Take these simple steps and gain big savings on both energy consumption and bills.
Over recent years, we’ve been finding more and more ways to turn our homes into places of comfort and retreat. It seems that as life gets busier and free time becomes scarcer, people are prefering to spend their spare moments (and money) on staying in. As early as the 1970s and ’80s, this movement toward entertaining and being entertained from the comfort of home has meant that we’re decorating to create more beautiful living spaces, buying smarter and sexier electrical appliances for our at-home convenience and going to greater lengths to maintain the ideal indoor temperature.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the years between 1994 and 2002, the use of whole house heating rather than ‘spot’ heating rose significantly as people strove to leave no space unwarmed in the quest for a comfortable home. During this period, the number of airconditioner units in Australia went up by 16 per cent, which was the largest increase of any household appliance.
While this does mean our interiors can be toasty and warm at the turn of a dial, environmental issues and sustainability are increasingly becoming a focus in the building industry. In the wake of BASIX, the recently introduced government regulations for the building of new homes, consumers and builders are beginning to place greater emphasis on creating a balanced relationship between environment and the constructed form. So if the thought of switching off the aircon to save energy makes your temperature drop, there are ways you can get the heat without the excessive impact on the environment.
Ecological Homes, a Sydney-based company specialising in sustainability, says on average 39 per cent of energy consumed in Australian homes is for space heating and cooling and one way to dramatically reduce this figure (while still maintaining comfort levels) is through the use of passive solar design.
This is one of the least expensive ways to heat your home, as it’s basically free when designed into a new home or addition and has no running costs. Put simply, design for passive solar heating is about keeping summer sun out and letting winter sun in and can be as easy as looking for good orientation and shading when building. There are many builders in Australia who utilise these techniques.
The principles of passive design are best integrated into a home during the planning stages. Deciding to build a double-brick construction, for example, with concrete floor slabs on the ground floor will provide a more stable internal temperature than a lightweight timber home. Also, positioning windows facing north with a good eaves overhang will keep out the summer sun while letting in the winter sun.
In moderate climates, passive solar design alone should keep the whole house comfortable for most of the year and when done well can eliminate the need for artificial heating (and cooling) altogether.
However, in existing homes and in more extreme climates, extra warmth can be essential. In these situations, careful planning and advice will minimise the impact of artificial heating on both the environment and your budget.
In a large part of Australia, periods of extreme cold are quite short, so in those areas you may only need to heat a few rooms to a comfortable temperature for a short period of time, instead of your whole home all the time.
Working out which rooms need heating, then closing these spaces off from the rest of the house and insulating them well, will reduce the amount of heat you need to use.
Space heaters can be designed to heat small rooms, larger rooms or open-plan areas. In combination with portable heaters, a space heater provides more flexibility than central heating and has a lower overall running cost.
Space heaters include electric fan heaters, reverse-cycle airconditioners, flued and unflued gas heaters, ceiling radiant heating, floor heating systems and slow-combustion wood heating.
Each type of heater will function better in different circumstances, so when selecting a space heater, take the time to examine the best environment for each appliance and the energy rating before purchasing. As a rough guide, in small rooms, convective heaters that work by circulating warm air through a room are most effective. In larger, draughty rooms or bathrooms, radiant heating, which heats people and objects directly, will often work best.
The Australian Consumers Association has an on-line calculator to help you estimate what size heater you might need at www.choice.com.au/calculators/QuizHeatingCalc.asp
Gas appliances can cause only one-quarter of the greenhouse emissions produced by equivalent electric appliances as they produce instant heat with no warm-up phase. Gas can also provide the beautiful feel of an open fire, with many units designed with realistic flames and glowing embers that closely resemble a natural wood-burning fire, but without the associated air pollution.
This winter, Jetmaster has launched a new, smaller version of its popular Heat-N-Glo range. With one flick of a switch, the unit produces an immediate brilliant effect and spectacular heat.
These type of heaters will work most efficiently if the manufacturer’s recommended clearance spaces are maintained at all times.
For larger spaces airconditioners are still quite popular, with about 45 per cent of households in Australia owning one. The most important factor to consider when choosing an airconditioner unit is to work out what size you require for the task and then choose the most efficient model. Reverse-cycle airconditioning is quite an energy-efficient method of both heating and cooling your home and has the advantage that it can be isolated to certain rooms so you only heat the spaces you use.
The energy rating for reverse-cycle air-conditioners is shown by two bands of stars. The blue band shows the unit’s efficiency when cooling and the red band shows the efficiency when heating. For household use, the two main types of airconditioners are window-wall systems and split systems. While both can work equally well, split systems tend to be more efficient for a particular size range as their components are generally less constrained by size.
For larger spaces the most environmentally friendly choice is to use a radiant heating system, which provides a more natural and logical way to warm a home.
Radiant heat warms your body and other objects rather than just the room’s air and this fact allows you to stay comfortable even when the air temperature is a few degrees lower than normal — like when you stand in the sun on a cool day.
As early as 60 AD, the Romans discovered that the best way to heat an enclosed space was to introduce heat below the floor surface and let it radiate upward through the floor into the structure. Today’s radiant floor-warming systems can deliver the same results as conventional heating but operate at much lower temperatures. These systems store heat, from either electricity or hot water, in a concrete slab and some systems can also utilise the sun’s heat by absorbing solar energy through northerly aspect windows.
Also, as the heat radiates from the floor level the warmest part of the room is near the ground and not up near the ceiling. We often don’t consider what happens after we flick the switch on the airconditioner, or what the farther-reaching impact might be of leaving the fan heater on in the bathroom. But by taking a few — often simple — steps, big savings can be made in both energy consumption and bills. And with a little forethought and planning, you can have a cosy, comfortable home as well as that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.