Steps to energy efficient heating

Insulate first then choose a whole-of-house heating option this winter.


We bought a brick house with a weatherboard extension in Melbourne and installed roof insulation and curtains. We put a wood burner in the back living area, but during winter the rest of the house is basically unusable because it is so cold. Can you suggest a good whole-of-house heating solution that is environmentally friendly, has low running costs and doesn’t involve ripping up the floors? — Nelly and Lachlan


The first thing to do is ensure your house is not leaking heat, otherwise any heating system you install will be wasteful. While a good proportion of a house’s heat loss is through the ceiling, an equal or greater amount is lost through the walls and floor, so if they are not insulated, that’s the first place to start.

The best short term solution is not to try to heat the whole home, just the rooms being used. Consider an energy efficient reverse cycle air conditioner (heat pump), run on 100 per cent GreenPower to make it effectively greenhouse neutral. See the Energy Saving Products Guide in ReNew 117 for a couple of suggestions. That said, keep in mind that it’s more effective to heat the occupants directly using radiant heat, rather than trying to heat the entire air volume in a room (space heating). To make the most of your existing wood burner you could consider installing a heat shifting system: a series of ducts and a fan to move warmed air from the back living area to the rest of the house. See Sanctuary 13, p28 for an example.

Once you have insulated comprehensively, you will have the option of hydronic heating (maybe with a solar component), ducted reverse cycle air conditioning or ducted natural gas heating. While roof mounted ducts are the simpler option and don’t require sub floor access, they are generally less effective than systems with floor ducts, which deliver warm air that rises through the room. Hydronic systems both heat the air and provide direct radiant heat, and can be quite effective in the right situations. However, the pipework will need to go through walls or under the floor.

Heating systems in older homes are often a compromise between installation costs and performance. Please consider having your home assessed by an energy auditor to get the most appropriate options for your particular situation.

— Lance

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Cover of Issue 17
You can read more about Steps to energy efficient heating in Issue 17 of Sanctuary magazine.

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