Although the best water heating option does not vary much between households, the same is not true of space heating. The right space heating choice can vary significantly between houses depending on such factors as house size, how well it is insulated, your location, and your heat setting preferences.
If you need a new space heater and you live in a smaller house with relatively low heating requirements, it is generally most cost-effective to buy low cost free-standing electric resistance heaters. Due to the relatively small heating load, the higher running costs of these heater is more than outweighed by the small front-end purchase and installation costs.
For larger houses with relatively large heating requirements, it is worth spending more money on lower running-cost heaters. In this respect, three main types of heater have similar lifetime costs - log burners, gas heaters, and heat pumps. The most cost-effective of these can vary according to house design, and gas is already connected for water heating or cooking. If this is the case, gas space heating is generally cheaper than equivalent heat pump options. This confirmation of the competitiveness of gas space heating should help consumers' understanding of their choices, which have been weighted towards heat pumps. For large houses, it also starts to become cost-effective to install central heating systems, rather than have individual gas fires or heat pump units within a home.
It is generally not cost-effective to switch out an existing heater to the cheapest alternative, except where a household has a very large heating requirement which is being met by a high running-cost option, such as a free-standing electric heater or an LPG cabinet heater.
Different space heating options also have different quality attributes:
- central heating options heat the house more evenly than having individual heaters in various rooms around the house.
- heat pumps offer the benefit of also being able to cool in summer, but large properties require multiple external units that can be visually unattractive. Also, some heat pumps can have noise problems.
- log burners are slower to heat up the house and are not as controllable.
- log and pellet burners require fuel storage space, and the fuel needs to be physically carried to the fire at regular intervals.