What is the difference between electric radiators and central heating radiators?

The UK’s temperate climate means we get our fair share of chilly weather, resulting in British householders relying heavily on heating systems to stay warm on cool days and cold nights.

According to Ofgem energy bills account for around 4% of total household expenditure in the UK - so it pays to choose a heating system which will offer the most efficient way of heating your home.

Central heating radiators and electric radiators are two of the most common methods of providing heat in a house - but what are the key features and differences of each?


How central heating and electric radiators work


The heat from central heating radiators is produced from a single source, usually a gas-fired boiler. The boiler heats water or air, which is then pumped around the system to individual radiators before returning to the boiler to be reheated.

An electric radiator converts electrical energy to heat. The electric current flows through a resistor, which transforms the electrical energy to heat energy. The radiator is filled with a thermodynamic fluid which heats up very quickly.

Electric radiators and central heating radiators essentially perform the same function. When the substance inside is heated up, the surrounding air heats up too. Warm air rises and cooler air takes its place. A rotational current of air builds up which heats up the room.


The efficiency of gas versus electric radiators


The price of gas per unit is around four times cheaper than electricity, which is one massive positive. However, there are several other factors which additionally determine whether running central heating or electric radiators are the most economical option for you.

For instance, electric radiators are 100% efficient in transferring energy to heat - whereas gas radiators are only around 90% efficient. This is largely because some heat is lost through the pipework associated with a central heating system.


Installation and maintenance costs


The cost of installing an electric radiator is also much lower than fitting a central heating radiator or extending an entire system to heat additional rooms.

The running costs associated with central heating are lower than electric radiators but the cost of installing or extending a gas-powered system may outweigh the additional operating expenses. Around 15% of homes in the UK are not connected to the mains gas network.

Electric radiators have no moving parts, unlike a central heating system, and so they require less maintenance. Central heating radiators require regular attention such as bleeding, balancing and flushing. Central heating boilers require regular servicing to avoid breakdowns.


Which fits best, electric or central heating radiators?


On the one hand, central heating systems heat up a whole house. Contrary to this, however, electric radiators only warm the room(s) that they're fitted in. That means electric radiators can be good for areas that require additional warmth such as bathrooms and home offices.


The heat generated by central heating radiators is usually operated via a central thermostat which controls the temperature of the whole house. This can mean that certain rooms are over or under heated. Individual electric radiators can be set to come on at different times or at a certain temperature.

So it's safe to say that there is no one option that is definitively better than the other; both types will be suited to different environments and situations, and it's up to you to weigh up the pros and cons of each option!