As temperatures fall and we crank up the heating, it pays to be clever about how you stay toasty warm. No one wants to get the nasty shock of a high heating bill at the end of a cold spell – so whether you're buying a new heater, using an older one or wondering what the best and most efficient way to heat your home is, our experts are here to help. Turns out there are a few things that you can avoid to stop you burning a hole in your wallet over winter.
CHOICE heating expert Chris Barnes reveals the common heating mistakes many of us make – plus smart tips to keep your budget on track.
CHOICE home heating expert Chris Barnes.
1. Assuming expensive models are always the best
Ready for a burning-hot revelation? Our product testing often reveals retail price isn't the best indicator of performance. So splashing cash on a high-end heater or air con without doing your research could still leave you out in the cold.
Although our experts have tested and recommended heater models in the past that cost in the $400 to $500 range, they've also uncovered plenty of exxy units that disappointed.
Our product testing often reveals retail price isn't the best indicator of performance
Just as importantly, we've found budget heaters for less than $100 that were better than models costing hundreds of dollars more. So don't assume that just because a heater is expensive or from a well-known brand that it's going to give you the best value for money.
Keep in mind though, that we've also found many budget models that are poor performers, so it pays to do your research and check expert reviews.
2. Assuming all heaters cost the same to run
Don't just look at the price tag when you buy. Our testing reveals heaters can have vastly different running costs that will have an ongoing effect on your pocket.
In our reviews, our experts have found electric heater running costs for winter can vary up to around $150 between models, depending on the brand, size and design of heater (based on an estimated 500 hours of use and an electricity price of 30c/kWh).
It's therefore vital to check reviews before you buy (more models will soon be added to our electric heater reviews), and keep an eye on how much you're using your heater.
3. Not budgeting for increased energy costs
The type of heating you're using, the specific model of the appliance you own and how often you're using it will all have an impact on your energy bills at the end of winter.
If you live in a particularly cold part of the country and you are cranking the heating a lot, it's a good idea to set some extra money aside so you don't suffer from a nasty shock when your bill arrives.
Read more below about the type of heating we recommend as being the most efficient, plus find out more on how you can save on your heating bills.
4. Not using your ceiling fans' reverse mode
Think ceiling fans are just for summer heatwaves? Think again.
Switch your fans to reverse or winter mode (clockwise) and use them in combination with your heating system. This will help distribute the hot air more evenly around the room(s) and will make sure it's not just hanging around the ceiling where it's no use to your cold tootsies.
Our lab analysis shows that, used this way, your heater has to do far less work to maintain a constant temperature, which means lower power consumption and lower bills. Find out more about this genius hack and check out our ceiling fan reviews.
Hot air rises, but ceiling fans can help distribute it more evenly.
5. Not using your air conditioner for heating
If you're wondering whether you should be using an electric heater or your air conditioning to warm your home this winter, CHOICE experts have you covered.
Although electric heaters are convenient and have cheaper upfront costs, reverse-cycle air conditioners are a more efficient heating option and can save you big bucks on your energy bills in the long run.
If you're considering making the investment, check out our pros and cons analysis of electric heaters versus reverse-cycle air conditioners.
6. Constantly cranking up your air con temperature
The cost of using reverse-cycle air con to heat your home can range from $113 for a small unit up to $335 for a large one (based on an estimated 500 hours of use and an electricity price of 30c/kWh).
To give you optimal warmth for the cheapest price, Chris says you should try to stick to a difference of about 8°C between the temperature on your reverse-cycle air conditioner and the outside temperature (easy enough in the more temperate parts of Australia).
Each degree warmer usually adds about 10% to the running cost of your air conditioner
Basically, the harder your air conditioner has to work to heat your room, the more electricity it's going to use – and the more it will cost you.
As a helpful rule of thumb, each degree warmer usually adds about 10% to the running cost of your air conditioner.
7. Neglecting your heater and air-con maintenance
Even heaters and air cons need a little love to work their very best. Regularly cleaning your air conditioner or heater means better energy efficiency and lower running costs.
This is because the more clogged the dust filters and the interior of the machine become, the harder it has to work (and the more energy it uses) to move the air and heat your home.
8. Using your heater to dry your washing
On a freezing night, it's tempting to plonk yourself in front of your heater or pop the wet washing right in front of it, or even directly on it – but it will do your heating bill no favours.
As well as being a potential fire hazard, any obstruction will restrict or block the flow of hot air around your home. This means your heater will take longer to get the temperature up.
Just not on: Wet washing on your heater means it has to work harder, driving up energy costs.
9. Letting draughts in
Tracking down any draughts in your home, particularly around doors and windows, then sealing them up, will help keep your home warmer and save on energy bills. Likewise, keeping windows securely fastened or even locked can really help.
Cover gappy floorboards with rugs, close curtains and, if necessary, do a bit of simple DIY where the cold air is getting in. Use things such as silicone sealant, weather seal tape or draught strips from the hardware store to fill gaps in, or use an old-fashioned door snake to keep the cold out.
CHOICE tip: To detect a draught, light a candle or incense stick and run it along the gaps under doors and around windows. A draught will become obvious as the flame flickers or smoke blows around.
10. Ignoring insulation
When it comes to keeping all that lovely warm air inside your home, insulation is a no-brainer – especially as 25–35% of an uninsulated home's warmth is lost through the roof in winter.
"Average households that install wall, floor and ceiling insulation can save hundreds of dollars on energy bills each year," says Chris.
You can call in the professionals, but ceiling and underfloor insulation can often be done by a capable handyperson, too.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.