Although electric storage heaters were around before then our own personal experience of them goes back only to 1979, so this Page is concerned only with our own experiences of them since then.
Electric storage heaters built in the 1970s used the materials and technology available in the 1970s, were styled for the 1970s, and were designed for the lifestyles of the 1970s. In this respect they were of course no different from the gas central heating systems of the 1970s.
The materials from which the bricks were made had a lower thermal capacity than modern materials, so more of them were needed to store the required amount of heat, and this made the core quite large. Similarly the insulating materials were less effective so a thicker layer was needed. Storage heaters were therefore quite big.
The heater drew electricity for a maximum of seven hours each night, but because of the less effective insulation the core cooled quite quickly, so to ensure it was still hot enough to warm the room in the evening there was a two hour boost during the day.
Early storage heaters released some heat through the insulation and some by air circulating through the core. It was comparatively easy to control the way air circulated through the core, but the heat released through the insulation depended only on the effectiveness of the insulation and the temperature of the core. Early storage heaters had much less effective insulation than modern ones.
This meant that if the core was very hot it would give out a lot of heat through the insulation. This in turn meant that if the heater was set to take in a full charge, except in the coldest weather first thing in the morning it would be giving out too much heat through the insulation, enough to make the room uncomfortably warm. So there was an input control. This allowed you to adjust the amount of heat taken in by the core each night. In the Autumn and Spring you set it to a low value, then a higher value in the winter, and the highest value only in the very coldest weather.
If you set it to too low a setting it would not store enough heat and by evening the core would be cold, and so would the room. You did therefore need to be careful to set the input control correctly, particularly at times when the weather was changing, otherwise you might be too hot in the morning or too cold in the evening - the input control was not like a thermostat which you could just set and forget. Many people could not cope with this but we never found it a problem.
We live in a large late Victorian house on four floors, with lots of stairs and landings. When we moved in we needed a heater in the hall which would keep the hall, stairs and landings “nice and warm” 24/7, so we chose a storage heater which would do this. Forty years later it is still doing this, and it is what our visitors comment on when they come in from the cold or go to the loo in the middle of the night. It has been 100% reliable and 100% fault-free all this time, and during this time we have spent not one penny on repairs or maintenance - and this is by no means an uncommon occurrence in other houses with storage heaters. It has stopped doing its job only once since 1979 - and that was the second day after the 1987 “hurricane”, when we had had no electricity for two nights.
Over the past forty years we have progressively upgraded the other heaters as our life style has changed, children leaving home etc, but it is important to understand that we have upgraded these heaters, at a cost of a few hundred pounds each, only because our life-style has changed: over the same period most people with gas-fired central heating systems will have spent thousands of pounds on maintenance and replacements merely to keep their heating working.
Of course we cannot control this forty year old heater in the way which could be done with a modern gas central heating system, but this does not worry us: the hall stairs and landings are always “nice and warm,” which is exactly what we want.