Most of us don’t really think about how our boilers or pipes until they breakdown and we are living in boiler breakdown hell! Then we call our heating cover provider or a qualified heating engineer to fix the problem. This guide offers a very basic guide to how we use Gas to heat our homes.
Humans have been controlling the heat in the environment around them ever since the invention of fire. We have now lost most of our hair and are dependent on external heat sources. So unless your house is a super insulated passive house with heat exchange and no drafts, you will need to heat your house during winter. There are a number of ways to do this, but by far the most popular in the UK is Gas Heating.
Obviously Gas is not warm in it’s own right, but it is a combustible fossil fuel – So if we burn it we get heat. Now we could end there (We burn gas, we get heat) as per a Gas fire, but a Gas fire in every room is not a practical (or safe) way for a modern family to heat their house (you couldn’t have an open flame in a child’s bedroom!). To move beyond a straight forward fire, central heating and the boiler was invented.
Boilers burn Gas in a controlled environment and through a heat exchange mechanism they remove the heat that would otherwise be lost into the atmosphere. As a bi-product of this heat extraction Carbon Dioxide and other gases are created. These need to be vented away as some are noxious and would harm us if we breathed them in. This venting is done via a flue, which takes the gases from the point of combustion to outside the property.
Obviously boilers are great in their own right as they are safer than simple Gas fires, but without a mechanism to move the heat around the house you would need a boiler in every room. This is why we need radiators.
Radiators are effectively giant hollow metal tubes which are connected together using metal (cooper) or plastic pipes. They have a very wide surface area to enable them to loose heat – Air is obviously a poor conductor of heat so radiators need to heat the widest area of air possible to heat a room. When the radiator is filled with hot water (which has been heated by the boiler) it disperses heat into the atmosphere (the room) and heats it.
These are the basics of central heating (Boiler releases natural energy in Gas and the heat is moved to the places we want it through hot water in pipes and radiators). There are a few other elements we expect to see in a modern central heating system, but they are more to do with us being lazy than a necessity. Things like a thermostat. We could very easily get up and down to turn on and off our central heating every time we want a boost of warmth, but most of us prefer the a thermostat to tell the boiler it is too cold and produce more heat. Equally we could get up a little bit early and turn on the boiler to generate hot water for a shower, but most of us prefer a timer (so we get that extra time in bed)!
As with all things there are cons to the many pros offered by central heating. Burning natural Gas creates other poisonous gases. We vent these through a flue, but we also need a plan B. If you have Gas appliances in your house you should get a Carbon Monoxide detector fitted (which will warn you in case of a gas leak). We also need to ensure our boiler is service regularly (annually) to ensure it is safe. This can only be done by a professional (Gas Safe Registered Engineer). You can find one in the phone book, although you can also get your service included as part of your boiler or heating cover.
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