This may seem a strange title when it is widely known that the old style night storage heaters are known to use tremendous amounts of electricity compared to the new trickle charge, kiln clay heaters produced in Britain today. However, night storage heaters were introduced into Britain in the late 1950’s in an age when our lifestyles were vastly different to today.
In the 1950’s, very few people had televisions, fridges were rare, even fewer freezers, there were no home computers and night time living was almost non-existent. At that time there was a huge disparity in the amount of electricity used in the daytime/evening. It seemed sensible to introduce economy seven, E7 and use the nightime, cheaper electricity to heat up firebricks and use them to release heat during the day and evening.
It could be argued that the early night storage heaters were more efficient because they contained asbestos, which was an excellent material to hold in heat. Fortunately, the dangers of asbestos were realised and it was banned from use. From 1968 manufacturers of night storage heaters had to stop using asbestos.
Due to the fact that the substitute insulation materials were not as good as retaining heat, a booster element was introduced to add heat in the middle of the afternoon. This led to a new tariff sometimes called economy 10 E10, i.e 7 hours at night plus 3 hours in the afternoon. Quite an increase in the actual amount of electricity used but all at ‘cheap rate’.
Wet central heating enjoyed a massive boom as north sea gas came on tap in the 70’s and 80’s. Although the gas was comparatively cheap, people did not know that water based systems are very inefficient. Added to that, the early boilers used immense amounts of gas. Almost half the gas never got used, it basically got warmed up and poured out into the atmosphere.
In essence, the 20th century battle between night storage heaters and wet central heating was fought out with a backdrop of cheap fuel.
Fast forward to 2016 and the big debate is fuel cost, pollution, climate change and maintenance. The ultra-efficient British kiln clay heater has the advantage of longevity as they are designed to last 30 – 40 years. It is a little known fact that a 3.4 kilowatt rated night storage heater actually outputs a maximum of 2 kilowatts of heat. Plus instead of one big charge of electricity these new heaters are controlled to switch on and off as required. This means that on average, the 21st century British kiln clay electric heater is up to 40% cheaper to run than the old style night storage heater.
Wet central heating systems, whether electric, gas or oil have to be designed around an inefficiency of 80%. If you take the 21st century electric kiln clay heater rated at 1 kilowatt, to heat a room, then the wet system needs to allow 1.8 kilowatts to heat the same room. Wet systems are high maintenance, needing servicing every year. Officially, gas boilers are supposed to last 12 years, anecdotally, there are a lot of boilers out there that the actual gas boiler manufacturer’s say are obsolete after just 8 years.
British industry has stepped up to the challenge and is showing that we can have clean, economic, ultra controllable electric home heating that is a giant step forward compared with the old systems that have been prevalent from the mid 20th century.