Bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms can be kept at a lower temperature than living areas such as lounges and studies. Ideally, any home heating system should be set up with at least 2 individually-adjustable temperature zones.
There are two broad approaches to heating a home: heat the air in the home, or heat the contents of the home (including the people). Generally, heating the home and its contents will give less condensation and a less stuffy feel than heating the air alone. The most effective way to heat the contents of a home is to warm the floor. The next most effective way is to warm the ceiling.
Underfloor heating is most easily achieved when a home is being built, but retro-fitting can be done in some cases. The most flexible method is to bury hot water pipes in an insulated concrete foundation slab. The water can be heated using gas, a diesel boiler, solar panels or a heat pump. See our Hydronic heating article for more information.
A popular variation is under-tile heating. Here, electric cables are laid between the existing floor and ceramic tiles. This method is useful anywhere tile floors are laid, including existing homes. To keep running costs down, a thermostat with an additional sensor buried in the tile floor is desirable.
Underfloor heating has one potential disadvantage. If a fault develops with the water piping or electric cable, it's a major problem to fix. Use the best components available.
Ducted central heating
Another option for the whole house is ducted central heating. A gas or diesel central heating unit, or a heat pump, is mounted under the floor, in the attic space or outside the house, and warm air is ducted to the various rooms. These systems can be set up with multi-zone controllers that allow some rooms to be kept at a higher temperature than others, and different temperatures at different times of the day. An advantage of ducted systems is the heating unit is not in the living space – only the duct grilles are visible in the rooms.
Woodburners and pellet burners
Modern, high-output woodburners and pellet burners can heat an open-plan house well. While they're generally less suitable for older style homes with separate, smaller rooms, there are a couple of ways you can set them up to heat a whole house. One is to buy a wet-back heat exchanger for the fire. This can be connected to water-filled radiators in other parts of the house. While effective, it is expensive.
Much cheaper is a ducted heat transfer system that pumps hot air from the room where the woodburner or pellet burner is, to cooler parts of the house.
Use a heating engineer
We strongly recommend you use an experienced heating engineer if you're thinking of getting a heating system for your whole house. Ask how long they have been in business, and if they will provide a certificate of compliance for any electrical work.
Make sure you have a clear description on the size and complexity of the job – you may require a consent from your local authority. That way you are likely to get a system that performs well, and you will have some comeback if things go wrong.