During colder months, many people typically crank up their thermostats to keep themselves warm. While it seems like the most sensible thing to do, did you know that you could be raising the thermostat too high and ultimately costing you more money to stay warm?
This is generally caused by your boiler exerting too much energy just to move water around your household. Since a single pump needs to deliver hot water to multiple systems, it ultimately wastes energy and this can result in what’s called an unbalanced heating system. So in this post, we’re going to explain what a balanced heating system is and also how to achieve it by simply making a few changes to your radiators.
What exactly is an unbalanced heating system?
An unbalanced heating system means that your rooms are being heated up at different rates. This can be caused by a number of different things, but you’ll most likely notice it if you spend a lot of time in a single room and adjust the thermostat based on those conditions.
For example, if you spend a lot of time in the living room and aim for a temperature of 20°C, then you’ll probably set your thermostat to 20°C as well. However, if you notice that your bedroom is much hotter at 24°C and your basement is colder at 18°C, then it’s a sign that you may have an unbalanced heating system.
Here are the main symptoms to look for that show you have an unbalanced heating system:
- Some rooms get hotter than others when you turn on your central heating
- Rooms might take longer to reach the desired temperature than others
- You notice large differences in room temperatures
- Your thermostat needs to be set much higher or lower to reach your desired temperature
If you notice any of these symptoms, then it’s a good idea to consider trying to balance your heating system.
Why should I bother balancing my heating system?
Some people will ultimately notice some minor issues with their heating system and they won’t think much of it. They might blame the location of their thermostat or they might attribute factors like a draft or lack of sun to temperature changes.
However, the reality is that if your heating system is actually unbalanced, it could be costing you a lot of money. Even a single degree of difference can be close to £80 extra per year in heating costs. When you consider that some rooms could be several degrees apart, you’ll realize that you could be saving a lot of money.
What could be causing my heating system to be unbalanced?
There are actually a number of different factors that could be contributing to an unbalanced heating system.
One of the most common is a misuse of Thermostatic Radiator Valves, also known as TRVs. These are the circular valves that are on the ends of your radiator. They typically have numbers that go from 0 to 5 and can be used to control the temperature of your radiator. If these are not adjusted correctly or have wildly different values, then it could lead to heating balance issues.
Another common reason is the presence of a blockage in your radiators. This can be caused by old systems that could be developing sludge or debris, making it difficult for the hot water to reach your radiator.
Lastly, your heating system might be unbalanced due to the recent removal or replacement of a radiator. If not installed correctly, it could impact the balance of your heating system.
How do I balance my radiators?
First, we suggest checking that your heating system is actually unbalanced by following these steps:
- You should start by turning off the heating system and letting it cool completely.
- Once it has cooled you should bleed your radiators to remove any air which has collected in them since it can cause the radiator to heat unevenly. For more information and instructions visit our guide to bleeding radiators.
- You should familiarise yourself with the valves on your radiators – these may differ between radiators of different ages and models. Generally a lockshield valve will have a cover – remove these covers and open all of these valves fully by turning them anticlockwise. You will also need to open the thermostatic radiator valves (TRV’s) to full. Whilst wheelhead and thermostatic valves can be turned by hand, lockshield valves will need a special adjustor or adjustable spanner to do the job.
- From here you may want to grab a pen and paper or create a spreadsheet and make a list of all the radiators in your home.
- Turn the heating back on and write down the order in which the radiators start to heat up – it’s likely that the ones nearest the boiler will be first. This will give you an indication of the order in which hot water reaches each radiator, numbering them can make the process a little simpler.
- You can then turn the heating back off and wait for the system to cool once again.
- Turn the heating back on and go to the radiator on your list which heated up first.
- You can then turn the lockshield valve clockwise until closed and then open it again by one-quarter of a turn.
- Once the radiator has heated up you will need to take the temperature of the pipe leading to one of the valves and note this down.
- Now take the temperature of the pipe leading to the other valve on the radiator. Then open the lockshield valve gradually until there is a 12 degree Celsius difference between this and the last temperature you took.
- Now repeat this for each of the radiators in your home and this should result in a balanced system.
If they are heating up evenly then there are other factors affecting your room temperatures. However, if they are heating up at different rates, then it’s worth calling in a professional heating engineer to help you balance your system.
In most cases, the engineer will repeat the same test you did but with more precision. After confirming you have an unbalanced heating system, the engineer will then drain the system to remove any air pockets and examine them for debris or sludge. They will then refill the systems with the valves fully open, then manually adjust them to restrict the flow of water so that all radiators in your home heat up at an even rate.
The result should be a balanced heating system that no longer costs you extra money each year. While the cost of this service averages around £150, you’ll ultimately recuperate those savings in as little as a year if you have an extremely unbalanced heating system.
We hope this guide has helped you with your heating. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a heating engineer, you can find out further information here. We also have a range of plumbing courses aimed at both experienced engineers and new entrants.