Last updated: 18/07/2023 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
How warm should I keep my home?
Britons devote two-thirds of our domestic energy consumption, and half of our energy bills, to heating our living spaces. Are we overspending? And if so, how can we cut that down?
In This Guide:
- How much are people spending on heating their home?
- Historic averages
- Health requirements
- Heat your homes smart
- So what's the ideal temperature?
How much are people spending on heating their home?
Switching energy suppliers should be your first step if you're looking to cut down your monthly spend. But even with the cheapest tariff, overspending on heating is easy.
The typical home heated with a gas boiler-and 85% of ours are-spends £550 a year keeping its rooms warm in the winter, while those with oil boilers will spend £700 attaining the same temperatures. The same home with electric storage heaters, on an Economy 7 tariff, with cheaper electricity at night, will spend £900 to staying warm.
But those are average figures: prefer to keep your home at a balmy 22°C all through January and February, even when snow starts to fall, and you'll pay significantly more. For every degree you turn up your thermostat, you're adding around £80 to the cost of heating a typical, gas-heated three-bed semi detached home, according to figures from the Energy Savings Trust. Other studies have shown that dialling down your thermostat just one degree Celsius can shave 10% of your annual energy bills.
But in many households, temperature is a deeply contentious issue, causing many rows between the energy-conscious penny pinchers and the sticky-fingered thermostat twisters.
And as climate change compels us to transform our energy supplies and conserve kilowatt hours even as it delivers harsher winters, the temperature to which we heat our homes has become an issue with larger implications than just icy family dinners and shock energy bills.
Who's right? Those comfortable at 17°C or people who need it to be 21°C at all times (and no, putting on a jumper won't help)? The ones who watch the thermostat and their energy bills like hawks, looking for any extra pence spent on heating or any extra carbon emissions and complicity in global warming? Or the ones who don't care about cost or climate, just as long as they can wear a vest and shorts all winter long?
Let's resolve the debate, with some advice from experts and history.
The average room temperature in the winter UK is now 18°C, but that's a standard of comfort our parents and grandparents wouldn't have expected. In the 1970s, before the widespread diffusion of central heating and better insulation standards, average room temperature in the UK through winter was a chilly 12°C. And for centuries before that, when we relied on fireplaces, Britons were coping with even colder temperatures.
But although it was standard just decades ago and will really wake you up in the morning, cold rooms aren't just merely unpleasant. They can also be dangerous, especially for the elderly and those in poor health. Cold temperatures can increase the likelihood-and severity-of colds, influenza, and respiratory problems-you really can "catch a cold" from going outside without a hat, or sitting in a freezing living room. It's less commonly known that the cold can also raise blood pressure, putting people at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that a room temperature of 18°C is suitable for most people, provided they are adequately dressed. The NHS has suggested that anyone who is under 65, healthy, and active can dial down their thermostats below 18°C, as long as they remain comfortable.
However, the old, young, and anyone who is unwell should ideally live in rooms heated to no less than 21°C. And anyone who can not afford to heat their homes to an adequate standard-defined as 21°C in the main living room and 18°C in other occupied rooms-is said to be in fuel poverty.
And increasing number of Britons, many of them elderly, fall into that category. 2.55 million households in England-11.1%-of the total live in fuel poverty. A survey recently found that more than one in four (28%) Britons have admitted to living in cold homes because they can't afford to heat them. Age UK found that three million Britons over 65 are concerned about staying warm in their homes over the winter.
These poorly heated rooms contribute to thousands of excess deaths each year in Britain: climate think tank E3G and fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) released data suggesting that in the cold winter of 2018, >cold housing conditions were implicated in 17,00 deaths twice as many as the previous winter. Britain has the sixth highest rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, with many attributed to poorly heated homes.
In fact, "cold homes are a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, drug abuse or alcohol abuse," according to Maria Wardrobe, director of National Energy Action.
Heat your homes smart
Although are homes are measured at an average of 18°C, we're cranking our thermostats on average up to 20°C to achieve those temperatures. This is because many British homes are poorly insulated: a third of our homes have old-style solid walls, which typically sieve 45% of the heat of a home. And heat also escapes through poorly insulated roofs and single-glazed windows. In fact, the government has estimated that we're collectively wasting £500 million a year heating air that escapes through badly-insulated walls and roofs.
Good insulation, double-glazing, and draught-blocking can help maintain temperatures in your home, meaning your boiler doesn't have to work as hard and expend as much energy, and your home will feel more comfortable at lower temperatures.
Smart thermostats, timers, and making use of radiator valves can give you better control over your heating, ensuring you're only heating the rooms you need, when you need them. To save money, try dialling down temperatures in your kitchen when you're cooking, and keeping your bedroom chilly overnight and using a high-tog duvet and water bottle. You can then schedule your heating to kick in just before you wake up, so you can actually crawl out from underneath that duvet.
So what's the ideal temperature?
It depends on your age, health, the insulation of your home, and ultimately your personal preference and comfort. Some frugal environmental activists report living comfortably at homes heated to a bracing 13°C. But not everyone will be happy at those temperatures.
We'd recommend to aim for 18°C if you're healthy, but experiment at lower temperatures, especially at night: it could save money on your energy bills.