What heating options best suit your family and lifestyle
How you stay warm this season should depend on how you live and who you live with, writes Jennifer Veerhuis
It’s about this time of year we all start feeling the chill. Since we’re staying inside more, how we heat our homes becomes important, but different heating systems work best in different situations.
Depending on the size of your household and how you use your house, your heating needs over winter will vary.
With so many heating options on the market, it’s worth considering the best solution to lower your bills and minimise your energy consumption while still staying toasty and warm.
Creating a heat bank
UNSW Professor Deo Prasad from the Faculty of Built Environment in the School of Architecture and Design, who is an expert on sustainable buildings, says to start with, it’s important to minimise the need for heating by moderating internal temperatures.
“There’s things like designing around solar access, like the sun coming into the rooms and having the right sized windows in relation to the rooms they are heating in winter,” he says.
Windows are often the weakest points in the building so coverings such as heavy curtains with pelmets will keep the warm air in and the cold air outside.
“In winter, when the heat is in the building, you don’t want it to escape, so it stays in and keeps the place warm and thermal insulation is very important in that sense,” Deo says.
Looking for leaks
It’s important to seal “leaky” buildings to avoid unnecessary energy loss.
“You need to have seals around doors and windows and ensure fireplaces are closed,” Deo says. “So you insulate the building, you seal the building and in terms of windows, if you have glass areas that are slightly larger, look at double glazing where possible.
“Double glazing used to be expensive but the costs have come down significantly in recent times because of technology.”
He says thermal mass —where heat is stored in the building material and then slowly released as temperatures drop — plays a key role in thermal comfort.
“When the heat comes into a building, if you have thermal mass such as bricks and concrete inside, they can absorb the heat and it stays there much longer,” he says.
“So in the daytime, if the sun falls on concrete floors and brick walls, then that heat continues until pretty late in the evening, depending on the solar access designed into the building and how it works with the thermal mass.”
Keeping a lid on costs
With heating and cooling costs rising, it makes sense to invest in energy-efficient systems for the longer term.
Deo says energy prices are increasingly a big concern for everyone, but particularly for people who are on lower incomes.
“If you’re on a low income and you’re paying for energy, you’re taking it from the food bill,” he says. “That’s where good design from the start is very important.”
He says many consumers are now paying time-of-day charges for electricity.
“Many people pay up to 50 cents per kilowatt hour when it used to be 20 cents per kilowatt hour,” he says. “If you are using inefficient systems you will have huge bills.”
Compounding the problem for many is the price of household gas, which has gone up markedly recently.
“The price of gas, as we know from discussion, is going up rapidly,” he says. “It used to be a preferred option because of its carbon footprint as well as from a cost point of view but that’s no longer the case.”
Deo believes electricity and solar have become the better long-term options.
“Gas is becoming more expensive and solar options are becoming much better.”
Deo says it’s now possible to get reverse-cycle airconditioning systems linked to solar power. Look for their co-efficient of performance (COP) rating which is a measurement of the efficiency of an airconditioning heating/ cooling system. A COP of 5.5 or more is extremely efficient.
“It makes sense to use solar power to run an airconditioning system to heat and cool your house now because solar collection has become cheaper, and also these heating/cooling systems are getting cheaper,” Deo says.
“(With a COP of 5.5 or higher) you will get your money back in about four years and for the rest of the life (of the system) you are getting free heating and cooling.”
If you have a ceiling fan, Deo says it’s not just useful during the heat of summer. Rotated clockwise, a fan can draw cool air away and push warm air down.
“In the winter it mixes the heat back in again to give you more value from the heat that was already put in,” he says.