Winter comfort: energy efficient heating options

Issue 27 Words: Alan Pears

What are the most energy efficient heating options to keep warm in winter? It’s a tricky question, writes Alan Pears.

Winter comfort is important for health and enjoyment. Yet for Australians living in cooler climates, the use of heating to provide winter comfort consumes the biggest chunk of household energy. We typically invest thousands of dollars in heating technology, and effective heating is seen as an important factor in resale value.

Achieving winter comfort in a way that is affordable, effective and environmentally sound is tricky. Unfortunately, I still can’t find the ‘ideal’ answer. To make the most informed choice about the most energy efficient heating for your home, you first need to consider what you want from your heating system, including how much heating you need. Other vital options to consider are generation type, distribution and the way a system’s heat is converted into comfort.

Here, I pose some guiding questions to help you determine what you want out of a heating system and discuss some system types, particularly hydronic heating. [Ed note: Read Alan’s comprehensive article on heating and winter comfort in ReNew 127.]

The changing context

It is increasingly important to consider year-round comfort, rather than separate heating and cooling strategies. Climate change is shifting the balance: one study has indicated that, by 2070, Melbourne will be hotter and more humid than Brisbane, and heating will be a much less significant issue. [Ed note: See Alan’s article on cooling in Sanctuary 22 and in full in ReNew 122]. Meanwhile, improvements in building performance mean, for example, that the cost of inefficient lighting or running multiple electronic devices can be higher than heating.

What do you want from your heating system?

Some possible preferences include one that:

– provides comfort to one or more spaces or an entire home

– is easy to make comfortable quickly after arriving home – is quiet, with little or no air movement

– is easy to use, economical and unobtrusive

– has low capital cost and/or adds to home value

– is environmentally friendly

– has low (no?) maintenance, is reliable and easily/quickly fixed.

A variety of different solutions might deliver some or all of the desired outcomes. But it is difficult. Nevertheless, if you recognise the services you want, you can at least evaluate options against your criteria.

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Cover of Issue 27
You can read more about Winter comfort: energy efficient heating options in Issue 27 of Sanctuary magazine.

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