Heating options for your home buying guide

How to keep your home warm this winter. Get unbiased advice and reviews on heaters and heating options.
 
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03.Electricity, gas or solid fuel?

Electricity

Pros

  • It's available almost everywhere.
  • Some power companies offer a subscription to a green-power scheme, where you pay a slightly higher rate per kWh for electricity that's generated from renewable sources such as solar, hydro, wind or biomass.
  • Electric heaters are very energy-efficient, and don't produce pollutants in your home.
  • You don't need to store fuel.

Cons

  • Heating with portable electric heaters can be relatively expensive.
  • While the heaters themselves don't produce pollutants, power plants that generate electricity by burning fossil fuels produce considerable amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants. That's why heating with electric radiant, convection and off-peak heaters produces the largest amount of carbon dioxide of all the heating options in our comparison (except in Tasmania, where most of the power is generated by hydroelectric schemes).
  • While the heaters themselves are energy-efficient, there's considerable energy loss during the generation and transport of electricity — up to 70% of the original energy contained in the fuels used to produce the electricity.
  • If you have a power cut — for example during a storm — you have no heating available.
  • The heating capacity of portable electric heaters is limited to 2.4 kW, which may not be enough to comfortably heat large areas.

Check out the pros and cons of the various types of electric heaters.

And before you buy one, use our database of portable electric heaters to find the best model for you. We've done all the hard work for you and pulled together prices, specifications and features for most models available in Australia.

Natural gas

Pros

  • Generally much cheaper than heating with portable electric heaters.
  • Generally produces much less carbon dioxide than heating with electricity (except reverse-cycle air conditioning).
  • The heating capacity of portable gas heaters isn't as limited as with portable electric heaters.
  • Gas heaters carry a star label that tells you about their energy efficiency: the more stars, the more efficient they are.

Cons

  • Not available everywhere.
  • Produces combustion gases, so you either need to install a flue or you have to live with and manage the gases in your home.

Be sure to check out our test of gas heaters before you buy.

Solid fuels

Firewood should be well seasoned (left to dry for at least two summers) so you don't waste energy evaporating water by burning green wood. Hardwood contains more energy than softwood, and burns longer and more steadily. But it's also harder to light. Softwood can spit and spark in open fires.

Coal has a high energy content. It can be burnt in many slow-combustion heaters, but you'll probably need to use fire lighters or light a woodfire first to get it started.

Other fuelled-fire options include ethanol fireplaces, which have hit the market in the last few years. These use denatured ethanol (methylated spirits) which doesn’t give off fumes (except water vapour), so they don’t need vents or flues, or a gas or electrical connection. They are comparable in heating capacity and efficiency to an unflued gas heater, and typically cost a few hundred dollars. However, they are more expensive to run; one litre of fuel, costing about $2.50, will give roughly 90 minutes to two hours burning on a high setting. The same amount of heating with gas would cost around 50c. Many models have open flames, so you need to take the same care around them as with an open wood fireplace, and you also need to be careful when handling the fuel.

Pros

  • Wood and coal are available almost everywhere.
  • Wood heating can be very economical because a lot of people -- particularly in rural areas -- may have cheap or even free access to firewood (however, check whether you need a permit to collect firewood from forests).
  • If firewood is used sustainably (by regrowing the amount that's used) and burned in a slow-combustion heater, it produces the least amount of CO2 of all the fuels in our comparison.

Cons

  • You need somewhere to store wood or coal.
  • You have to load the heater or grate, start and maintain the fire and dispose of the ash.
  • Apart from modern slow-combustion heaters, solid-fuel heaters are less energy-efficient than electric and gas heating.
  • They produce combustion gases and need a flue or chimney, which makes installation expensive.
  • The smoke from wood and coal fires can be a major contributor to pollution.
 

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