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

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Home - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Fu­ture proof­ing

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.

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