What’s the cheapest way to heat your home this winter?

Now that we’re firmly in winter, many households across Australia are trying to find the perfect balance between keeping their home warm and not being handed an outrageous power bill at the end of the season.

There are a variety of heating options to choose from if you own your own home. Some are more expensive than others, and some more effective in different situations. If you’re renting, however, an electric heater is probably your best option.

CHOICE experts have found that reverse-cycle air conditioning is by far the cheapest way to keep your home warm. But it does come with a large upfront cost.

Here is a rundown of the most common types of heating, from cheapest to most expensive.

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

Air conditioning

Looking at running costs alone, the most cost-effective way to heat your home is through reverse-cycle air conditioning. Although the initial cost is significantly higher, running costs for the entire year are only slightly more expensive than using an electric heater for three months during winter.

“On average you can expect to pay around $2000 for a new split-system air conditioner, but the price range is anywhere from $600 up to $5500,” says CHOICE heating expert Chris Barnes.

“Installation will add at least a few hundred dollars more. And for a ducted reverse-cycle air conditioning system expect to pay at least $5000, including installation.

“For a typical freestanding house, the cost can easily reach $10,000 or more, depending on the size and type of system you choose. For a large or multi-floor home, you’re looking at $15,000 or more.”

Of course, one huge plus of installing air conditioning to keep you warm in winter is that it’ll keep you cool in summer too.

Gas heating

Gas heating, currently, is another one of the most affordable ways to heat your home. However, they are not suitable for every situation. They require gas to be already connected or an LPG system to be set up, and cannot be installed in bedrooms or confined spaces. Some also require a flue to vent outside your house.

Additionally, they can be expensive to buy, with prices ranging from $500 to $1400. And it’s not a one-off cost. Gas heaters need to be professionally serviced by a trained and qualified gasfitter every two years. An unsafe heater can cause a house fire or pollute your home with dangerous fumes including carbon monoxide. Servicing fees typically range between $150 and $300.

The price of gas is subject to change too, so while gas heaters may be cost-effective at the moment, in the future you could end up paying more than for electric heating.

Read: Tough choices for many as energy costs set to increase

Portable electric heating

If you’re looking for a quick and easy fix when the cold hits, a portable electric heater is your best bet. With no installation required and prices starting at around $30, they’re widely available and affordable. 

Portable electric heaters work wonders in small areas and for a quick burst of heat. They’re less effective in large spaces and should never be left running unattended or while you’re sleeping.

They are perfect for those who are renting as you don’t need to attach anything to the wall, and they are typically light enough to move from room to room. Oil column heaters are slightly cheaper to run but they do tend to take longer to warm up.

The fact that they are so convenient does come with a downside. They are not nearly as energy efficient as a split-system air conditioner and running them often can get expensive.

You’ll likely see an increase in your electricity bill, especially if you have multiple electric heaters around the house.

“A portable electric heater can cost almost three times as much to run on average than a reverse-cycle air conditioner (based on heating six hours a day over 12 weeks in a moderate winter),” says Mr Barnes.

“The more you use your heater, the more important it is to make sure that the heater is the most efficient type you can get, and also that you’re using it as effectively as possible,” says Mr Barnes.

Read: Eleven ways to save energy in the kitchen

No matter what type of heater you have, the running cost is always a combination of the same three factors:

  • the kilowatt (kW) rating of the heater
  • the cost per hour of electricity
  • the number of hours the heater is operated.

For example, if you have a 6kW fan heater and an electricity tariff of 27 cents/kWh, then the heater will cost $1.62 per hour to run. If you run the heater on its highest setting for six hours a day your total cost will be $9.72 per day.

6.0kW x 27 cents x 6 hours = $9.72

If you have a 2.4kW panel heater and an electricity tariff of 27 cents/kWh, then your heater will cost 64.8 cents per hour to run. If you run that heater on its highest setting for 10 hours a day your total cost will be $6.48 per day.

2.4kW x 27 cents x 10 hours = $6.48

With the costs outlined above, it’s easy to see how electricity bills can spiral out of control.

It’s worth the effort to check the kilowatt rating of each of your heaters and do the calculations to get an idea of how much each heater costs to run.

Sometimes the hourly cost can seem small, but multiplied by a few hours a day and then multiplied again by 90 days, that small cost can really add up.

Knowing what your heaters cost to run can help you avoid getting a nasty shock when your next power bill arrives.

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