It seems we're hearing about new heat records being set every summer (and during other seasons), and no one enjoys the long hot nights during a heatwave. There's never been a better time to explore your options for making your home a cool oasis in the heat.
...without blowing the budget
Staying cool isn't just a question of comfort - making sure you and your loved ones won't overheat when the mercury climbs can be a health and safety concern, particularly if you have very young, old or unwell people in your home. But heating and cooling can account for over a third of your household energy use, so keep your hip pocket and the environment in mind as you do your research. Check out our comprehensive guide to making your home more energy-efficient to maximise your chill factor.
The different types of cooling
There are a number of different options - you might choose one or combine a few, depending on your home and budget. Let's take a look:
Fans are much cheaper to run and buy than evaporative coolers and air conditioners. Keep in mind that they don't reduce the room's temperature, but influence how warm your skin feels: the air movement created by a fan feels refreshing and increases the evaporation of perspiration, which makes you feel cooler.
- Desk, pedestal and tower fans can be plugged into normal power points. They're portable and - depending on the size - direct the air around either a person or a room. Prices start at less than $20.
- Ceiling fans start from about $70 (though are typically priced about $200 and up) and usually have to be installed by an electrician. They can improve the comfort of a room.
Refrigerative air conditioners
Similar to fridges, refrigerative air conditioners pump heat from the hot inside of your home to the outside - that's why they're also called heat pumps.
- A portable model can cool a room of up to about 20 square metres. It can be plugged into a normal power point. Expect to pay from $300 to $1400.
- A wall/window model is usually installed in a window or external wall, and can cool rooms and open-plan areas of up to 50 square metres. While smaller units can be plugged into a normal power point, larger ones may require additional wiring. Prices start from under $500.
- A split system air conditioner consists of a compressor unit that's installed outside, and one or more indoor air outlets. They're usually used to cool one or more rooms, or an open-plan area, of up to 60 square metres. Prices start from about $700 for a smaller model to over $3000 for a large model.
- A ducted system is usually installed in the roof or outside on the ground, and ducted to air outlets throughout the house. They're very efficient, work in any climate, and are particularly useful in humid conditions, as they also dehumidify the air. Reverse cycle models and reverse cycle ducted systems can also heat your home, because even cold winter air contains usable heat that can be pumped into your home. Costs start from around $6000 for a small system, but for a typical three-bedroom home the cost could be $10,000 or more. Depending on where you live, you may not need a central heating system - in this case, a ducted reverse-cycle air conditioner may be overkill and a specialised cooling-only system (such as a ducted evaporative system) may be more appropriate.
These work differently to refrigerative air conditioners: a fan draws warm air from the outside through a series of wet filter pads. The air's heat evaporates the water, cooling and humidifying the air, which is then blown into the house.
The higher the outside humidity, the less efficiently the evaporative cooler will work, so they're mainly suited for hot, dry climates; they're also relatively cheap to run. They only have a very small share of the market, so CHOICE doesn't review them at the moment.
Insulate, then calculate!
Ensure you get the right size for the space you are looking to cool.
Our advice, though, is insulate then calculate - so insulate your ceiling (and walls, if possible), draught-proof windows and doors, close curtains or blinds on windows that cop direct sunlight (east, north and west-facing ones), and close the doors between cooled and uncooled areas.
How to keep it cheap
- Don't blast Arctic air 24/7: each degree cooler you set the thermostat can add up to 10% extra in energy costs.
- Only cool the rooms you're actually using: close doors between cooled and uncooled areas, use zone settings on ducted systems, and if a room is naturally cool (eg. a basement room), consider just using a fan in there. The air conditioner's fan-only mode could be a good option in that case.
- Wear light, cool clothing inside: don't jack up the AC just so you can sit around in jeans!