Most Australian homes need heating or cooling at some time of the year. In some areas this accounts for up to 40 per cent of household energy use.
There are many ways you can make your home cheaper to run and remain comfortable all year round.
Passive design helps you maintain the interior temperature of your home with little mechanical heating and cooling.
You can use passive design ideas when you are planning a new home or for your existing home.
Passive design ideas include:
- insulating the ceiling, walls and floor
- sealing draughts around doors and windows
- allowing winter sun to warm the house
- stopping summer sun from entering the house
- using natural airflow to help with cross-ventilation.
The Your Home Technical Manual has information about Australia's climate zones and passive design options. These include effective shading, passive solar heating, passive cooling, thermal mass and window glazing.
Mechanical heating choices
If your home isn't designed for passive heating, the next best option is to choose appropriate heating for your situation.
Your climate, type of heater, how you use it and even its position in the room can make a big difference to your comfort and heating bills.
There are many different types of heating, with different sources of energy and levels of efficiency. Central heating can often heat a whole house, whereas space heating heats the one or two rooms that are in use. There are many options in both types - the best type of heating for you will depend on your circumstances.
- Gas heaters and efficient reverse-cycle heat pumps are cheaper to run than standard electric heaters and produce one third the amount of greenhouse gases. Be aware that unflued gas heaters have the potential to cause indoor air pollution in your home that may affect your health. See the NSW Health Factsheet - Unflued gas heaters for further information.
- Ducted central heating systems can use either gas or reverse-cycle heat pumps as the energy source.
- Hydronic central heating systems are usually gas-fired but may use a wood-fired heater, solar system or heat pump.
- Reverse-cycle air conditioners (or heat pumps) are the most energy efficient type of electric heater.
- Heat shifters have a fan and ducting to direct warm air to unheated parts of your home. They can be cost-effective to install and low-cost to run.
- Electric portable heaters can be cheap to buy but very expensive to run. Many are not as effective as other methods of heating.
- Electric in-slab floor heating often has the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any heating system and may be the most expensive to run.
Always ensure that you clean the filters on your chosen heating system at the beginning and end of each season to ensure that it runs smoothly and use timers to make sure that you are only heating your room when you require.
Wood heaters are used in many Australian homes, however they aren’t the most energy-efficient option. They can’t be turned off when a suitable temperature is reached and are often supplemented by other forms of heating to warm the rest of the home. A poorly managed wood heater produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Air pollution from the smoke from wood heaters, wood fires and stoves in combination with the greenhouse gases from transporting firewood to urban areas also have a harmful impact on the environment. Wood is a renewable energy source only if it is harvested sustainably.
Before getting a wood heater, it's worthwhile thinking through your heating needs including whether there is a more energy efficient option, such as gas, available where you live.
If you have an existing wood heater or are considering purchasing one there are a range of steps you can take to avoid or minimise the impacts:
- check with your council or local government to find out if smoke and particle emissions from wood heaters are a potential health concern in your area
- choose a low-emission heater; not an open fireplace
- wood pellet heaters which burn recycled sawdust are an effective option and have very low greenhouse gas emissions
- where possible, source firewood from suppliers who subscribe to the voluntary Code of Practice for Firewood Merchants certified by the Firewood Association of Australia (FAA)
- avoid taking timber from native forests and keep in mind that even dead wood provides essential habitat for animals and plants
- don’t burn treated timbers that may give off toxic fumes.
Mechanical cooling choices
If your home isn't designed for passive cooling, the next best option is to choose appropriate cooling for your situation.
When preparing for a hot summer, options may include:
- fans, which are the cheapest option and often sufficient
- evaporative coolers, which are particularly good in low-humidity areas
- air conditioners.
If your air conditioner is inappropriate and not installed correctly or maintained properly, it can cost you more in energy bills and have a negative impact on the environment. Always clean the filters on your chosen cooling system at the beginning and end of each season to ensure that it runs smoothly. Use timers to make sure that you are only cooling your room when you require. See the free consumer guides on the Australian Refrigeration Council website for information on how to choose, install and maintain your air conditioner. You can compare the energy efficiency of different air conditioners.