degrees

Boilers and heaters account for two-thirds of the energy used in British homes, so just tweaking your settings a bit can have a big impact. And something as simple as this could save as much CO2 as switching to an electric car.

Thermostats (usually a dial on the wall) set a maximum temperature for your house. When that point is reached they turn the heating off. When the temperature drops, they turn the heating back on. In this way, you maintain a constant temperature. But everyone knows that, right? What many people don't know is how to use them effectively.

And mastering that dial can make a big difference. For every degree you turn it down, you can save about 10% of your heating bill (about 40 per degree turned down for the average home) and about as much CO2 as halving how much beef you eat.

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Photo: Learn how to use your heating controls

Each degree lower saves 335kg of CO2 a year

668 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 2 out of 5

Cheapness 3 out of 5

Popularity 4 out of 5

Cost Saves 40 a year per C

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • Since 1970, temperatures in UK homes have increased by 5C
  • 20% of Brits often feel they don't get enough sleep
  • Many people believe that the room thermostat is simply an on/off switch or think it works like a dimmer switch

Heating Europe's buildings produces 14% of its greenhouse gases and in Britain research shows that we've actually increased the temperature of our homes by 5C since the 1970s - so there's plenty of scope for savings. In fact, if everyone in the UK turned their heating down by one degree, it would save 900m worth of energy - enough energy each year to heat 1.8 million homes. On top of the savings to be made from turning your thermostat down, changing your programmer to switch off when you go out could save extra CO2 and cash each year.

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How do I do it?

  1. Approach your thermostat
  2. Set it to 18C
  3. Put on a jumper
  4. Dig out the instructions for the central heating programmer
  5. Set the heating to come on 20 minutes before you get up and go off 15 minutes before you leave home
  6. Upgrading to a more intelligent digital thermostat takes the guess work out of programming your heating system. It will cost around 180 and pay back in saved energy within four years

There are other helpful habits you can pick up. Heat the rooms you use most, rather than the whole house - radiator valves will help with this. Turn the heating off when you go on holiday. If you holiday in winter, set it to come on twice a day for 30 minutes at a low temperature. Keep curtains and furniture away from radiators to let the heat circulate. And set the temperature lower in the bedroom at night - it helps you nod off and promotes deeper sleep.

Want to go further? All boilers have a thermostat, which governs the temperature the boiler heats the water to. If you have a room thermostat, the boiler thermostat should be set to maximum as this is the most efficient usage. If you don't have a room thermostat you will need to set the boiler thermostat to a comfortable temperature.

You can buy a sophisticated programmable room thermostat, which times your heating to come on and off at the optimum times.

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What's stopping me?

"I like being cosy at home"

It's nice to be warm, but unless you're a naturist you can achieve the same effect by wearing more clothes. You could also try draught-proofing or fitting additional insulation to keep more of your heat inside.

If 18C is too cold, start wherever your thermostat is set now and turn it down by a degree every so often. It's amazing how easily your body gets comfortable at a slightly lower temperature.

"I turn it down but my flatmate/partner/spouse turns it up"

Well, are they prepared to pay for the extra fuel bills? No? If that doesn't persuade them, you could always try the subtle art of compromise.

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mike, London 2008-09-26

bloom is actually quite amazing!

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
In a central heating system, the programmer is the device containing a clock that turns the heating and hot water systems on and off at designated times, while the thermostat sets the maximum temperature.
A thermostat maintains the temperature of a system at or near a stipulated level using sensors that tell it when to turn off heating devices. In most household central heating systems, a wall-mounted thermostat is used to set a maximum temperature for the house, while thermostatic radiator valves can be used to set a desired level for individual radiators.

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