Home Improvement

Types of Central Heating Systems and How They Work

Picture this – it’s a cold winter day. You’ve cuddled up on the sofa with a soft blanket and a nice cup of tea, enjoying the warmth inside your home. You probably have your central heating to thank for that comfort and protection from the chill outside. Maybe you’re just wondering how it all works, or perhaps you want to know what types of central heating systems there are. Well, then read on! This article is for you.

Table of Contents:
  • Want to know what type of heating is best for your home?
  • Wondering “What type of central heating do I have”?
  • Want to find out what the different types of central heating are?

If that sounds like you – you’re in luck! This article has the answers.

Wet Heating Systems

Wet systems are the most popular type of central heating in the UK, used by over 90% of households.

This kind of system uses a fuel-burning boiler to heat water. The hot water travels through the house via a network of pipes, either buried under the floors or passing through the walls, reaching your radiators. Once it has passed through each one, the water makes its way back to the boiler to be reheated, and the cycle continues. This gives your radiators the heat they need to warm your house up and provides your taps and showers with hot water.

With wet central heating types, you will probably have a standard or a combination boiler, the latter being more popular. While standard boilers require a hot water cylinder for storage, combi boilers provide instant hot water and are considered more efficient.

Several types of fuel may power your boiler: gas, oil, LPG, or solid fuel. Let’s look at each of them in more detail!


Gas is undoubtedly the most common type of heating system. Its price and convenience, along with the efficiency of modern boilers, makes it the top choice for many households. With this central heating type, natural gas is transported to your water heater through the gas distribution network. The boiler then burns that fuel to heat the water that travels through the system.

However, not all homes can benefit from this type of central heating. Unfortunately, many households aren’t connected to the gas grid. Installing a new heating system from scratch can be costly and disruptive, so many choose alternative types of heating.


  • Cheaper than other types
  • Upgrading your boiler is simple
  • Gas does not need to be stored
  • Modern boilers are efficient


  • You need a connection to the gas grid
  • Installing a gas central heating system can be disruptive
  • Gas is not a clean source of energy
  • Prices are on the rise


For many families that don’t have a gas grid connection, heating oil can be a great alternative. This type of central heating works in a similar way to natural gas, but the fuel itself gets delivered to your property in a truck. This means you need to store oil on site. To do that, you may need to rent or buy an oil storage tank from your supplier. Oil central heating systems are generally cheap to run, the price being close to that of gas.


  • Cheaper than most types
  • Efficient
  • Replacing your boiler is easy
  • A good alternative if you don’t have a gas grid connection


  • Fuel needs to be stored on site
  • You may need to rent or buy a storage tank
  • Prices fluctuate often
  • The storage tank needs annual servicing
  • Oil is not a clean source of energy


LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is another alternative to mains gas. It shares some similarities with oil heating systems, in that the fuel is delivered to you and needs to be stored on site. One significant difference is the price of running this type of heating system. The costs are much higher than those of natural gas or oil, being closer to those of electric heaters.


  • Efficient
  • An excellent alternative to mains gas
  • Replacing your boiler is easy


  • Fuel needs to be stored on-site
  • You may need to rent or buy a storage tank
  • More expensive than other types
  • LPG is not a clean source of energy

Solid Fuel

This refers to water heaters that burn coal or biomass (for example, wood chips). These types of central heating systems often use back boilers, which are now dated and rarely used. While some say that biomass-burning systems are sustainable, the emissions can be polluting and therefore are not considered a clean source of heat. Solid fuel burners also require cleaning out daily, which can be a hassle.

Electric Storage Heaters

This is perhaps the second most common type of central heating. Storage heaters are wired into the house’s electric system. They use the off-peak electricity at night to warm up heat-retaining bricks, placed inside the radiators. The bricks store that heat and release it during the day.

Most storage heaters can be used as standard ones, too, and you can switch them on at will. Since they use night electricity on the Economy 7 or 10 tariffs, the energy usage bills are not as high as if you were to use the regular kind.

Installing this type of heating system is cheaper and more straightforward than the wet kind, since they call for much less effort and no pipework. However, the cost of running electric central heating can be three to four times higher than that of gas.


  • Easier and less disruptive to install
  • No piping required
  • Mains electricity is widely available
  • Storage heaters can be used as regular ones as well


  • A lot more expensive to run
  • Daytime rates on Economy 7 and 10 tariffs are higher than on single-rate
  • Increase in gas prices reflects on electricity cost

Warm Air Systems

These types of central heating systems used to be common in the 70s and 80s, but have lost popularity in homes in recent years. They are still commonly used in commercial buildings in the UK, however. With warm air systems, the boiler heats the air and distributes it around the property through ducts and vents. These kinds of systems can be either gas or electric-powered.


  • Commonly used as a cooling system as well
  • Can be cheaper to run
  • Heats up your home quickly
  • Efficient


  • Many systems do not heat water
  • Installation prices can be higher
  • Retrofitting ducts into your home can be difficult
  • Moving air can be an issue for people with allergies

District Heating Systems

District central heating is only available in some regions of the UK. In these places, properties get their hot water and heat from a centralised heating source, such as a fuel-burning plant. Think of it as one big boiler that supplies the hot water to your neighbourhood. The water gets transported around the houses through insulated pipes that run under the streets.

This type of heating system has the advantage of being low-maintenance, as you don’t need to service or repair a boiler in your own home.

However, installing it can be costly. Another downside is that the properties must be close together and can’t be branched out at great distances.


  • Pay for what you use
  • More efficient
  • Low-maintenance


  • Heat can leak if pipe insulation is faulty
  • Only available in certain areas
  • Expensive to install for the first time
  • Properties must be close together

Are you thinking of getting a central heating system installed?

Choosing the best type of central heating system can be difficult. Why not get a professional opinion? Make sure you’ve made the right choice and that your home will stay warm and cosy during those cold months.

Fantastic Services offers a full installation service, including fitting your boiler, radiator installation, and cleaning up after the job. Also, you can subscribe to our boiler or heating system cover plan. Leave all the hard work to the certified specialists and enjoy the perfect central heating system for your property!

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  • Wet central heating systems use water to heat your property.
  • Electric storage heaters are easier to install, but much more expensive to run.
  • Warm air systems are mostly used in commercial buildings.
  • District heating is only available in certain areas.
  • The best type of central heating will depend on your home, location, and budget.


Did this article help you? What type of central heating system do you have in your home? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Image source: Shutterstock / Peter Gudella

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