Debate Over Whether It’s Cheaper To Leave Heating Constantly On Has Been Solved

As the cold season rolls in, the age old debate resumes: What is the most effective way to heat our homes? Heating costs can build up quickly, especially as outside temperatures hit freezing. The two prime options are to turn up the heat on an “as-needed” basis, or to keep the heat on all the time at a lower level. However, the answer may not be as clear cut as some may make it seem. Rather, it depends on each individual home and the amount of energy it requires. 

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Spikes in Energy and Heating Costs in the UK

The discussion around effective heating peaked in the midst of the United Kingdom’s cost-of-living crisis. Prices of energy and food are rising. In fact, UK residents will experience an 80% increase to annual household energy bills, in addition to the 54% spike in April. [1] In other words, the average customer will go from paying 1,971 pounds ($2,332) annually to 3,549 pounds. In July, the government offered a 400-pound grant to all households for six months to help with bills, and a one-time payment of 650 pounds to eight million vulnerable households. However, many criticize this venture since it fails to address the core and the scale of the issue. 

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A catastrophe is coming this winter as soaring energy bills risk causing serious physical and financial damage to families across Britain,” said Jonny Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank. “We are on course for thousands to see their energy cut off entirely, while millions will be unable to pay bills and build up unmanageable arrears.” [2]

People call for more governmental financial support at the very least; others call for a freeze on the price cap, which has allowed suppliers to raise energy and heating costs. Many unions went on strike to get pay raises to keep up with the inflation. Plus, a grassroots movement called “Don’t Pay UK” is creating its own form of protest. After one million people take the pledge, they’ll all go on an energy bills strike, hoping for similar success as when 17 million people refused to pay the Poll Tax in the 1990s. 

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The Most Cost-Effective Way to Heat Homes

With these rising issues, people scramble for ways to lower heating and energy costs. Of course, the obvious solution is to use less electricity by wearing sweaters and turning off unnecessary lights. But there are other details to keep in mind to help this conundrum. 

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For instance, experts from the Energy Saving Trust refute the idea that keeping low heat on all day is cheaper. Instead, they say the best way to save energy and reduce costs is to turn on the heating only when it’s needed. It’s also important to note how much energy in total is needed to heat your home. Heat and thereby energy will leak out (how much depends on the insulation) so it’s best to avoid this waste by using it only as-needed.

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However, some specialists do advocate for keeping the heat on 24/7 — but for another reason. They say that turning the heating off and on will cause condensation to collect in the walls, which can leak heat more quickly, thus losing more energy. [3]

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People who perpetuate the “keep the heating on” idea claim that heaters needs to “work harder” and exert more energy to heat up a cold house. But this isn’t the case. Most heaters (and air conditioners) today work at a constant temperature no matter the thermostat setting. When the home achieves the target temperature, the system turns off and on to maintain it. So the starting temperature of the home doesn’t matter; the system will deliver the same leveled measure of heat either way. 

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Staying Warm and Insulated

Therefore, it’s better to lower the thermostat when you’re not home for a significant period of time, and turn on a more comfortable temperature when you return. If you have a timer or a smart thermostat, you could ensure the heating kicks a little earlier so you can enter a warm house. However, never lower the thermostat below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter; this could cause pipes to freeze and burst. So if you go on vacation, ensure the temperature is set above this. [4]

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In any event, proper insulation is key to prevent energy from “leaking” and to lower heating costs. Getting insulation professionally installed can be expensive but it may save energy bills later on, depending on the wall type and house size. Get a few quotes before choosing an installer. [5]

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Sources

  1. “Households across the U.K. are about to experience an 80% jump in energy costs.NPR. August 26, 2022
  2. “UK energy bills to rise by 80% in October as regulator announces hike.” CNBC. Jenni Reid. August 26, 2022
  3. “Energy mythbusting: Spend less on gas and electricity.Money Saving Expert. Andrew Capstick. September 20, 2022
  4. “The Most Energy-Efficient Way to Set Your Thermostat.Make Use Of. Matt Hall. January 3, 2022
  5. “How to insulate your home and stay warm this winter.” Energy Saving Trust. December 14, 2021
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