Australia has some cold extremities (we're thinking of you, Tasmania!), but it gets chilly just about everywhere and you need to know the best way to heat things up so your home is comfortable all year round – without drowning in bills.

When the cold really hits in winter, you need to find a middle ground between having a home that's cosy and a resulting energy bill that won't send you broke. This guide will help you heat your home using less power but with maximum effectiveness.

The different types of heating

The main types of heaters include electric heaters, gas heaters and reverse-cycle air conditioners. The best option for you is dependent on a few factors. Let's take a look at each type.

Electric heaters

These are usually portable, cheaper to buy, and a good option if you're not using them in large spaces or for long periods. Check our electric heater buying guide for more details, and also take a look our electric fireplace heater buying guide.

Good for: heating small spaces, or individual people.

Gas heaters

If you have gas in your area these can be very efficient and good value for money.

There are two types – flued (the fumes are redirected outside through a pipe) and unflued (the fumes are pushed out into the room). Flued models are more expensive to install and slightly less efficient, but unflued models can present issues with the fumes and moisture they expel, so they are subject to regulations and the room needs to be ventilated. Check our gas heater buying guide for more details.

If you're going to leave a heater on all day, gas is likely to be cheaper than a portable electric heater for most homes. However, gas prices are on the rise and solar power is making electricity much cheaper in many homes, so this may not always be the case.

Good for: heating smaller to medium-sized spaces.

Reverse-cycle air conditioners

These will be more expensive to buy than a small electric heater, but very effective in terms of the power they use compared to the heat they generate. Check our air conditioner buying guide for more details.

Good for: a larger space, like an open-plan living area.

Insulate then calculate!

Ensure you get the right size for the space you're looking to heat.

Our advice is insulate then calculate – so insulate your ceiling, draught-proof windows and doors, cover windows at night, and close the doors between heated and unheated areas.

Room heating calculators can be found online; try searching for room heater size. There are several factors to consider when choosing your heater's capacity: the climate you live in, the floor area and ceiling height of the room, how much natural sunlight it receives, whether the room is carpeted, whether adjacent rooms or floors above and below are heated, and of course the amount of other insulation.

As a general guide for moderate climates, a well-insulated room of 20 square metres will probably need a 2000W electric heater or a gas heater with 6 to 8MJ input. The same room would need more heating if poorly insulated; even a 2400W electric heater could struggle, and you could need at least a 10 to 12MJ gas heater. In cold climates, you'll need still more heating power.

How to keep it cheap

  • Don't heat rooms to tropical temperatures; for example, try 20 degrees instead of 23 degrees. Each degree less will save about 10% on your energy use.
  • Only heat the rooms you're actually using.
  • Hot air rises to the ceiling, so if you have a ceiling fan with a reverse-direction option, consider using it at a low speed to help circulate the hot air more evenly through the room without creating a downward breeze.
  • Check out our five way to reduce your household's energy use.