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Should I replace my radiators with air conditioners?

Climate change and sustainability are big topics at the moment, and we are all seeking ways to do our bit. With countries across Europe and around the world working to reduce carbon emissions, everyone is being encouraged to seek other methods for things we have, until recently, taken for granted.

The biggest use of energy in European households is for home heating, which accounts for over 62%. A further 15% is used for our domestic water heating. It is clear then, that home heating is a key area where energy saving alternatives can make a big difference to our energy use and costs. Where once fossil fuel boilers and radiators were the popular choice, people are now turning to more modern technology such as heat pumps and air conditioners for heating their home.

This therefore raises the question, should we all be rushing out to replace our existing heating systems or is there an alternative way to improve sustainability without the huge expense and disruption of installing a complete new home heating system?

The impact of radiators on home heating

The premise of the present day hot water radiator system was invented by a Polish-born Russian, Franz San Galli, in the mid 1850s. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that radiators began to appear in wealthier homes across Europe. Not only installed for their practical purpose, the elegant cast iron radiator designs of this era were also part of the décor.

The modern central heating system that many of us are used to today didn’t become commonplace in Europe until the 1970s. The idea that not only one room, but the entire house could be heated to a comfortable temperature in winter was a new and exciting prospect that changed the concept of home heating.

Do radiators need replacing?

According to the 2021 Heating Market Report from the European Heating Industry, hydronic (water-based) heat emitters can be found in almost 130 million buildings across the EU, meaning most heating systems currently in use rely on water to distribute heat to emitters fitted in each room. Whilst this number also includes underfloor heating and convector heating, the majority of water-based central heating systems are those which consist of hot water from a boiler, usually heated by natural gas, being circulated to radiators with the aid of an electric pump.

The average lifespan of a boiler and radiators is rated from 10 to 15 years and if your system is showing its age then it could be time to consider replacing it in its entirety. If, on the other hand, your current system is not that old, is well maintained and there are no issues with how it functions, changing your boiler and radiators for a completely new heating technology may seem unnecessary.

The benefits of replacing radiators with air conditioners

As we’ve progressed into the 21st century there has been another shift in the world of home heating. While fossil fuel boilers and radiators are still the primary means of heating in central Europe, the technology behind central heating no longer fulfils the need for long term sustainability. Coupled with increasing fuel costs, this is one of the prime reasons for people looking to alternative ways to heat their homes in the colder months.

Though more usually considered as a means of cooling in summer, air conditioners are in fact a great home heating solution. Air conditioners are extremely efficient, producing approximately 5 kW of heat for each kW of electrical energy used, compared to under 1 kW of heat per kW of energy from a boiler. Right away this is a good indication that over long term use, an air conditioner is more cost effective. It is important to note that the efficiency of air conditioners will vary with changing ambient temperatures. For this reason SCOP and SEER ratings are used to account for seasonal differences.

Reducing carbon emissions is a primary focus for governments who are advocating the move away from fossil fuel based heating systems, and switching to air conditioners will definitely help achieve this goal. Modern air conditioners, also known as air-to-air heat pumps, take heat energy from the outside air and bring it into your home to warm the air inside. The heat is drawn from ambient air rather than being generated by burning fuel and this use of renewable energy is what reduces the running costs and makes air conditioners a much better option for the future of our planet.  

While other sustainable solutions may exist when it comes to replacing your heating system, an efficient heat pump is probably the best option if you are already planning extensive renovations, and they are usually the preferred choice for new builds. However, the cost and, in some cases, major work required to install a heat pump as part of a renovation, may at first glance seem less appealing or affordable.  

Using both air conditioning and radiators

Installing any new heating system will involve some disruption and there will be an initial investment to purchase and fit your new appliances. If your boiler and radiators are old, then now may be the time to change the entire system. Alternatively, if you are just looking for options to reduce running costs and be more sustainable in your energy usage, then, rather than replacing your radiators, you could think about adding air conditioners to work alongside them. 

Replacing radiators with air conditioners throughout your entire home may not always be the most practical option, so by adding one or two to the rooms where you spend the most time, costs can be greatly reduced. As a result you can continue to use your central heating system for hot water, while your radiators are only used in rooms where air conditioners aren’t present. You also still have the option to use your radiator as a quick backup if needed. In this way you can reap the benefits of your air conditioner to provide the heating you need in the main living areas of your home.

Using air conditioners to replace radiators in some of your rooms can have the following benefits:

  • Much cheaper than replacing your entire heating system – installation work required to install a single split for a single room, or a multi split for multiple rooms, is greatly reduced when compared to replacing the entire system.
  • Improving efficiency - using your air conditioner to heat the main living area of your home will cost less than using your boiler to generate the same amount of heat. Central heating is expensive to run, especially with rising fuel prices, so using an air conditioner alongside radiators in your home will help balance out the costs.
  • Versatility – you can choose to install a single AC unit in one room. However, if you are thinking ahead and there is the likelihood of you switching entirely to air conditioning for your home comfort solution at some point in the future, then you might want to consider a multi-split system. This will require more work to install, but with the ability to connect up to five indoor units, this is ideal if you want to make a switch from radiators to air conditioner throughout your home.
  • Year-round climate control – by replacing radiators with air conditioners, not only will you have an efficient and economical heating system for the winter, you will also have the option to use your air conditioner for cooling on those hot summer days.


If adding air conditioners to your home heating solution seems like a good option, read more here about air-to-air heat pump technology and how it could work for you and your home.

Not sure where to start? 

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Alternatively, take a look at our Home Solutions Hub to find out everything you need to know about heating, heating with air conditioners and heat pumps.

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