The heating systems that can make your home greener and save you money

Government climate experts have announced we need to make our homes greener to help beat climate change. But how on earth do we do that?

Many people have good intentions about making their homes greener – research by E.ON has found more than two-thirds (38 per cent) of homeowners have been considering making their home more sustainable since COVID, with a third saying they’re more interested in home solutions, such as solar panels, than they were six months ago.

And their eco-friendly intentions could be a good financial move. Since solar energy is viewed so positively by most of the Australian public, it can be a selling point for the home. Research indicates that the more solar panels there are on the roof, the higher the value of the home – with an estimated increase of almost $6000 per kilowatt of solar energy. This indicates a rise of over $29,000 in the retail value of the home for a 5kW installation.

Since the price of electricity is expected to rise in the future, the advantages of having home solar power will become even more evident.

But, with or without solar power, how do you ensure your heating system is the best one for your home?

A system’s energy performance depends on the fuel available to you and how much space you need to heat.

Heating systems can generate heat with:

  • gas (natural or LPG)
  • electricity
  • wood.

Choosing one depends on what fuel is available to you.

If you need to heat your whole house, central heating would be more efficient. Ideally with a zoning capability, that allows you to heat only certain areas of your home.

If you only want to heat a certain area, a room heater would be best.

Generally, it’s cheaper to use a room heater. But it really depends on how big a space you’re heating. The larger the area, the larger the system you’ll need. The wrong sized system won’t heat your home efficiently and will cost you more money.

Gas ducted heating
Gas ducted heating draws air from inside the home, heats it in a gas furnace and blows it through ducts to outlets located in different areas of your home.

A thermostat, usually located near the return air grille, is used to control the inside temperature.

Pros

  • can heat the home quickly
  • options for zoning rooms
  • controlled by thermostats.

Cons

  • high electricity consumption
  • usually operated on natural gas – will cost more to run on LPG
  • more expensive than a gas space heater to install and operate.

Installation
Ask the builder what is the energy star rating of the gas ducted system. It’s worth paying more for a high-efficiency heater (5 stars or higher), as you’ll save more in the long run. Consider a system with zoning capability to save even more.

These systems lose energy through the ductwork. To minimise energy loss, inquire about the level of insulation, also referred to as the R-value of the duct work.

Aim for an R-value of 1.0 or higher. But be aware, the higher the R-value, the larger the diameter of the ductwork.

Use it efficiently
The most efficient temperature to set is between 18 degrees C to 20 degrees C. Every one degree higher will add around 10 per cent to your heating bill.

Read more: How much you can save on electricity in your home state

If you can, zone your system so that it only heats the areas you’re using.

Clean the filter of your return air grille monthly during the heating season to make sure the system operates effectively.

Have the gas furnace serviced at least every two years, to make sure it operates efficiently and safely.

Gas hydronic heating
Gas-fired hydronic systems heat the whole house by heating water in a gas boiler and circulating it through one of the following:

  • radiators (most common)
  • pipes embedded in a concrete slab
  • fan-coil units.

The water then returns to the gas boiler to be reheated.

The system is controlled by a thermostat monitoring the temperature of the room.

Pros

  • good option for those with allergies as no air or dust is blown around the room
  • provide a comfortable and less drying heat
  • can be zoned so you only heat spaces you’re using
  • they are a quiet heating source.

Read more: Things in your home that can make you sick

Cons

  • can take longer to heat spaces than air-based central heating systems
  • more expensive to install because of the cost of pipework and radiator panels
  • usually operated on natural gas – will cost more if run on LPG.

Installation
Some energy can be lost from the pipework when the heating is on. Inquire about the R-value of the cladding applied to the pipework – the better it is insulated, the lower the amount of heat will be lost.

Energy rating
There are no energy rating labels for gas hydronic heating in Australia. Although the supplier should be able to provide information on the efficiency of the gas boiler.

New systems should have a boiler with an efficiency in the range of 75 per cent to 85 per cent. The higher the efficiency, the lower the running costs.

Use it efficiently
These systems can be zoned. Radiators in individual rooms can be switched off by turning off the hot water supply, allowing you to limit the heating to just those areas where it’s needed. In some systems, there’s a thermostat in each room or zone, giving another level of control.

Electric ducted reverse cycle air conditioning
This system provides heating and cooling for the whole house through one set of ducts, usually located in the roof space.

Heat from the outside air is pulled into a central unit. From there it’s blown through ductwork to outlets in the home. The air then returns to the indoor unit to be reheated.

This system doesn’t generate heat directly using an electric element. Instead, it uses heat pump technology to extract heat from the outside air, making it one of the most efficient forms of electric heating.

Pros

  • one unit provides heating and cooling
  • one of the most efficient forms of electric heating
  • most systems allow the home to be split into several zones.

Cons

  • the compressor, which is located outside, may be noisy
  • you may need to have three-phase power for larger systems, which will increase the installation cost.

Buying new
When buying a new system, you have the choice between two types of compressors:

Standard compressor, which switches on and off based on the thermostat control.

Variable-speed compressor (also known as an inverter), which is much quieter and more efficient. The compressor runs at a lower speed when the room has been brought up to temperature.

There are some energy losses through the ductwork when the air conditioning is operating. The better it is insulated, the lower these heat losses will be and the more efficiently it will run.

Energy rating
From April 2020, new ducted reverse-cycle air conditioners with a cooling capacity less than 30kW are required to have a Zoned Energy Rating. The higher the rating the more efficient the system.

Ducted systems are required to have a Zoned Energy Rating but are not required to display it when sold. Ask the supplier or retailer about the rating.

Read more: Warm your house this winter with cheap tricks and canny heater choice

Use it efficiently
The most efficient way to use your system is by zoning it.

Zoning your system depends on the design of your home and the placement of the return air grille. The better the zoning capability, the more control you’ll have over the energy consumption and running costs of the system.

Clean the filter of the return air grille every month to ensure that the system operates effectively.

Electric multi-split reverse cycle
This system has one outdoor unit that pulls heat from the outside air and transfers it to multiple indoor outlets in different parts of the home through refrigeration piping.

Each indoor outlet can be controlled independently, depending on how much space you want to heat.

Air temperature is controlled by a thermostat.

This system doesn’t generate heat directly using an electric element, it uses heat pump technology to extract heat from the outside air making it a very efficient form of heating.

Pros

  • very efficient electric heating
  • can be zoned so you only heat areas you use
  • one unit provides heating and cooling
  • less heat lost than ducted systems.

Cons

  • the system compressor may be noisy
  • significant purchase and installation costs.

Installation
Talk to the retailer about the size of the system you need. You may need two systems to get good coverage if you have a large home.

Energy rating
From April 2020, new multi-split reverse-cycle air conditioners with a cooling capacity less than 30kW are required to have a Zoned Energy Rating. The higher the rating the more efficient the air conditioner.

Use it efficiently
Clean all filters every month to ensure that the system operates effectively.

It’s important to have the air conditioner serviced regularly, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Do you have a heating system in your home? Do you use space heaters for separate rooms?

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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