As temperatures fall and we crank up the heating, it pays to be clever with how you stay toasty warm. After all, whether you're buying a new system or just running an older one, it's easy to fall into traps and bad habits that can quickly burn a hole in your wallet over winter.
To stop that happening, our heating expert Chris Barnes reveals the common heating mistakes many of us make – plus smart tips to save you money.
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 did test some heater models costing in the $400 to $500 range that they'd happily recommend, they also uncovered quite a few exxy units that disappointed.
Our product testing often reveals retail price isn't the best indicator of performance
Just as importantly, they found budget heaters for under $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.
2. Buying a dud budget heater
Surprise, surprise! It's not just expensive models that can disappoint – cheap ones can too, leaving you both frosty and frustrated.
Kmart Anko's heaters, for example, have had the lowest test scores in the past two years. Their terrible 2020 model may have cost just $55, but it scored only 45% in our tests – the worst heater result we've seen since 2014.
But don't be disheartened if you're on a budget. Those same tests also uncovered some cheap gems that cost the same but performed a lot better.
Some like it not: JB from CHOICE assesses the Anko heaters.
3. Presuming 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 analysis of more than 40 electric models, our experts found heater running costs for winter can vary from $193 to $368, depending on the brand and design of heater (based on an estimated 500 hours of use and an electricity price of 30c/kWh).
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 ensure 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 will 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 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, our expert Chris Barnes 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. Drying washing on or in front of a heater
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.
In addition to 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 Barnes.
You can call in the professionals, but ceiling and underfloor insulation can often be done by a capable handyperson, too.