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How to choose an energy efficient heater

A high efficiency gas heater or high efficiency reverse cycle air conditioner will cost less to run. By choosing the right sized system for your home you can avoid paying for energy you don’t need.

Here are some options to consider when choosing the right heating system for your home.

Gas ducted heating

Description: Designed to heat the whole house

Things to Consider:

  • Buy an energy efficient model - make sure it has a minimum energy rating of at least 4 stars. 
  • Choose a system with the ability to be zoned – switch off areas not being used. 
  • Use only well insulated duct work. 

Gas fired hydronic system

Description: Designed to heat the whole house. These systems circulate heated water through radiator panels, fan-coil units or in some cases via pipes in a concrete slab.

Things to Consider:

  • Some systems allow for individual room temperatures to be set, and some turned off.
  • Buy an energy efficient boiler (natural gas is the cheapest fuel for the boiler), and make sure the pipework is well insulated.

Ducted reverse cycle air conditioner

Description: Whole house heating and cooling through one set of ducts, usually in the ceiling.

Things to Consider:

  • Sizing is critical and should be done by an expert 
  • Buy the most energy efficient unit you can afford 
  • Use only well insulated ductwork

Electric in-slab heating

Description: Electric coils run through a concrete slab, generally runs on a cheaper off-peak electricity tariff.

Things to Consider:

  • Avoid putting carpet or timber flooring over in slab heating.
  • Should be run at a thermostat setting no higher than 18oC, otherwise running costs will be much higher.

Gas room heater

Description: Designed to heat a single room or open plan area. Can be flued or unflued. Can be run on natural gas or LPG (which is more expensive). Unflued heaters can only be run on LPG.

Things to Consider:

  • Buy an energ​y efficient model- make sure it's at least 4 stars.

Reverse cycle air conditioner

Description: Designed to heat a single room or open plan area. Split system or window wall models available. Reverse-cycle systems can both heat and cool.

Things to Consider:

  • Split systems are quieter than window wall units 
  • Buy the most energy efficient unit you can 
  • Inverter models are quieter and more efficient 
  • Sizing is critical and should be done by an expert

Portable plug in heater

Description: Designed to provide single room heating only, for short periods

Things to Consider:

  • Running costs are determined by the wattage of the heater, so a 1200 watt fan heater will cost the same to run as a 1200 watt column or panel heater. 
  • Buy a unit with a thermostat and timer to keep costs down.

So what are the pros and cons of these different types of heating systems available on the market? These are listed in Table below. 

Pros and Cons

Type of heater

Pros

Cons

Gas ducted heating

  • Available in both zoned and un-zoned systems.
  • More expensive than a gas space heater to install and operate.
  • Not ideal for houses with high ceilings

Gas fired hydronic system

  • Good for allergy sufferers
  • Quiet heating source
  • Good choice for high ceilings.
  • Slower response time than air based central heating systems.
  • More expensive than gas ducted heating to install.

Ducted reverse cycle air conditioner

  • Can heat whole house or a number of specific zones. One unit provides heating AND cooling.



  • More expensive than room air conditioner to run, and more expensive than gas ducted heating to install. 
  • Cooling costs in summer add to energy bills.

Electric in-slab heating

  • Some systems allow for individual room temperatures to be set, and some turned off.
  • Good for allergy sufferers.
  • Expensive to run – most expensive central heating system to run.
  • Slow response time. Best suited to cold climates as is usually run 24/7 during winter months.

Gas room heater

  • Very economical to run.
  • Heats only the areas being used.
 

Reverse cycle air conditioner

  • One unit provides heating AND cooling.
  • Cheapest form of electric heating
  • Cooling costs in summer add to energy bills.

Portable plug in heater

  • Cheap to buy.
  • Expensive to run for long periods.

And here are some tips to apply to ensure that you use your heating system efficiently.

  1. Dress for the weather. Wearing warmer clothing is free and will mean you can turn your heater down!
  2. Use the thermostat correctly. Set your thermostat between 18°C and 20°C for living areas. Every degree higher on your thermostat can increase your bill by up to 10%. Thermostats for central heating systems should be placed in living areas, where you spend most of your time. Ensure thermostats are protected from draughts, as well as heat sources such as heating outlets or direct sunlight. Thermostats should not be located on external walls.
  3. Don’t leave your heater running on low overnight or while you are out during the day. It is cheaper to turn the heater off while you are out or overnight while sleeping, and on again when you return or wake up in the morning (This isn't applicable to storage type heating such as in-slab systems that have a very slow response time).
  4. Install a timer or programmable thermostat to turn your heater on and off automatically, say 20–30 minutes before rising in the morning or getting home in the evening.
  5. Don’t forget to turn the entire system off completely if you are going away on holidays. Turn the pilot light off (if your system has one) over summer; this alone could save you money on energy bills.
  6. Minimise the area to be heated by closing doors to areas of your home that you are not using. Being able to close off different areas allows you to heat only those areas in use at any one time. Doubling the size of the heated area can double the heating cost! Open-plan homes without zoning mean that the whole house will be heated at once, regardless of which areas are being used – a costly and wasteful exercise. Install doors or other barriers between different areas of the home, e.g. between living and sleeping areas, informal and formal areas and in two-storey or split level homes. The ‘wet’ areas of your home, e.g. bathrooms and laundries, should also be a separate zone, as they are usually unheated and able to be well ventilated. If you have a ducted system check the system’s instruction manual to see how many ducts can be closed.
  7. Keep the heat in. Close curtains and blinds to keep the heat in when the heater is running. Heavy curtains and a box pelmet at the top of the curtains will stop the warmed air from escaping through the unprotected glass of the window.
  8. Maintain airflow – keep curtains and furniture clear of outlets and the return air grille so that they do not restrict the flow of air from the outlet and around the home.
  9. Reversible ceiling fans can be effective in redistributing heat that has built up near high ceilings, such as cathedral ceilings
  10. Maintain your heater
    - Ensure your ducting is free of air leaks, you don’t want to pay to heat your ceiling or under the floor
    - Make sure your ductwork is well-insulated (R1.0 to R1.5) if you have a central heating system
    - Clean air-filters regularly
    - Service all heaters according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Source: Sustainability Victoria
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