The electric heating jargon buster

This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about common electric heating terminology and technology.

Electric central heating

Think of central heating and you probably think of a gas-fired boiler and water-filled radiators, or possibly oil central heating instead. But electricity powers many homes around the UK as the sole source of heat for every room. In fact, there are 5 million homes in the UK that are not connected to the mains gas supply.

Electric central heating comes in two forms:

  • an electricity-powered boiler, usually in place of an old gas-fired boiler, or
  • efficient electric heaters, often replacing old storage heaters

Electric heaters

What is an electric heater?

There are many types of electric heaters, including storage heaters and electric radiators. We’ll run through each type below to help you choose the right heater for your home. Modern storage heaters can now come with: 

  • Thermostats
  • Remote Wifi controls
  • Programmable timers
  • Fans to help disseminate the heat
  • Open window detectors

Since 1 January 2018, all new electric heaters require thermostats, programmable timers, temperature controls and fans. Some older models may still be sold, so check carefully before buying storage heaters.

Electric radiators

Electric radiator

An electric radiator uses electricity to create heat. They are either plugged directly into the wall in your home or are wired directly into the socket by a professional electrician.

Electric radiators once had a reputation for being inefficient. Modern electric radiators are now efficient enough to be considered a viable, cost-effective alternative to most other central heating options including gas and oil. Together with solar power, electric heating is considered the energy of the future.

Electric radiators offer great flexibility because the can be used anywhere in the home, including as part of garage and loft conversions. They are cheap to install, run, and maintain.

View our selection of electric radiators

Electric conservatory heaters

Electric heating in a conservatory

Electric conservatory heaters and radiators provide an ideal heating solution for your conservatory. They can easily be installed on low-level walls and in tight spaces. They provide the most efficient type of heating for conservatories, including a thermostat to control the temperature.

View our selection of electric conservatory heaters

Infrared panel heater

Infrared electric heater

Infrared heaters work in a different way compared to convection heaters. Infrared heaters heat the objects, people and the structure of the space instead of the air in the room.

Infrared heaters heat the objects, people and the structure of the space instead of the air in the room. Science has proved that infrared heat is a more efficient form of heat than convection heat.

The way infrared panel heaters work means that heat loss much less of a problem. Once the space in your room is up to temperature, the infrared heater doesn’t need to work hard to maintain the temperature.

View our selection of infrared heaters

Electric towel rails

Electric towel rail

Electric towel rails are a heat source designed for bathrooms that keep your towels dry and ready for use. Electric towel rails come with a high IP safety rating ideal for bathroom use. Towel rails are mostly chrome but also come in other styles like matt black.

View our selection of electric towel rails

Generating heat

How do electric heaters generate heat?


Convection heaters heat the air and then transfer the heat throughout that space to warm up people and physical objects. Convection is a quick and simple way of heating rooms of all shapes and sizes.

The disadvantage of convection as a method of heating is that the air in a room needs to be constantly reheated to keep the space warm.


Radiant heating uses harmless electromagnetic radiation to heat surfaces of objects. Unlike convection heating that heats the air, radiant heating emits infrared radiation, which travels unimpeded until it hits a solid object, which absorbs the radiation and warms up.

When using radiant heat in your home, the objects in your room retain heat better than air. This means that the temperature stays in the environment for longer which is more efficient than convection.

Radiant heat comes in different strengths depending on what you need for your room.

Controlling heat

What is a heating controller?

Electric heating controls allow you to control the electric heat in your home. Like electric heaters, they come in different shapes and sizes. Your heating system will have a single type of control. 

Types of controllers


A timer or programmer enables you to control when your heating and hot water comes on and when it goes off. This means you can programme your electric central heating to fit your lifestyle and meet your needs. You can set your heating to a low temperature or off completely if you are going on holiday, for example.

Most programmers are digital and include an LCD screen. Older systems may have a non-digital timer that works by moving ‘tappets’ around a dial.

Room thermostats

Room thermostats are usually found in a hallway or living room. They monitor the temperature in your home and send a signal to the electric heaters telling them to switch off when the temperature of your home is warm enough.

Smart heating controls

Automatic heating controller

Smart controls allow you to manage your electric heating remotely from a computer, tablet or phone using Wifi or Bluetooth technology. Some smart heating controls include advanced options like automation. Some can learn from how you use it and help optimise your heating for you.


Economy 7 (Domestic Economy) tariff

With Economy 7 tariff you get one meter which has two rates. One rate records all energy used during the day, and the other rate records energy used overnight. The Economy 7 tariff gives you seven hours of cheaper electricity overnight.

Economy 10

The Economy 10 tariff works in a similar way to the Economy 7 tariff. It gives you an extra three hours of cheap electricity, usually in the middle of the afternoon. It is designed for electric radiators rather than storage heaters. It gives you 10 hours of cheap rate electricity during a 24 hour day at certain times.

Total Living Control

Total Living Control is for Scottish homes that are highly energy-efficient, and have all-electric heating systems. It offers 8 hours of cheaper, off-peak energy, split across three times each day.

Have we missed anything?

Have you come across any electric heating terminology that we haven’t covered here? If you have, send us a message.