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Winter heating options

We were contacted by a journalist from The Mercury newspaper to supply information about home heating options for Tasmanians. The article was published here on April 20th. We were delighted to share some research and supplied some approximate figures with our assumptions. Since the article didn't go into much depth about the figures and where they came from, we thought we'd share them here...

Our approach calculating electrical heating costs was to use actual billing data available online for a typical Tasmanian semi-urban suburb.

Our assumptions were:
  • Cost per quarter only during winter billing quarter (June, July, August)
  • Heating living space only, not bedrooms
  • Pureheat heater and Heat Pump used on Aurora Tarriff 42
  • Column heater used on Aurora Tarriff 31
  • Fixed electricity charges excluded; usage rate only
  • Heating makes up 50% of electricity usage
  • Assume heat pump COP of 300%
  • Lifetime costs of heating system ignored (these are not insignificant, perhaps we'll publish a more detailed article on this another time).
With these assumptions, the average 4 bedroom home consumes:
21.05 kWh per day, or 1894.5 kWh per quarter for a 100% efficient resistive heater, like a Pureheat or ordinary column heater.
For a 300% efficient heat pump, the energy consumption would be 631.5 kWh for the same quarter.

Applying the different Aurora tarriffs to these heating options gives the following results:
Column heater: $507
Pureheat: $317
Heat pump: $106

Using a similar methodology for a 2 bedroom household gives:
Column heater: $372
Pureheat: $232
Heat pump: $77

Firewood costs are a little harder to capture. Regional and individual variations will be large, according to your practices.

Our further assumptions are:
  • On average, Tasmanians who use firewood as their primary heating source use 5.8t per year. This actually produces more heat than the electric heaters, see note 3 below.
  • They use firewood heating for 6 months of the year
  • Firewood is sustainably sourced (eg Firewood Association supplier or better) and purchased, as opposed to collecting the wood on your own land - see note below.
  • Cost of dry wood (20% water content) + delivery is $165/t.
With these assumptions, the average cost per quarter for wood heating is $479.

Important notes
  1. Your personal habits have a huge bearing on energy consumption. Wearing warmer clothes and turning down the thermostat is an easy way to save money.
  2. There is a lot of variation between households - insulation, curtains, draught-proofing etc, all make big differences to thermal comfort. This is why we are running our energy efficiency projects!
  3. We haven't compared 'apples and apples' here... 5.8t/year of wood produces significantly more heat than the 21.05kWh/day. But we set out to estimate average costs per household, and it turns out that households with wood heaters use significantly more energy than households with electric heaters. If we were to compare like for like then wood heaters would still cost slightly more than heat pumps based on the other assumptions.
  4. Energy efficiency is the biggest potential saving for your household, and should be considered first if you are serious about saving money on heating!
  5. Some people have mentioned they collect firewood from state forests. Note that you need a permit to do this.
  6. Managed appropriately, using firewood to heat your house can be a good option. However it is more work than electrical options and is easy to create a lot of pollution if you aren't prepared to invest money in a modern wood heater and adopt practices to minimise particulate emissions.

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