Intermittent Or Constant: What's The Cheapest Way To Heat A Home?

Typically, the cheapest way to heat a home isn't necessarily the most comfortable. Image credit: Zvone /

Winter is coming for the Northern Hemisphere, bringing chilly mornings, crisp days, and cold snaps. Keeping your home warm during this time can be an unending battle between your cold tolerance and your bank balance. So, what is the cheapest way to heat a home without finding yourself frozen at your desk: short sharp blasts, or a low heat all day?

The answer really depends on your priorities, are you after all-day comfort or the most cost-effective way to get by?

Cheapest way to heat a home

According to the Energy Saving Trust, a British organization committed to energy conservation, the long-held myth that letting your heating trundle on all day at a lower heat is cheaper than switching it off and on again is indeed just that: a myth.

The cheapest way to heat a home is – and it seems obvious now – only having it on when you need it. That might mean setting a timer so it comes on just before you get out of bed and is off while you’re at the office, or simply activating the boiler when you find yourself getting chilly throughout the day if you work from home.

The clincher between the two approaches (all day vs intermittent) is that even well-insulated homes are always losing some heat. If you have your heating on for short blasts versus a marathon, you’re losing less heat overall.

All-day comfort

Finding the best way to heat your home is something of a Goldilocks conundrum, however, as the cheapest way to heat a home is, typically, not going to be the most comfortable. Short sharp bursts of heat when you need them may be the cost-effective way to stop your belongings from freezing – but the approach invites periods of cool which, upon sudden warming, can generate condensation.

This also means that you’re going to be a little chilly as you wait for the welcome warmth to get going, something that wouldn’t be a factor if you left the heating on all day at a lower temperature. The best approach for this is to crank your radiator valves to the highest setting while having your boiler output to a minimum, keeping things cheap, dry and lukewarm.

A statistician's SOLUTION

Scientists at the University of Southampton had a stab at the problem in a paper published in 2011, searching for a way of adaptively controlling a home heating system to try and reduce cost and carbon emissions at the same time using a smart grid. Their “home energy management agent” was programmed to learn the thermal properties of a home and employ the help of Gaussian processes to try and guess what was going to happen with the weather the following day. The kit then provided real-time feedback to the homeowner regarding their outgoing finances and carbon emission, allowing them to adjust their heating preferences accordingly.

Alternatively, you could just grab a blanket and a hot water bottle.

[H/T: Lad Bible]


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