When is the best time to put the central heating on?

Is there a right time to put the central heating on and should you just leave it on low all day to save money on heating?

Woman turning on the radiator
(Image credit: Getty)

As temperatures stay low and energy prices stay high, you may be asking: when is the best time to put the central heating on?

According to the Office for National Statistics, electricity prices rose by 6.7% in the year to August 2023. 

Under the latest energy price cap set at £1,928 for average use (your actual bill is determined by how much energy you use) households are paying around 5% more from January to March 2024 - from the October to December cap. This does not mean you will necessarily be paying less on your energy bill, as the fall is in unit price and not your total bill. How much you pay depends on your energy usage. 

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So how can you save on energy costs and what is the best way to heat your home? 

When should you put the heating on?

There’s no right answer to what month you should switch on your central heating as it will depend on the weather and, of course, how much you feel the cold. But most of us will wait as long as possible before pumping up that thermostat.

Ryan Collier, a heating engineer and director of Heat Pump Source, says most people should think about turning their heating on when the average outside temperature starts to fall below 15 degrees Celsius – this is typically late September or early October.

Should you leave your heating on low all day?

According to the Energy Saving Trust, despite what you might think, it is usually not cheaper to leave the heating on low all day.

Leaving your heating on low all day uses more energy as your home generally loses a certain amount of heat throughout the day – just how much is lost depends on the quality of insulation that you have.

If your house is well insulated, there is an argument for leaving the heating on low all day – but just be sure it’s not escaping from windows or walls. The best thing to do here is to test it out – if you can remain at a comfortable temperature all day without the heating going on and off all day, then it may well be the right move for you.

Keep your heating on low for a full week and then, in the second week, schedule the heating to come on twice a day. Keep tabs on the difference in your energy usage by using a smart meter, if you have one, or by checking your meter reading.

The Energy Saving Trust stresses that, in the long run, only putting the heating on when you need is usually the best practice for keeping energy costs low.

What time of day should you put your heating on?

There are times when you are less likely to need the heating on, such as when you are asleep or out of the house.

“I would recommend turning your heating off at night, or when you are not at home, as this will help to save energy and lower your bills,” says Collier.

Temperatures are lower first thing in the morning and once the sun goes down; this is when you are most likely to want the heating on. Scheduling heating to come on just before you get in from a day out or from the office can be helpful.

Working from home? Then it could be worth just heating a single room where you do all of your work. That way you won’t be spending money heating empty rooms.

What temperature should a room be?

We all have different comfort levels, but the Energy Saving Trust suggests that a temperature of 18-21ºC during winter is comfortable for most people. Age UK recommends 21°C for elderly people and the Lullaby Trust advises around 16 to 20°C for newborn babies. 

It’s also worth noting that simply turning your thermostat down by 1°C can save you over £100 a year, according to energy experts.

Gas and electricity bills

(Image credit: © Getty Images)

What is the most cost-efficient way to heat a room?

If your home is properly insulated, then it will keep the warmth in, meaning you can go easy on the heating.

Worried about heat escaping? Try draught excluders for windows and doors.

If you live alone or are the only one at home, it could be cheaper to use a fan heater or oil heater for a burst of heat. It’s also worth looking into the health of your boiler. As your boiler ages, it becomes less efficient as it will need to be on longer to heat your home. Make sure you get it serviced regularly to ensure it is working at an optimum level.

Vaishali Varu
Staff Writer

Vaishali has a background in personal finance and a passion for helping people manage their finances. As a staff writer for MoneyWeek, Vaishali covers the latest news, trends and insights on property, savings and ISAs.

She also has bylines for the U.S. personal finance site Kiplinger.com and Ideal Home, GoodTo, inews, The Week and the Leicester Mercury

Before joining MoneyWeek, Vaishali worked in marketing and copywriting for small businesses. Away from her desk, Vaishali likes to travel, socialise and cook homely favourites