Heating Your Home in Australia: Gas and Electric Heaters, Reverse-Cycle Systems, and Hydronic Heating
Australia is known for its warm and sunny climate, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get cold during the winter months. While air conditioning is considered a must for most Australians, heaters and heating systems are just as important for much of the country. With so many types of heaters, it can be difficult to find the one that’s right for you and your home. Read more below to learn about different types of heaters and heating systems available in Australia so you can keep warm in the winter, efficiently and effectively.
Choosing gas or electric heating for your home
While gas heating has been the historically popular method of heating homes and businesses, as the cost of natural gas increases and electricity-powered heating systems become more and more efficient, electric heating has become an increasingly popular option.
If you don’t have a gas connection already in your home, electric heating is generally the better choice as connecting your home to gas can be difficult and expensive if there isn’t a gas line already installed. However, there are so many choices for every method of heating your home, whether you need to heat just one room or your entire house, that you’re sure to find something that works for you.
Is gas or electric heating more expensive?
Extensive studies have been done on the cost of heating a home with gas or electricity, but unfortunately, many offer biased or unclear results. What is known is that the price of natural gas and LPG has gone up dramatically in recent years, while increased energy efficiency, alongside more renewable methods of generation, has driven down the cost and environmental impact of electric heating.
In 2018, Renew Magazine published an extensive study about the financial costs and benefits of gas and electricity in different homes across Australia. In this study they compared gas and electric costs (both financial and environmental) between houses of different sizes, new builds and older homes, and different energy usage assumptions. What they found is, in almost every scenario, it is better for the environment and your wallet to switch over from gas-powered appliances (including heating) to electric appliances, with a reverse-cycle air conditioner being the best choice for heating and cooling.
Types of heaters and home heating systems
There are many different types of heaters to choose from, and depending on factors such as whether you have an existing gas connection, room size, or whether children and animals live in your home, one type of heater might be a better choice than another for you.
Types of electric heaters
There are many different types of electric heaters available on the market. Depending on whether you want to heat a whole house, just one room, or a small space, the best electric heater will vary household to household.
Panel heaters: Panel heaters are usually considered the cheap option for heating, but they often produce very little heat. These are best for small rooms such as a bathroom or small office, but can be good for households with children or pets because the panels don’t usually get hot enough to burn yourself on.
Oil heater or convection heaters: These heat the air rather than surfaces, but can take a while to heat up rooms, especially those rooms with high ceilings. Some convection heaters have a small, built-in fan which can help heat a room more evenly and quickly. These types of heaters aren’t always the safest around children, as they can burn skin and tip easily.
Radiant heaters: Unlike convection and panel heating, radiant heaters don’t heat up the air, but rather objects nearby through the use of glowing elements. These are great if you want to heat only a small area of a room, and want instant heat rather than waiting for a convection heater to heat up all the air in a space.
Infrared heaters: Similar to radiant heaters, infrared heaters also heat objects rather than space, but don’t emit a visible light. Both radiant and infrared heaters are available as free-standing, wall-mounted, or ceiling mounted.
Fan heaters: While noisy, fan heaters are among the best choice of heater to quickly and easily distribute heat evenly around a room. Rather than electric panel or convection heaters, where the heat rises and can get trapped up on the ceiling, fan heaters keep the heat evenly distributed around the room.
Electric underfloor heaters: As the name suggests, electric underfloor heaters go under your floor to warm your feet, and room. These heaters can be installed between the floorboards and floor covering, in new or existing homes but can be very expensive to run, especially if your floor isn’t well insulated.Electric underfloor heating is best used in small rooms like a bathroom.
Reverse-cycle air conditioners for heating and cooling
Reverse-cycle systems are systems that both heat, and cool, your home and are among the most energy efficient heating systems available. While portable heaters need to generate the heat used to warm your home, reverse-cycle systems work a bit differently by actually absorbing heat and moving it somewhere else.
In the summer, this means that reverse-cycle air conditioners units absorb the heat inside your home, and move it outside. In the winter, the reverse happens, where the reverse-cycle air conditioner takes the heat from outside your home, and brings it indoors to warm the room. As it’s much more energy efficient to move heat, rather than create it, these systems are much more efficient and will save you in the long run.
It’s important to note that reverse-cycle air conditioners don’t work well in extremely low temperatures, so if you live somewhere that frequently falls below freezing, there might be better heating options out there for you.
While reverse-cycle air conditioners are among the most energy efficient heating and cooling systems, they do have a bit higher of an upfront cost and usually require professional installation. However, since they provide both heating and cooling, as well as the fact they are more energy efficient, reverse-cycle systems tend to work out much cheaper overall.
Types of gas heaters and gas heating systems
Gas heaters are the traditional method for heating homes, and can still be a good choice if your home is already connected to a gas line. However, rising gas prices in recent years has made gas heating a less desirable option, especially as other methods of heating have become more efficient.
There are two types of gas heating systems; flued or portable.
Portable gas heaters are, as their name states, portable. They are easier to move, and a good choice for renters who can’t install a flued heater. However, as portable heaters don’t have flues, they must be put in well ventilated areas to prevent exhaust gases from building up inside, potentially causing serious problems to your health and home. Thankfully many modern portable gas heaters come with extra safety features such as an oxygen depletion sensor or a tilt switch in case the heater tips over, and making sure you have a carbon monoxide detector is another safety feature that can save your life.
Flued gas heaters are generally a bit safer than portable ones and often come with additional features, but usually require professional installation. Since these heaters have flues, you don’t need to worry as much about gas buildup, though a carbon monoxide detector is still always a good safety precaution for any use of natural gas energy in your home.
Hydronic heating works a bit differently than other traditional methods of warming your home. Rather than pumping out warm air, or heating a small area of a room, hydronic heating works by heating up water which is then pumped into rooms through pipes usually found in the floor (underfloor hydronic heating) or wall-mounted radiators.
Hydronic heating prices vary based on several factors. Underfloor hydronic heating is more expensive than installing hydronic radiators, and retroactively fitting hydronic heating into your home is more expensive and time-consuming than installing it into a new build. However, they are a highly efficient heating system that can help reduce your energy bills later down the line.
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Average heating costs in Australia
Due to the varied nature of home heating systems, as well as other factors such as the size of the room or house being heated, how well insulated the house or room is, the cost of gas or electricity in your distribution network, and the climate you live, the cost of heating is a very subjective number. In general, electric in-slab or underfloor heating, and portable electric heaters, even reverse-cycle portable units, will run the highest energy bill, while hydronic heating and reverse-cycle air conditioners will be the least expensive to run.
No matter the type of heating you have, it’s important to utilize energy-saving tips and tricks to help reduce your energy consumption when it comes to heating your home.
- Ensure your home is adequately insulated to help keep the cold air outside and the warm air inside
- Keep doors closed if you’re only heating certain rooms
- Replace any old, single-pane windows with double or triple glazing
- Purchase and install insulated curtains for windows which will not only keep the heat in, but also reduce outside noise
- Schedule regular maintenance checks for more elaborate heating systems such as ducted, underfloor, or reverse-cycle
Choosing a heater for your home
Like the cost of heating a home in Australia, choosing a heater depends on a variety of factors.
- Do you want to heat a whole house, or only one room? How big is the space you want to heat?
- Are you interested in only heating, or do you want a heater and air conditioner?
- Would the heating system be installed in a new build, or in an existing home?
- Do you have any children, or pets, who might knock over or burn themselves on exposed heating elements?
- Is there a gas connection to your home, or electric only?
- How much are you willing to spend on installing a new heating system?
Answering these questions can help you narrow down the type of heater best suited for your home, so you can maximize your comfort during the cold winter months.