From heat pumps to insulation and the toastiest gas fires, here’s how to make sure your home is nice and cosy when the temperature drops
Before you start blasting heaters, be aware heating your home for winter starts with two important steps – insulation and ventilation.
“A house with good ceiling and underfloor insulation can reduce heat loss by up to 50 percent,” says Liz Ross, eco design advisor for Auckland City Council.
Heat travels from warm areas to cold areas so if your home is warm but the outside temperature is cooler, the heat will escape. Insulation provides a barrier of resistance against heat transfer, which is expressed as an ‘R-value’. The higher the R-value, the more effective your insulation will be. Proper insulation ensures that heat isn’t leaving your home faster than you can generate it. Builderscrack estimates insulation costs to range from $70-$160 for every 5sqm.
Other top insulators
- Rugs: As well as providing relief for bare feet, rugs stop heat loss through the floor.
- Draught stoppers: Cool draughts can sneak in through gaps between doors and floors but draught stoppers will help. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) also suggests checking hinges and latches are tight, adding weather stripping to seal gaps around doors and windows, and blocking chimneys of unused fireplaces with a rubbish bag filled with shredded newspaper.
- Curtains: Poorly fitted curtains can create a ‘reverse chimney’ effect and bring cold air in, but properly fitted curtains can be as good as double glazing. Curtains should sit snug on the floor and cover the entire window, to stop the cold air that forms near windows escaping into the room. Make sure the fabric is thick enough too.
This is essential for maintaining air quality and removing excess moisture. If a house is airtight, it will be easier to heat, but ventilation is needed to stop air from becoming stale and damp.
If your house needs help, a ventilation system (prices start at around $2000) or a dehumidifier (around $150) will effectively and automatically do this. Remember to dry your clothes outside as much as you can and open up windows and doors (even in winter) to let the stale air out and invite fresh air in.
If you’re worried about the quality of air in your home and you want something to heat simultaneously, Dyson’s new Purifier Hot+Cool ($999) and Purifier Hot+Cool Formaldehyde will do both jobs. Designed to capture ultra-fine dust and allergens, as well as destroying VOCs including formaldehyde – a colourless gas pollutant released by furniture and wood products – they’ll provide a far better quality of air by sensing formaldehyde with a new solid-state sensor to remove 99.95 percent of particles. Considering we breathe in up to 9000 litres of air each day, that can only be a good thing.
For large rooms that are heated regularly, look at fixed heating options such as heat pumps. With lower running costs and more heat output than portable electric heaters, they’re usually worth the upfront cost.
Jose George, Canstar New Zealand general manager, says, “getting professional advice on choosing the size of your heat pump is critical because an undersized unit will need to work a lot harder, using more electricity, and may still struggle to heat or cool.”
Some heat pumps come with built-in air filtration systems designed to improve air quality. Look out for a blue butterfly logo, which is a sign that the heat pump has been approved by the Asthma Foundation NZ Sensitive Choice Program.
The World Health Organisation recommends living areas should be heated to a minimum of 18°C (20°C for children and the elderly) and bedrooms be heated to 16°C at night. “For every degree higher you set your heat pump, you use 10 percent more electricity,” says Liz Ross. She recommends setting your heat pump between 18-21°C.
There are three main heat pump systems to consider for your home:
- Single room: Consisting of a single outdoor unit (the compressor) connected to an indoor unit, this is a good option for one open plan space.
- Multi-split: If you’re looking to heat more than one room in your house, consider a multi-split system. This consists of multiple indoor units connected to one larger outdoor compressor and allows you to heat and cool a number of rooms and individually.
- Ducted: Designed to maintain one perfect temperature throughout the whole house, ducted heat pump systems are an efficient alternative to gas central heating. It’s more discreet than a wall-mounted heat pump, but it also comes with a higher price tag. A ducted heat pump system consists of one large compressor, which sends hot or cold air to each room via floor or ceiling ducts in the house. Liz adds a note of caution, however, “Unless you pay for zone control features, you may waste energy heating parts of the house you are not using.”
For a cheaper option that doesn’t require installation, consider an electric heater. Look for those with a built-in thermostat, timer and fan. These will help save you time and money.
You’ll want to make sure your electric heater has enough wattage to heat up your room. For a small room (10-13sqm) 1500W will be sufficient, a medium room (13-17sqm) will require a 2000W heater and a larger room (up to 20sqm) will need 2400W.
- Oil column and convection heaters: These types of heaters provide good ambient and background warmth. They produce hot air, which then rises and slowly circulates around the room by natural convection. While they can provide a good amount of heat for bedrooms and smaller living rooms, they struggle to heat rooms with high ceilings evenly and effectively. Expect to pay anywhere from $70-$450.
- Micathermic heaters: With a similar shape to an oil column heater, it’s easy to get these two mixed up. Micathermic heaters provide a comfortable background heat as well as toasty radiant heat. Expect to pay $150 or more. They heat up quicker than oil column heaters and are lighter and more portable. But, their surface can get quite hot, which could pose a safety hazard for children and pets.
- Fan heaters: Fan heaters provide quick, directional heat to small areas. They can be noisy but are effective when it comes to distributing hot air around a room. They’re perfect for heating small spaces for a short period of time. Fan heater prices can range from $39 to $650, depending on brand and quality.
- Panel heaters: Panel heaters are promoted as cheap to run, however, they produce very little heat. Because of this low output, they can take
a very long time to warm up a room. They have a lower surface temperature, which makes them safer to have around children or pets. These types of heaters are only good for continual heating in small rooms like bedrooms or studies with prices ranging from $80 to $400.
- Gas heaters: The EECA only recommend unflued or portable gas heaters as back-up heating during power cuts as they come with health and fire risks, and can make your home damp and mouldy.
Radiator central heating
When it comes to silent, safe and effective heating, we might need to take a leaf from the Brits. Radiators in the past have got a bad wrap for their clunky appearance, but new designs such as the Scirocco Brick Radiator from Central Heating New Zealand (above), prove this is no longer the case.
A radiator central heating system uses warm water pipes that run throughout the house to provide even heat. They can be individually controlled or as a system, and are responsive, meaning they heat up or cool down quickly, which is ideal for Kiwi homes. While this water transfer central heating system is more efficient than air transfer systems, they are also more expensive to install.
When it comes to installation, radiator central heating will often require new pipework, therefore older houses with generous underfloor space are best suited to retrofit. Otherwise, look to include this in the design when building your new home.
There’s nothing quite like a toasty fire in winter to warm the cockles of your heart. Wood burners are considered carbon-neutral, because wood is a renewable resource. However if a wood fire isn’t an option in your home, gas and electric fires offer a similar experience.
Q&A with Malcom Burton, Stoke Fireplace Studio:
- What are the main differences between gas, wood and electric fireplaces? The main differences are in heat output and installation requirements. Wood fires kick out the most heat, but it’s not instant, consistent or able to be thermostatically controlled, like it is for electric and gas. A modern gas fireplace comes pretty close to the real deal in terms of authentic looking fuelbeds and flame pattern. It can kick out over 10kW of heat too, which is a bit more than an electric fireplace’s heat output, which generally sits under 2kW.
- How can people ensure their fireplace is energy efficient? First, look at the star rating (the more stars the better). Many gas fireplaces have 5-star efficiency ratings and the cost to run these is comparable to a wood fire. Secondly, go for a glass-fronted gas fireplace, not open-fronted, as it is more efficient. Lastly, look at the flue system or chimney. Go for a ‘direct vent system’. These systems can make a fire up to 95 percent efficient, compared to an open-fronted fireplace at around 45 percent.
- Are they a hazard for children? Wood fires are hot-to-touch, so if you have children or pets close by, you should put a fire guard in front of or around the fire. The glass on gas fires can get hot too. Electric fires aren’t hot to touch.
- How expensive is a fireplace to run? It’s heavily dependant on how you use it and how often. Running costs between gas and wood fires are actually quite similar. Electric fires only require a power outlet, so the cost will be similar to a wall heater with the same kWs.
- How difficult is it to install a fireplace in a two-storey house? It’s usually no trouble to install a gas or electric fire in a two-storey house or apartment. Electric fires only need a plug to work, so as long as you have a power outlet, you’re good to go. Some gas fires have flexible flue systems which, like Escea’s, can extend up to 40m long. Wood fires can be a little tricker to install in older homes because most need a vertical flue and special heat-rated materials. If you’re building brand new, you won’t need to worry as the fire, surround and flue system will be drawn into the plans.
- What’s new in fireplace technology and design? Fireplaces are available in contemporary shapes now. Smartphone control has also transformed the way we use gas fires. Escea uses a SmartHeat app, which is great when you’re finishing work and want to return to a warm house.
- Hot water bottles: While these certainly have a nostalgic feel-good factor, it’s worth noting the burn risk involved. Always use a cover to prevent contact burns and make sure water is not boiling. Regularly check your hot water bottle for cracks or splits.
- Electric blankets: If you’re considering an electric blanket, you don’t need to buy the most expensive. In a recent study, Consumer found minimal differences in heating performance between the most expensive and the cheapest. However, the more expensive models provided extra features, such as timer settings, woollen fleece covers and ‘warm foot zones’. Regularly check electric blankets for damage (especially around the controller) and replace if it’s had anything spilt on it or if it’s got any kinks. Make sure you store your blanket rolled up instead of folded and don’t store any heavy items on it.
- Throws: Even in the warmest homes, a cosy blanket to tuck your feet under while watching a movie is a must in winter.
Heating in rentals
If there is fixed heating in your rental, your landlord is responsible for maintaining it.
Since July 2019, ceiling and underfloor insulation became compulsory in all rental homes, where it is reasonably practical to install. If you don’t think your rental meets insulation requirements, talk to your landlord and if you can’t resolve it with them, visit tenancy.govt.nz to report a breach.
Words by Bea Taylor.