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The winter heating woes worrying consumers

Many of us fear what winter will do to our energy bills. Here's what's worrying us and some ideas for keeping costs down.

woman working in the sun from home
Last updated: 22 May 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • More than two-thirds of people we surveyed are worried about paying their 2024 heating bills
  • Options for reducing bills such as installing better insulation are desirable, but out of reach for renters 
  • Adding solar and reverse-cycle air conditioning were popular options for homeowners

In April this year, we surveyed CHOICE social media audiences to uncover concerns about the cost of home heating for the coming winter. Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many of us are worried about how we'll pay our heating bills this year.

We also found out what changes people would make if they could, what's holding them back and what they'll be doing differently compared to previous years.

More than two-thirds of people are concerned

Just over 70% of those who responded to our heating survey told us that they were concerned about how much it would cost to heat their home during the coming winter. Unsurprisingly, considering rising electricity prices, 86% said the cost of energy was the reason for their worries. 

"We have an older home that's poorly insulated and ventilated. The cost to heat it last year was astronomical. I'm petrified what this year will be like," said one respondent.  

Our March 2024 Consumer Pulse research showed even higher levels of concern – 82% of our nationally representative survey respondents are concerned about the cost of electricity.

There is considerable anxiety in the lead-up to winter amongst people worrying about paying high bills

Gavin Dufty, policy and research manager, St Vincent De Paul Society

Organisations that work with low-income households are only too aware of the pressure the approach of winter places on these families.

"From the feedback we're getting we know there is considerable anxiety in the lead-up to winter amongst people worrying about paying high bills or facing the discomfort of the cold months," says Gavin Dufty, policy and research manager at the St Vincent de Paul Society.

"Many households faced with energy cost pressures are taking drastic measures. These can include cutting back spending on other household essentials, such as food, clothing, school activities, medication etc, just so they can pay the bill to stay warm," he adds.

Making changes to the home

With so much concern about the cost of heating, it isn't surprising that many have a wish list of changes they would like to make to their homes to reduce heating costs. Our March 2024 Consumer Pulse research found that 66% of people are finding it difficult to reduce their household energy bills, so it makes sense that people want to alter their homes to make heating them easier. 

Top of people's wishlists were actions that would help homes retain heat.

  • 46% said they would like to add double glazing to their windows.
  • 42% said they would like to improve their home's insulation

Both of these options can make a big difference. 

installing insulation batting

Almost half (42%) of respondents said they would like to improve their home's insulation.

Insulation and double-glazing

"Insulation makes a huge difference to a home's thermal efficiency. About 30% of a room's warmth can be lost through an uninsulated ceiling. A fully insulated home – ceiling, walls and floors – could be up to 50% cheaper to keep warm in winter," says CHOICE home heating expert Chris Barnes.

Double-glazing also improves energy efficiency, reducing heat loss by almost 30% in comparison to single-glazed aluminium windows.

Unfortunately, these options aren't always available, particularly for renters, who told us of their frustration at being unable to modify their homes, especially when they identified poor insulation as a reason for their heating cost concerns. 

"I wish that there were mandatory standards that ensure people who rent have access to efficient heating and also efficient homes for retaining heat," was a typical comment.  

solar panels on roof

31% of our survey respondents told us they would like to install solar. 48% had already done so.

Rooftop solar

Another option mostly closed to renters is rooftop solar. Our survey found that 31% of people would like to install solar panels and 48% had already done so, reflecting the growing popularity of this option as a way to reduce power bills. Rooftop solar now accounts for more than 11% of Australia's electricity supply, but it isn't available to most renters.

"A solar panel system can cut thousands of dollars from your annual energy bills," says Chris. "That's why they often take only a few years to pay for themselves. But the savings can vary depending on where you are in Australia and how your household uses electricity."

reverse cycle air conditioner

A reverse-cycle air conditioner is the most energy-efficient heating appliance you can get.

Reverse-cycle air conditioning

Of those who have already altered their homes to reduce heating costs, adding reverse-cycle air conditioning was another popular action: 48% of respondents told us they'd made this change already. 

"A reverse-cycle air conditioner is the most energy-efficient heating appliance you can get. Thanks to its heat pump technology, it can deliver far more heat per kW of electricity consumed than other heaters," says Chris. 

"And of course you get cooling in summer too. But the upfront cost of installation can be too much for some households. And because the installation usually involves drilling holes through walls, it may not be an option at all for renters, unless the landlord agrees to get it done."

Finding a better energy deal

Switching to a new energy provider can be a way to make savings on your energy bills, and our survey found that 10% of people would like to find a new gas or electric retailer.

This is an especially good idea if you've been with your current supplier for a while. Energy plans tend to lose their value over time, as discount periods you were given when you signed up lapse. Often the best way to save is to switch to a new supplier. 

"You can save around $350 a year by regularly switching to a better offer, according to Bill Hero," says Chris. "Sometimes energy companies offer better deals for new customers (through discounts and cashbacks) than they do for their current customers." 

Often the best way to save is to switch to a new supplier

At the very least, it's worth calling up your current provider and pushing them for the best deal they can offer. If it doesn't match other providers, why not switch?

Bill Hero is a service that automatically monitors every energy bill for you, and helps you switch whenever you can save. It isn't free but it does guarantee to find you savings or else you'll get your money back. Also, unlike most energy comparison sites, they don't earn commissions from retailers. 

Changing habits

Some respondents were forgoing larger home alterations in favour of making simpler changes. Wearing more clothes, using more blankets and simply not using their heating were other changes survey respondents told us they were preparing to make to reduce heating costs in 2024. 

For those who are planning to do without heating to avoid bill shock, it's worth remembering that being too cold, even in Australia's relatively mild winters, carries risks.

St Vincent de Paul's Gavin Dufty says that the Society's members helping those in need are concerned when they see households cut back on heating. 

"It's uncomfortable and positively dangerous for the elderly or the sick. It can also exacerbate mental health problems," he says. 

Instead of forgoing the use of your heating system altogether, there are low-cost options to help make heating your home more affordable. Seal up draughts, cover hard floors with rugs, and use window coverings like curtains with a pelmet to stop warm air from escaping.

throw blankets on couch

Using a blanket instead of switching on the heater can save money on bills, but being too cold throughout winter can carry risks.

Energy rebate could help

Since the time of our survey, the federal government has announced a $300 energy rebate, which every household in Australia will be eligible to receive.

Your power company will be in charge of applying it at the rate of $75 per quarter and it will be automatically given as a credit on your energy bills, so you don't have to take any action to redeem it. 

About our surveys

Our heating survey was shared with our social media audiences and was open for responses between 3 and 14 April 2024. There were 203 respondents. 

The CHOICE Consumer Pulse March 2024 is based on an online survey designed and analysed by CHOICE. 1037 Australian households responded to the survey with quotas applied to ensure coverage across all age groups, genders and locations in each state and territory across metropolitan and regional areas.

The data was weighted to ensure it is representative of the Australian population based on the 2021 ABS Census data. Fieldwork was conducted from the 19th of March until the 9th of April, 2024.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.