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Hearth of the home

fireplace mother_daughter_20_02_12A traditional open fire or radiator? And what boiler is best for my needs? Deciding how to warm your house will not only make a difference to the bills, but also to how it looks.

There’s no denying we’re firmly in the throes of winter now, so if your household heating isn’t up to scratch, it’s time to do something about it. From standard radiators to romantic log fires and everything in between, read on to find out how you can safeguard your home against the biting cold outside. And, taking our guest editor’s advice on board, we’ve checked the ins and outs of boilers to keep you in the know.

For giving your room a main attraction – a rustic one at that – fireplaces win hands down every time. From traditional wood burners to contemporary gas and electric appliances, suppliers are continuing to showcase a range of fireplaces in everything from antique and wood to mantle. The designs are practical as well as stylish. Key things to consider are the wood – oak and ash are the best burners, but stay well away from pine due to the sparks – and ventilation. Coal needs a good flow of air under it, so the hearth needs to remain ash-free. Chimneys, vented gas logs and top-venting pipes are all recommended to ensure a healthy airflow for gas fireplaces.  

Wood-burning stoves
It is estimated that a wood-burning stove can save the average family household at least £400 a year in heating bills. However, many wood burners are actually powered by electricity, gas or fuel. Connected to a chimney, stoves work by burning fuel in a closed fire chamber. For eco-conscious home dwellers, actual wood is a good way of using renewable sources of energy and keeping bills down. But where wood isn’t a viable option for many people, the flames produced by gas or electricity give an authentic illusion, while giving out plenty of heat.

Switch fuel
Choosing the type of fuel to power your home heating system can be more complex than first perceived – especially for off-mains rural dwellers. Switching from well-known fossil fuels to refined energy boosts green credentials without sacrificing the comfort of your family. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), in particular, gives off the reduced carbon emissions and doesn’t pose any ground or water pollution hazards. To heat your home the eco way this winter, contact Calor, LPG’S leading supplier, for more information.

Boiler basics
Though your boiler may be tucked away in your airing cupboard, simply understanding how it operates is key to ensuring you make the most of yours. ‘If you get your head around how they work, then you can see why one would work in your home better than another,’ Sarah Beeny notes, while reminiscing about ensuring piping hot water with great pressure is in all rooms in Rise Hall, her East Riding mansion which she is renovating with her husband Graham.

Traditional open-vent boilers
The most popular system. Fed by two open water tanks tucked up in the loft, the boiler also requires a hot-water storage cylinder, usually stored in the airing cupboard. One tank takes water from the mains and feeds the cylinder which, when heated by the boiler, supplies hot water to your taps. For the central heating, a pump outside the boiler is used to send water to the radiators. The second tank helps maintain the level of water in the heating system and allows for expansion of water in either tank when it gets hot.

Pros You can put the washing machine on or run the kitchen tap while someone is in the shower, without the water running cold. Though once the cylinder goes cold, it will take time to reheat.

Cons With two tanks and a storage cylinder, you need a lot of space.

System boilers
It works on the principle of stored hot water, which means you’ll need an airing cupboard or other space for the hot water storage tank. The pump is an integral part of the boiler, which also has an expansion vessel to replace the cold tanks.

Pros You can run hot water from a range of outlets simultaneously, making them a good choice for a larger home, or a family who wants to keep loft space free.

Cons You’ll need an airing cupboard for the tank and they can be costly to install.

Combination boilers
Also known as combi boilers, these have no tanks at all, so there is no storage cylinder to heat first and no tanks to find room for. Instead, they heat water for central heating and the hot taps, as you need it. The central heating portion of a combi is on a pressurised closed loop system, heated by the boiler as required. The hot water for a bath or shower is fed from the mains supply direct to the boiler.

Pros You get a constant supply of hot water at mains pressure, with no issue of a water tank to refill.

Cons If more than one tap is running, the water pressure can fall. High-capacity combination boilers overcome this problem. They give priority to the hot water system, so if the hot water tap is running, your radiators won’t heat up immediately.

Available in steel, chrome, aluminium, cast iron and even glass – not to mention a vast colour spectrum – radiators are a far cry from those functional white blocks and many can be described as a work of wall art in their own right. Mainstream home suppliers stock alternatives to the chic numbers for discounts, so you needn’t worry about your budget when buying your chosen wallpiece. Installing thermostatic valves on each individual radiator will maximise the efficiency of your central heating system, and up your eco credentials at the same time. They work by sensing the air temperature in the room and adjusting the heat accordingly, saving money and cutting CO2 emissions by up to 17%.

Underfloor heating
Unlike wall-mounted radiators, underfloor heating systems provide warmth to a room from the floor upwards. Both electric and water-based underfloor heating systems are available, and there are systems to match stone, hardwood, laminate, lino, and even carpet flooring. Wet systems have proven to be 30% more energy efficient than dry ones, so do your research before treating your toes to a toasty winter.

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

Picture credit: Shutterstock

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