Storage Heaters Explained

If your idea of a storage heater is a big white box in a room that’s either too hot or too cold, think again…

Modern storage heaters are a 100% efficient, zero-emissions alternative to central heating. They’re convenient and easy to control. And with the government's plan to hit net-zero by 2050, they could become an important alternative to gas heating.

What is a storage heater?

A storage heater is a type of electric heater. And most electric heaters work in a very simple way. They allow electricity to flow through a heating element, which gets hot.

In a bar fire – the type you might see on a home’s wall – the heat from the heating element directly warms up the room. But in other types of electric heaters – like a storage heater – the heat is spread around the room using what's known as convection currents. As the hot air from the heater rises, it pulls in cooler air. In turn, this gets warmed up by the heater. And the cycle goes on, evenly spreading heat around the room.

Dimplex Quantum storage heater in home study

How does a storage heater work?

Like other electric heaters, storage heaters contain a heating element. These are usually ceramic or clay bricks because they can hold a lot of heat. During the night, the storage heater takes in heat and stores it in the bricks. This is then released the next day to heat your home.

What are the benefits of storage heaters?

Most storage heaters are 100% efficient because all the electricity they use is converted to heat. And if you get your electricity on a renewable tariff – see below – they’re a zero-emissions way to heat your home.

The catch is that electricity currently costs more than gas(1). So electric heating can be expensive to run. Which is why you need a suitable off-peak electricity tariff...

What's an off-peak electricity tariff?

Electricity companies – like EDF – provide cheaper energy when demand isn’t so high (i.e during 'off peaks'). This is basically overnight – or at weekends – when offices and factories aren’t using as much.

You might have heard of an ‘Economy 7’ tariff – so-called because households get seven hours of cheaper electricity overnight. There are even 'Economy 10' tariffs – providing cheaper electricity over 10 hours.

Other types of 'Time of use' tariff can offer even better value, tailored to how you use electricity. These require a smart meter, so your supplier can track the time you've used electricity.

And as tariffs become more advanced – along with smart meter technology – it's quite likely in the future that we'll pay a different price for electricity at multiple times of the day.

How to use a storage heater

Storage heaters come with an output controller so you can control how much heat is released into the room. And the basics for how storage heaters work have stayed pretty much the same over the years.

But the difference with today’s automatic storage heaters is that they come with far more sophisticated controls than older manually controlled models.

Older models only gave basic control over how much heat they stored or released. So it was easy to either set up the heater to store too much heat, causing the room to overheat. Or store too little, or release it too soon… Which meant rooms didn’t stay warm into the chilly evenings.

Dimplex quantum storage heater digital IQ control panel

Storage heater: how to use the latest models?

Since 2018, all new electric heaters – including storage heaters – have had to comply with European Lot 20 rules. Essentially these regulations came in to help homes save energy on their heating(2). And they were part of the same laws that saw the UK switch from traditional inefficient light bulbs to modern, energy-efficient alternatives.

For storage heaters, the new rules meant that they had to come with casings so the storage heater could hold more heat. Or fans, to help distribute the warm air around the room when needed(3).

Modern-day storage heaters also have more sophisticated controls, such as:

  • A thermostat so you can heat the room to your desired temperature.
  • Intelligent charging to store the right amount of heat, rather than manual controls to set heat storage – anyone remember using a coin to turn the dials?

Some storage heaters also come with advanced digital controllers – a bit like a central heating system. Others connect to your WiFi network, so you can control them from your phone.

Some storage heaters also respond to changes in the room’s temperature, in the same way as smart radiator valves. So if a window’s been opened, the storage heater automatically shuts off the heat.

Storage heater installation

Storage heaters can be simpler to install than gas central heating because there’s no need for a gas boiler, pipework or flue. This generally makes them cheaper.

The only caveats to this are if your home needs rewiring. For instance, if your storage heater works on separate peak and off-peak electricity supplies(4). And how much you spend on each storage heater. If they cost more than £400 each, for instance, fitting them in a bigger home could cost about the same as a typical central heating installation(5).

Dimplex Quantum storage heater installed in home with happy elderly lady

Storage heater cost

Of course, you’ll need to pay to run your heating system, so how much does a storage heater cost to run? When charging heat, a small storage heater may consume about 1kW(6), while larger models might use nearer 3kW(7). That’s a lot of power – but remember it’s the maximum amount of power it’ll use. And some storage heaters stop using power when they’ve stored enough heat. So this power usage figure is just a guide.

Working out your storage heater running cost is trickier, as it depends on how much heating your room needs. But to give you an indication, a medium-sized storage heater that consumes 2kW, and charges at full power for seven off-peak hours, will use 14 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. At the average 9.8p per kWh(1), that’s £1.37 per day.

But obviously, you don’t need heating all year round. So in spring and autumn, your storage heater running costs will be much lower – and in summer, they might be non-existent. So charging the same heater in the above example for only two hours in warmer months will bring the cost will come down to less than 40p per day.

What if I need a storage heater repair?

With no valves, pumps or burners, storage heaters are far simpler than a central heating system. Which means they’re less likely to go wrong! But if your storage heater stops working, there are a few things you can do to troubleshoot the problem.

The first step is to check that the controls are set correctly. Also, check that the storage heater hasn’t shut off simply because someone’s opened a window in the room.

Failing that, check your instruction manual because this will have troubleshooting advice specific to your model.

What if none of my storage heaters are working?

If none of your storage heaters are working, it’s likely there’s a problem with the heating consumer unit. You can check for a tripped circuit breaker. Otherwise call an electrician for advice – especially if the problem happens more than once.

How do I get a storage heater repair?

If you’ve only got a problem with one heater, you may need a storage heater repair. If the storage heater’s still under warranty – or you have a service contract for it – call the customer service number for advice. If not, try the manufacturer’s helpline, in case they have a list of approved electricians to recommend.

How to remove a storage heater

Moved into a property with some old storage heaters? If so, your first question might not be ‘how do I install storage heaters’, but ‘how do I get rid of them?’ Especially if they’re old and no longer working efficiently.

Typically it depends on how the storage heater has been wired. If it only uses a standard plug socket, you can unplug it and remove it from the wall. Otherwise you might need an electrician to make the wiring safe. If in doubt, always call out a qualified electrician to come and check for you.

How to set a storage heater and use storage heater controls

This largely depends on the type of storage heater you have. On older models you might have to set the amount of heat to store off-peak. Then manually control the heat you want during the day. With newer models, it’s much easier. As you can use the in-built thermostat to set the room temperature you want.

Basic models may have manual charging controls(8) too. But more expensive storage heaters will automatically learn to store the right amount of heat.

Top-end storage heaters can connect to your WiFi network so you can control them through an app on your phone. This means you can manage your heating from anywhere – you don’t need to be at home. Some even come with GPS location technology. So your heaters turn on automatically as you get near home. And turn off when you drive away – like other smart heating and smart lighting systems.

Dimplex Quantum storage heater in a family home

Are storage heaters right for my home?

Traditionally, storage heaters were recommended if you didn’t have a mains gas supply into your home. So you couldn’t heat your home the traditional way with a gas boiler and radiators.

But there are lots of reasons why homeowners with this conventional central heating set-up are looking to storage heaters as an alternative way to heat their homes.

For a start, storage heaters are comparatively easy to install. They don’t require maintenance or servicing. And they have a long service life, too, with some manufacturers offering a 30-year warranty(9)! This can make storage heating a particularly appealing option for landlords. And in homes where it’s difficult or impractical to install central heating, like listed properties.

More importantly though, switching to electric heating is an environmentally-friendly choice compared to gas central heating systems. Especially when the electricity used comes from renewable or low-carbon sources.

Domestic heating accounts for around 15% of the UK’s total carbon emissions(10) – so it’s a huge contributor to climate change. And if the government is to meet its target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to find alternatives to fossil fuels (gas and oil) for heating our homes.

Getting the best from your storage heaters

  • Heating your home uses a lot of energy – and likely accounts for a large chunk of your bill. So to get the most out of your storage heaters, you need to make sure you’re using off-peak electricity for as much of your heating as possible.
  • If you have a heating consumer unit on your storage heater, make sure that it’s configured correctly(11) (this definitely a job for a qualified electrician). And if your storage heaters only have one connection, check that the internal clock is set correctly. And configured to your Economy 7 or off-peak hours. Because these vary depending on where you live in the UK.
  • With the basic set-up checks out the way, it’s important to make sure you’re storing the appropriate amount of heat. Modern storage heaters may do this automatically. But with basic or older models, you need to set the charge controller. Usually, you’ll want a small charge in spring and autumn. And then to store more heat on colder winter days.
  • The final step is to set the amount of heat to be released, and when. On manually controlled models, you want to shut the heat off when you’re going out. And turn it right down when you’re not using a room. Programmable heaters let you schedule regular heating times so you can pre-heat rooms. App-controlled heaters usually come with more advanced features. Letting you alter the schedule remotely, for instance, via your phone.
  • And finally, remember: even the best heaters can only go for so long on a single charge. To make sure you have some heat left for the evenings, try not to overheat the rooms during the day.
  • If you run out of stored heat, you’ll need to use the ‘boost’ or ‘balancing’ feature – if you have it – which uses peak-time electricity.
  • You should also remember to turn your storage heaters off when you go on holiday – they’ll probably be off in the summer months anyway. But if you’re heading away in winter, keep them on a low setting instead, to prevent your home from getting too cold and damp.