Tips to efficiently heat your home in winter

Portable fan heater or oil-filled old-school? As the nights get colder and you start weighing up energy-efficiency and cost, here’s a rundown of seven common types of heaters.

Your Home
4 min read
Winter is coming and, while it’s hard to believe you’ll ever need heating again after such a long, hot summer, the chill will set in soon enough.

There are plenty of options for keeping cosy but they vary significantly in efficiency and cost. Here’s a quick rundown of your choices.

1. Portable fan heaters

You can pick up a small fan heater from a department store for around $15 – they’re certainly a cheap option upfront but, as Choice explains, they “tend to have higher running costs”.

They’re designed to heat small rooms quickly and evenly. Their size also makes them easily portable from room to room.

The downside of the fan? It can be a bit noisy if it’s on full power and expensive if your usage is not carefully managed – just like a stand fan in summer.

If you’re buying a fan heater, make sure it has a safety switch that’ll turn it off if it tips over – otherwise it could cause a fire. This is a requirement of current Australian safety standards.

2. Oil heaters

These are the old-school fan heaters, and a good energy-efficient option to heat a space for long periods. Fun fact – they’re not often filled with oil any more (many are filled with water), but they are still relatively energy efficient. And you can get them in a convenient flat panel design these days.

Because the surface temperature stays quite low, you don’t have to worry too much about your pet or child getting a bad burn from a touch. Just don’t be tempted to dry your clothes on them or have them too close to flammable materials. Covering the heater may be a fire risk, so it’s recommended keeping heaters at a one-metre clearance from items that might burn.

While oil heaters might not give you the immediate blast of warmth of a fan heater, the models with timers are a handy option for longer use in the evening to keep a bedroom snug at night.

3. Reverse-cycle aircon

Although installation can be a daunting investment upfront, reverse-cycle air conditioning has the versatility to see you through summer and winter. It is more energy efficient when in heating mode than in cooling and more efficient than most electric bar, convection and radiant heaters. At a minimum, domestic-sized products are required to be 300% efficient, whereas standard electric heaters have an efficiency of around 100%.

They will heat a room evenly and their thermostats, timers and sleep modes mean you’re in control.

4. Underfloor heating

Underfloor heating can feel luxurious and, depending on the thermal conductivity of your floor, it can be an efficient way to heat your home evenly, leaving none of the cold spots or stuffiness you can get with portable heaters. A geothermal heat pump is the most efficient way to use this type of heating in your home. We recommend managing your use of underfloor heating with a timer, to best monitor the rate at which it heats and losses heat.

It’s a big investment and installation can be inconvenient, but if your home is cold for a substantial chunk of the year, the cost and short-term hassle might be worth it, especially if you’re building a new home or doing a big renovation.

5. Central heating (hydronic heating)

Hydronic heating works by heating water and sending it to radiators around the home. This creates a consistent warmth you can control by making adjustments to individual radiators. A low-content boiler is your best bet for keeping it efficient and cost-effective. It can also be powered by geothermal or electric heat pumps for optimal cost outcomes.

Like underfloor heating, it doesn’t push air around the house, which makes it a great option for allergy and asthma sufferers.

Central heating is not cheap; Choice puts starting quotes at around $6000 but once it’s installed, it is a quiet, quick and safe way to see you through the chilly months.

6. Fireplace

While a fire can be atmospheric and warm up a room quickly once it’s going, there are a few downsides. You need plenty of space to store wood, and you need to clean and maintain your fireplace to keep it safe.

A chimney or flue is a must-have, otherwise you’ll smoke yourself out. While sustainably produced hardwood has a low CO2 output, smoke is still a major contributor to pollution.

7. Fake gas fireplace

These are powered by denatured ethanol, so you don’t have to worry about dangerous fumes from burning, needing a chimney or massive vents.

Like a fireplace, they can be inviting and they give about as much heat as an unflued gas heater. However, they are more expensive to run, with the direct cost of fuel around six times that of natural gas – one litre of fuel worth $3 takes about two hours to burn.

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