Building works inside a home

Changing central heating systems during home renovations

We tend not to think about our central heating and boiler, as long as they work and we have heat and hot water when we need it. But central heating systems that are over ten years old may be inefficient or, at worst, dangerous. The oldest types of heating systems may even have been converted or adapted to make them work with newer radiators or pipework installed at later times. While this might have saved the homeowner money initially, after the passage of a decade, it is not likely to be more efficient than a new fully integrated system – and might even be costing you money every month through wasted heat or water.

If you are renovating your home, why not bite the bullet at the same time and change your central heating system at the same time?

The beauty about combining a house renovation with a central heating refit is that you can start from scratch and tailor your system to suit the needs of your household: making sure that rooms that need to be warm are well heated, and removing it where it is wasted or unnecessary. For example, older homes tend to have a hallway radiator, but these are often no longer needed thanks to clever modern building methods that help to retain heat without needing to actively counteract draughts and chills.

What’s involved in changing a central heating system?

To change your central heating system, you must be prepared for a fair amount of disruption. Central heating systems use a boiler to heat water, that is then passed through pipework and introduced into radiators. These three facets make up the system: boiler, radiator, pipes, and if you want a full refurbishment, the boiler will need to be changed, the radiators removed and replaced, and the pipework uncovered, removed, and replaced. You will need to find out new boiler prices along with boiler installation costs before your made your final decisions about upgrading central heating in your home.

Do I have to replace my radiators when I change my boiler?

This depends on the radiators you currently have in place. If you have fairly modern radiators in excellent condition, then you can keep these in place or have them moved if that is what you want to do. Otherwise, if your radiators are old, beginning to corrode or tarnish, or are made from heavy, thick metal, then yes, new ones might be called for. Often modern versions of such appliances are more efficient than their older counterparts and they look better besides, adding a nice aesthetic value to the home.

There are some other advantages to changing your radiators when you are upgrading central heating: A major advantage is that you can place them exactly where you want them. Sometimes, in older homes, radiators are fitted into awkward places that no longer make sense in modern homes. Another is the chance to see how materials have changed – most radiators are now white steel rather than heavy, dull grey iron: but you can also have modern aluminium, or specially treated and painted traditional cast iron (if, for example, you are aiming for a retro look), or you could even swap out your bathroom radiator for a towel heater for a little decadence at bath-time!

How long does it take to install a new heating system?

If your home is fairly straightforward and you can vacate the property while the work is done and have all the furniture moved to allow the workmen clear access for the duration of the process, then it should take anywhere from three to five days. If you want to live in and use your home while the work is ongoing, it could take up to two weeks, maybe more.

The boiler installation process is usually:

  • Install boiler
  • Install radiators (removing old ones if necessary)
  • Fit pipework from boiler to radiators and bathroom
  • Fit controls for radiators
  • Fit controls for boiler (but do not activate it yet)
  • Water is flushed through the pipes and the radiators are filled and allowed to vent
  • Boiler is switched on and testing of the whole system takes place

What are the benefits of replacing my central heating while I’m upgrading my home?

Having free access to your walls, floor and ceilings allows you to make dramatic changes to your home from a décor and a better choice in types of heating systems point of view simultaneously.

Underfloor heating

There are two types of underfloor heating. Electric powered heating involves laying a heat emitting cable under the floor surface and wiring this into the mains. ‘Wet’ underfloor heating involves laying a network of water pipes under the floorboards. The latter method is more expensive to install, but is cheaper to run and more reliable than the former. Underfloor heating is cheaper than radiators and you feel more of the benefit because heat rises. Wall radiators often send their heat into the walls as well as into the room.

Wood- or oil-burning stoves

Wood or oil burners attached to heating systems are growing in popularity too, as we become nostalgic for the sight of cheerful flames and a cosy seat by the fire.

Changing a boiler

Changing the boiler can save money and improve heat efficiency. Traditional boilers were massive, but they are now more efficient, using less space. You may be able to free up a cupboard by moving your boiler into the kitchen, under the stairs, or even into a storeroom or utility room. Modern boilers fall into three categories:

  • Combi boiler – small, heats water as needed so no need for water tank
  • Gravity feed – these need a big tank, must be kept up high and flow can be variable, but they are sturdy systems, and work well for a long time
  • High-Pressure Boiler – heats water rapidly but needs space for water tank. These boilers take the middle ground between the other two types

You can also incorporate renewal energy sources in your new-look home. Solar panels and wind power can be used in modern domestic homes. With these systems, if you produce more energy than you use, it feeds into the national grid and can actually make you some money. Ask your local authority about renewable incentives in your area before you commit to anything.

Read our boiler buying guide if you’re not sure about what type of boiler to get for your home.

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