As the weather turns colder, you might be asking the question ‘how many hours a day should heating be on to keep your bills as low as possible?’
The government's Energy Price Guarantee (opens in new tab) has, to an extent, helped to keep a lid on energy costs this winter, limiting the typical energy bill to £2,500 per year (rising to £3,000 in April 2023). But we're still paying more than ever for our energy, even when you take into account the £400 energy rebate (opens in new tab) that is being paid in instalments between October 2022 and March 2023.
Sylwester Raczynski (opens in new tab), inventor and founder of iHelios smart eco-heating technology, told us: “The hike in energy prices means costs are much higher than last year, and other costs are also going up for families and individuals, such as fuel and food. Everyone is looking at how they can make savings. Still, it is essential to keep homes warm to stop black mould growth and condensation, keep ourselves healthy and stop our homes from getting into a state of disrepair, which can lead to further unwanted costs.”
It therefore pays to be smart about not only the cheapest way to heat a room (opens in new tab), but also how much you have your heating on.
How many hours a day should heating be on?
British Gas data shows that people have their heating on for an average of 5 hours and 15 minutes on a winter's day at an average of 19°C. But how long you actually need have your heating on for will depend on your lifestyle, circumstances and health condition.
Co-founder of boiler installation company Heatable, Ben Price (opens in new tab), says: “The amount of time heating should be on each day is dependent on a variety of factors, such as whether anyone is in the house, the time of year, how quickly the house heats up and the type of heating system being used.
“On average, most people who work a typical 9 to 5 job will set their heating to come on in the early morning for a few hours and be turned off until they arrive home in the evening, this averages around 8 hours a day. However, for those at home throughout the day, it’s best to try and limit the number of hours you have the heating on.”
With energy prices the highest they have ever been, the key message this year, in order to keep bills as low as possible, is to only use your heating when you need it.
While there is no law against leaving your heating on all day and night, with energy prices as they are, this will be hugely expensive. (Remember that the £2,500 figure that has been widely publicised as part of the Energy Price Guarantee is not a maximum you will pay regardless of how much energy you use. This figure is illustrative based on typical use in a typical house. If you use more energy than 'typical' you will easily pay more than £2,500 per year for your energy).
If you find your home doesn't retain the heat, it's worth looking into any grants or schemes (opens in new tab) you may qualify for that will help you to improve your home's insulation to prevent heat from escaping too easily or to swap your boiler for a more efficient one.
When should your heating come on?
For most people, the peak times for central heating are 7am and 7pm, but ultimately when you put the heating on will depend on your lifestyle and circumstances.
According to Ovo Energy (opens in new tab), around 70% of households tend to programme their heating to come on twice a day, and turning it on for an extra hour when it is especially cold. This works especially well for those who are out during the main part of the day to avoid heating the home unnecessarily.
James Clerk, technical training manager at smart heating system Wiser (opens in new tab), says: “We would recommend having the heating off or on a setback temperature when you are sleeping, popping the heating on for an hour in the morning around the time you get up and for a couple of hours during the evening. This ensures your property stays comfortable and temperatures don’t drop too low.”
For those home during the day, it's still best to avoid having your heating on constantly. You could try having your heating coming on first thing in the morning (ideally about half an hour before you normally get up), once in the middle of the day and for a couple of hours in the evening. You might also find it beneficial to turn off radiators in any spare rooms to ensure you are only generating heat in the rooms you use.
In terms of when you should put your heating on for the first time after the warmer months, there isn’t a singular moment when all customers switch on. According to British Gas, the majority of people switch on their heating when the minimum daily temperature is below 9°C for a prolonged number of days. The date that people typically switch on their heating is 24 October.
Where you can, especially on milder days, try and opt for alternative ways to stay warm, including using a blanket or wearing an extra layer.
In the evenings, you could choose an electric blanket, which costs less to run than your central heating, but can still keep you toasty warm. (Check out our guide to how much it costs to run an electric blanket (opens in new tab) to find out what kind of costs you're looking at).
Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Unfortunately, it's not cheaper to leave your heating on low on day instead of programming it to come on as and when you need it. This is especially the case in homes that are less well insulated, where heat escapes more easily.
Founder of online boiler specialist BOXT, Andy Kerr (opens in new tab), says: “It is a myth that leaving your heating switched on all the time will help you save money on your energy bills. This is not the case, as your boiler will be continually using energy. Instead, it is much more energy-efficient and cheaper to set your boiler so it only fires up when you require warm water or heating, and only set your thermostat to the temperature you want your home to be. Cranking the thermostat up more won’t make the system heat up any faster, but will mean it continues burning energy for longer to reach that higher temperature.
“The constant burning of fuel to heat your home will not only result in energy being used but also energy being lost. In a standard home, heat loss can be quite significant compared to the heat you’re putting into it through your boiler and radiators, although if your home is well insulated, heat loss shouldn’t be too much of a concern.”
If you're looking to keep energy bills as low as possible, try turning your thermostat down by a single degree. This can save 10% on your energy bill according to the Energy Saving Trust (opens in new tab).
Andy Kerr from BOXT (opens in new tab) adds: “It’s generally advised to keep the thermostat set to a minimum of at least 10°C to avoid the risk of your pipes freezing.”
What's the ideal room temperature?
The ideal temperature at home, which is the lowest at which you can be comfortable is between 18 and 21°C, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
The World Health Organisation also states in its Housing, Energy and Thermal Comfort report (opens in new tab) that an 'adequate standard of warmth' for healthy adults in appropriate clothing is a minimum of 18°C in occupied rooms in the UK.
Overnight, while tucked under your duvet, you may not need temperatures to remain as high as 18°C to be comfortable. But for babies, The Lullaby Trust (opens in new tab) does advise that the best room temperature is 16-20°C to keep your baby comfortable and safe. This temperature is recommended by Pampers (opens in new tab) too.
Andy Kerr from BOXT says: “Instead of setting one temperature across the whole day, try switching between daytime and nightime temperatures, as this may make you more comfortable at home and also reduce your energy usage. Smart thermostats make this especially easy to program.”
But what happens should the temperature in your home fall below recommended temperatures? According to a 1996 study from housing expert Richard Moore, there are health risks associated with temperatures that fall either side of the recommended ideal.
- Anything less than 9°C – Risk of hypothermia
- 9-12°C – Risk of strokes, heart attacks
- 12-16°C – Risk of respiratory diseases
- 16-18°C – Discomfort, small health risks
- 18-21°C – Comfortable temperatures
- 21-24°C – Increasing discomfort
- 24°C and above – Cardiovascular risk of strokes and heart attacks
But remember there are plenty of cheap ways to keep warm (opens in new tab). Using blankets, hot water bottles and extra layers can help you to warm up (we've done the sums to see which is cheaper to use - an electric blanket or a hot water bottle (opens in new tab)), but sometimes only your central heating will warm your home up adequately.
Remember if you are struggling to pay your energy bills (opens in new tab), help is available. Speak to your energy provider in the first instance who will be able to give you bespoke advice to lower or help you pay your bills.