Some heaters are much more efficient than others.
If you’re feeling cold at home, it's best to put on a few layers of clothing before turning up the heat. Every degree you turn your heater up adds about 10% onto your heating bill! That said, sometimes no amount of layering is enough to ward off the Tassie winter chills.
When thinking about what kind of heater to use, consider your specific needs: are you heating your whole house or do you only need to warm one room? How often do you use that room for? Are you asthmatic? And, do you have problems with condensation?
We recommend heat pumps more often than any other type of heater, as they are the most efficient and affordable to run. They use the same technology as fridges, but in reverse – transferring heat from outside, in; and with efficiencies exceeding 300%! They can provide heating and cooling at the flick of a switch. They’re good for asthma sufferers and will last approximately 15 years. Potential downsides are noise (but new models are very quiet) and 'draughtiness' (good placement is important to achieve effective air circulation without blowing directly onto where you normally sit).
Why use heat pumps?
Heat pumps are the most energy efficient type of electric home heating, being at least three times more efficient than any other type of heaters. That means you’ll spend comparatively less on energy bills to heat your home. While their efficiency drops when it is very cold outside, even then they are significantly more efficient than other heaters.
How do heat pumps work?
Heat pumps (sometimes called reverse-cycle air conditioners) work by pumping warmth from the outside air into your home. Even when it is very cold outside (down to negative 10°C) there is some heat in the air, and heat pumps capture that heat and transfer it into your home. Put simply, you’re using a little electricity to grab the ambient warmth the sun has put into the air. This allows heat pumps to achieve efficiencies at least 3 times greater than other heaters.
Comparing heat pumps
Some heat pumps are more efficient than others. One simple way to compare heat pumps is to check out the star rating label. The more stars a product has, the better. Heat pumps can also be used as air conditioners for cooling. However, focus on the heating stars (in red), rather than the cooling stars as you tend to need heating more than cooling here in Tasmania.
A more accurate way of comparing heat pumps is to compare their Co-efficiency of Performance (COP). The COP tells you how much heat a heat pump will put out for a given amount of electricity used. You’ll find this in the product specifications - the COP of different heaters can vary a lot and the higher the COP, the better.
What sized heat pump?
Getting the right size heat pump for your needs is important. This will depend on things like the size of the space you want to heat, how well that space retains heat, and the external climate where your home is situated.
If your heat pump is too small for the space you want to heat, it will have to work too hard, especially when it’s really cold outside. But if the pump is too big for the space you want to heat, it will be less efficient and more costly to run, and cost more to buy up-front. In choosing the right size heat pump the crucial figure is the “Capacity Output kW” that you’ll see on the product’s energy star rating label.
All in all, it’s best to get professional advice about what size heater will best suit your needs.
Why is proper installation so important?
A heat pump consists of an outside unit connected to an inside unit. Good installation of the indoor and the outdoor units is crucial to make sure you get the most out of you heat pump.
Indoors, the unit should be placed to ensure good airflow and circulation and to avoid blowing warm air right where you tend to sit.
The outdoor unit should be put in a convenient spot where there’s good airflow, and ideally in a relatively warm area (perhaps a north-facing wall). Heat pumps use a fan to draw warmer air in and blow colder air away. Modern systems have very quiet fans, though it’s still best to put the external unit away from entertainment or relaxation areas.
Indoor and outdoor units should be located as close as practically possible as this minimises heat loss and installation costs; but other considerations may be more important. You should organise to have a local specialist visit your home to work out the best option for your specific case. Be wary of installation quotes that are substantially cheaper than from local specialists – it may be because they aren’t installing it in the best location or way.
Using heat pumps efficiently
There are some simple things you can do to make sure you use your new heat pump efficiently:
- Set the thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature.
- Make sure that the airflow around the outdoor and indoor units is not obstructed.
- Do not leave it running constantly. Use the programmable timer to ensure you have heat when you need it and switch off when not needed.
- Make sure your home is draft proofed and well insulated.
- Wear the right clothing for the season, and keep doors closed to keep the heat where you want it
Other electric heaters
All other electric heaters (column heaters, panel heaters, radiators, etc) are expensive to run.
Heaters without a fan are particularly inefficient as the heated air tends to rise to the ceiling and stay there, where as a fan creates circulation.
Plug-in heaters are particularly expensive because they are connected to Tariff 31, rather than the cheaper "Hydro Heat" Tariff 41/42. Even so, a plug-in heater may be the most appropriate option for temporary or occasional use. If you do use a plug-in heater To achieve a steady room temperature and save energy and money, use an external thermostat like this or this.
About half of Tasmanians heat their homes with firewood. In the right environment, with sustainably-managed hardwood timber that is sufficiently dry, in an efficient wood heater that is operated properly, wood heaters are a great option: warm, affordable, and renewable.
However, as Launceston residents know too well, wood heaters create harmful air pollution. So, if you have a wood heater then the most important thing is to operate it properly, but in some contexts (e.g. densely populated valleys on cold, still days) it is irresponsible to burn wood at all.
Pellet heaters are another option. They are more consistently efficient, and more easily controlled than wood heaters; however the pellets tend to be quite expensive, making them significantly more costly to run.
Other non-electric heaters
We do not recommend using gas or oil - they are fossil fuels that need to be left in the ground if humanity is to secure a safe climate. Further, gas prices are on the up and up. The national trend is a move away from household gas appliances and toward electric.