Storage heaters: what they are, and how they work

Storage heaters are a type of electric heater, usually found in homes that don’t have a gas supply.

They’re designed to work with a 2 rate tariff, to make use of cheaper, overnight electricity rates. Overnight they absorb and store up energy – typically in ceramic or clay bricks inside the heater. This energy can then be used to heat your home the following day. 

Unlike radiators, that have columns or panels, a storage heater tends to be a box attached to the wall. It might look a bit like this:

A white box mounted on the wall, with a grey horizontal panel running across the front at the top for the air vents

Storage heaters come with ‘input’ and ‘output’ controls

Storage heaters typically have an ‘input’ and an ‘output’ control:

  • input - controls how much energy you want to store up overnight
  • output - controls how much heat you want to give out throughout the day

Getting the balance right between the 2 controls will determine how much energy your storage heaters use, and how effective they are at heating your home.

Older storage heaters have manual controls 

On older storage heaters, the input and output controls are usually found on top of the heater, or down the side. They might look a bit like this: 

Two dials with the numbers 1 to 6 on them, one dial says ‘input’, the other says ‘output’

You should adjust the controls throughout the year, to avoid using more energy than you need during the summer. And to make sure the heaters are storing enough heat to last you through the day. 

Some storage heaters also come with a ‘boost’ setting, to give you an extra blast of heat if you need it. However, giving your home a ‘boost’ of heat often uses peak-time electricity, rather than the energy stored in your heater from overnight. 

If you have more than one storage heater, you can control each one individually.

‘Input’ controls how much energy to store up overnight

The numbers on the input control typically run from 1 (low) to 6 (high). The higher the number, the more energy your heater will store overnight, and the more electricity it will use.

You’ll need to store up more energy during the winter nights, to make sure you’ve got enough heat to last throughout the next day. So, when it starts to get cold, keep the input dial at somewhere between 4 and 6. 

In spring and autumn, keep the input dial somewhere between 1 and 3. You won’t need the heating on as much during the day by then, so you don’t need to store up as much energy overnight. 

An illustration of a dial pointing at the number 5 during the winter, and 2 during the spring

If you find your home isn’t getting warm enough, or you haven’t got enough heat to last you throughout the day, try turning the input dial up a little further overnight.

Over the summer, if it’s warm enough, you might not need any heating on at all. If that’s the case, switch your storage heater off at the wall. This will stop it from absorbing energy overnight, as well giving out heat during the day.

‘Output’ controls how much heat to give out during the day

During the day, turn the output control up or down to heat your home as and when you need to. 

The higher you turn it up, the warmer it’ll feel. But by doing that, you’ll also be using up more of your stored energy.

By gradually releasing heat throughout the day at a low setting of about 1 or 2, you should have enough to turn it up in the evening, when it’s usually a bit colder.

An illustrations of three dials - in the morning it points at 4, during the day it points at 2, and in the evening it points at 5Example schedule: Turn the dial to 4 to give your home a quick boost of heat in the morning. Keep it between 1 and 2 throughout the day. Turn it up to 5 at night if it gets a bit cold.

If you’ll be out during the day, remember to turn the output control right down before you leave, to avoid using up more energy than you need.

Always turn the output control down to 1 before you go to bed. Heating up your house overnight will cost more money. It’ll also use up more of your stored energy, so there’ll be less available for the next day.

Newer storage heaters come with automatic controls 

Newer storage heaters tend to be more efficient at heating up homes. And you don’t need to fiddle with them as much to get the settings right.

Some models come with a thermostat, making it easy to control the temperature of the room. And some come with built-in sensors. Over time, these heaters automatically learn the ‘ideal’ amount of energy to store overnight, and when to heat your home during the day. 

Keep the space in front of your storage heater clear

Don’t put anything in the way of your heater that might block or absorb the heat, like curtains or furniture. Curtains will absorb the heat and reroute it to the window, where it’ll be lost. 

Turn off your storage heaters when you go on holiday

If you’re going on holiday, to avoid paying for more energy than you’ll actually be using, turn your storage heaters off at the wall. 

However, if you’re going away during the winter, you might want to consider keeping them on a low setting while you’re gone, to avoid returning home to a cold house. 

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