plumbing tools

The different types of central heating

We take our central heating system for granted most of the time yet it plays an important role in the home –  supplying the heat and hot water that make life so much more comfortable.

It’s not all just hot air!

While it is not essential, it’s definitely worth getting an insight into the way heating works, whether you’re thinking of upgrading your system, or want to learn how to heat the home more efficiently.

Steam radiators

The oldest method used to heat radiators is steam.

How it works

Steam radiators are connected to a boiler that will heat up water until it forms steam.

The steam then travels up through a vertical pipe to the radiator where the thermal energy is given off through the radiator fins.

As the heat is lost from the steam, it slowly begins to turn back into water. Eventually the steam becomes water and flows back down into the boiler for heating once again.

This cycle of heating and cooling repeats over and over again in order to spread heat to the rest of the home.

Steam radiators can be either a one-pipe system or two-pipe system.

In the one-pipe system:

  • The pipe that supplies steam also returns condensate.

In the two-pipe system:

  • A separate pipe returns condensate.

Pros & cons

Single-pipe steam piping is relatively simple and unobtrusive. Buildings heat more quickly from a cool start with steam than with forced hot water. Single-piped steam requires no pumps or blowers for circulation, and no return pipes.

There can be a time lag between when the boiler is turned on and the heat finally arrives in the radiators.

Steam radiators can also warp the flooring they are sitting on and their thermal expansion and contraction over time can dig ruts into the floor. Both of these effects can cause the radiator to tilt, preventing water from properly draining from the radiator when it cools. This will cause banging noises when the radiator is heating up.

Most suitable for:

  • Older properties that already have a steam heating system

Hot water radiators

The most popular radiators are ones by which the heat is distributed through hot water.

How it works

Hot water radiators work in a very similar way to steam radiators, except without all the pressure created by the steam and with a more functional approach to moving the heat around.

Every radiator in a hot water system has an inlet and outlet. The inlet is to take hot water in and the outlet is to let the water back out.

When the system is in operation, water is heated up until it reaches a certain temperature, below boiling point.

After the water reaches the desired temperature it’s pumped from the heater and through all the radiators of the home.

As the water passes through each radiator it loses some of its heat eventually becoming too cool to effectively heat up the radiators and makes its way back to the heater once again for reheating.

To warm up a home, the cycle occurs every time that temperatures need to be increased. The heater and pump are tied to a thermostat so they know when to kick in.

This ensures that they are only operating when heat needs to be provided to the rest of the home.

Pros & cons

Hot-water radiators are one of the most common heat distribution systems in newer homes, and as a result they are available in a variety of designs and looks.

You can choose from vertical and horizontal and styles ranging from traditional to designer.

The advantages of a horizontal style is that it will span a wider surface area than vertical design and therefore deliver a broader spread of heat.

Most suitable for:

  • Modern homes
  • Greater heat efficiency

Hot air

A warm air heating system can bring lots of positives to your home:

This is a fantastic system for heating up the home fast, also there are no radiators which always impact on the layout of a room.

Warm air systems are much quieter too. Their energy efficiency is another plus as running costs can be up to 18% lower than some other types of heating system.

Some modern systems also have electronic controls to deliver a stable temperature and give you even greater control of your energy use.

Warm air systems can include the option of electronic filtration which regularly removes 95% of all airborne particles such as pollen, human and pet hair and bacteria.

Pros & cons

Energy efficient, quiet, no need for radiators.

Most suitable for:

  • Modern homes
  • The eco-conscious home-owner

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