Winter is the season for snuggling up in front of the heater, having a hot cup of tea or luxuriating in a nice long shower — whatever it takes to keep warm in the chilly months. Unfortunately this is often followed by hefty bills, and the guilt of how much of a strain we have placed on the environment. In the following pages, we take a look at how you can still achieve warmth responsibly through different heating options on the market.
And while a long hot shower might seem perfect to banish the chill from your bones, using electricity to heat water is going to provide you with a nasty shock come bill time. Your electric hot water system may account for more than one third of your household’s annual power usage. Switching from standard electric storage heaters to solar, heat pump or gas will make big savings on your bill.
In other words, be selective with what fuels your fire (so to speak). By choosing an
energy-efficient heating system you can reduce your power consumption by around 40 per cent, according to the NSW state government. Both gas and reverse-cycle heaters have energy rating labels to help you choose the most efficient model, while the alternatives below are options that you could work towards or consider in your renovation.
Hydronic heating is a heating alternative that uses hot water to provide whole home heating. If used wisely, it can be an economical and highly effective form of central heating. In most hydronic systems, the water is heated in a boiler and then pumped through piping to panel radiators or convectors positioned in each room. Heat is transferred directly from these to the room air. In-slab systems are also available. In these, the heated water is pumped through piping laid in a concrete slab floor during its construction. Heat is released into the slab and subsequently into the room. If you can link the boiler to a solar heating device, this is a particularly good option.
While passive heating will never be your only heat source, using this knowledge in combination with your current system will at least reduce the amount of time your heater is in use. Just by choosing the correct size, frame, placement and glazing for your windows, you will be able to capture some warmth from the day and reduce the amount of heat lost. More details are available through the Windows Energy Rating Scheme (www.wers.net).
• Keep eaves on north-facing windows to a depth of 600mm, and where possible avoid large evergreen trees and high fences on this side so they don’t block winter sun.
• North-facing windows should be in the living areas, as these spaces generally require heating.
• Keep south-facing windows small as they’ll receive no direct sun in winter and lose heat instead. It’s best to double-glaze windows on this side of your home.
Natural gas currently supplies about 30 per cent of total household energy in Australia. By choosing an efficient gas heater you can ensure you are getting the most for your money, and using as little gas as possible.
The efficiency of a heater is measured by the amount of heat delivered for each megajoule of gas used, and the energy labels can be found on gas space heaters. Currently the labelling is voluntary, but the government is working to implement a nationally consistent regulation scheme.
Jetmaster’s Daniel Clark has noticed a resurgence in the installation of fireplaces — both wood and gas. However, he says, “Gas models offer more convenience than wood, with versatile venting options … and they are rapidly becoming a design statement.”
While electric heating is regarded the most harmful to the environment and depleting of our resources, at least the heating efficiency is quite high as there are no flues for heat to escape (although the efficiency of converting raw fuels into electricity in the first place is extremely inefficient). If this is your only option, ensure you look for a heater with the highest Star Rating, and make sure to choose one with a thermostat — the savings can be very significant if you are realistic about what temperature your living area needs to be.
Wood fireplaces appear to be making quite a resurgence. When you look at some of the available research, this could be a very good option in terms of carbon emissions if you choose responsibly sourced firewood. A 2003 CSIRO study for the Australian Greenhouse Office showed firewood produces the least amount of carbon dioxide of all heating energy sources. This is because in sustainably managed forests, growing trees absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide that is released when firewood is burned.
• Maintaining room temperatures at approximately 21°C compared to 25°C will reduce firewood consumption by approximately 36 per cent. This is roughly equivalent to two tonnes of firewood per winter.
• Use only dry firewood in your wood heater — quality, dry firewood with a 15 per cent moisture content has approximately 60 per cent more energy content than “green” firewood with a 40 or 50 per cent moisture content.
• Purchase firewood from [Firewood Association of Australia] FAA-certified suppliers to be confident wood has been harvested legally from sustainable sources. To find out more phone 1300 131 481 1300 131 481.
Denatured Ethanol is one of the latest fuels to be introduced to the heating game. It has been previously used for camping and in portable barbecues, but The EcoSmart™ Fire, an Australian innovation, has seen a growing trend towards using it in home heating. The nature of the product means the fireplaces can be portable, and flueless to suit your individual application.
Denatured ethanol (also referred to as Methylated Spirits) is a renewable, modern energy which burns clean and the EcoSmart Fires claim to easily heat 35m² of living space. The downfall is that this can be relatively expensive. In general, five litres of fuel would last from seven hours on MAX and up to 20 hours on MIN setting and with the fuel costing an average of $2.50/litre, that can quickly add up. But for the ambience of a naked flame, this product is truly unique. And perhaps with the cost being out of pocket, you’ll think before you instinctively turn up the heat.
TIPS — that we all know, but should actually implement this winter!
• Wear extra layers — decreasing your temperature setting on heaters and air conditioners (used for heating) by just one degree reduces your power consumption rate by up to 10 per cent, saving around $140.
• Block off heat loss and zone your home — use doors to divide spaces into smaller areas which will heat up sooner.
• Use curtains, particularly thick ones, to minimise heat loss on winter nights. This alone can save around $40 each year.
• Stop the draught — sealing gaps and using draught excluders on your doors makes your home more comfortable and can save you up to 25 per cent on your power bill.
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