There’s no denying that Australia is more well-known for it’s hot weather than chilly climate, but when winter rolls around we need heating too. With a range of heating solutions available, choosing the most suitable system for your needs can be tricky. In general, the heater that suits you will depend on your budget, whether you have mains gas and whether you also want cooling.
This Guide to Buying Heating aims to demystify the most common types of indoor heating options available in Australia. The first part gives an overview of the types of heaters and their prices* while the second part looks at the most important considerations in more detail.
Heater prices depend on:
- The heater’s output
- Heating efficiency
- Technology used – radiant, convection, heat exchange, heat pump
- Quality and brand of heater
- Features provided and optional extras e.g. timers
- Installation complexity and parts used e.g. flue, zones
*Prices stated are for standard installation and assumes sufficient mains gas pressure at the home.
Types of Heaters
Portable heaters are ideal when renting because there is no installation cost and they can be taken when you move home. Below is an overview of the types of portable heaters you can choose from.
Electric, ceramic and oil heaters are the cheapest to buy but are typically the most expensive to run in terms of the amount of heat generated. Prices range from $20-$150 and is generally cheaper than electric fires and oil column heaters. Although the portability of this model is convenient, they heat a small area and usually can’t heat an entire room. An advantage of this type of heater is that is has a large range of styles and output, making it easy to find one to suit your needs. Oil and elective flame heaters are hot to touch, so make sure children don’t burn themselves.
Gas heaters generate enough heat for one room but can’t be used in bedrooms because they are not flued. Gas radiant (space) heaters cost around $500-$1,000 while gas convection heaters cost between $700-$1600. Portable gas heaters often only heat small-medium areas, however some models are able to heat a large family room
Portable gas heaters need sufficient gas pressure and a gas bayonet installed by a licensed gas plumber to attach the heater to. Some models also require an electrical outlet to operate fans etc.
Two vents must be installed high and low in the room where the bayonet is located for burnt gases to be vented out of the area. Installing vents may lower the star rating of new five and six star homes.
In Australia portable gas heaters have a safety cut off preventing dangerous gas build up, however, as parts can fail, bayonets are not allowed in bedrooms.
Portable gas heaters may not suit people who are more sensitive to emissions – e.g. young, elderly or individuals with asthma and respiratory medical conditions.
Flued Gas Heaters
If you want a gas heater in a bedroom or are concerned about unburnt gases in your home, you might like to consider a flued gas heater. Any unburnt gas is expelled outdoors through the flue, which is similar to a metal chimney with various shaped parts. Thanks to the various shaped parts, flued gas heating will fit most homes but you will need to hire a licensed gas fitter to ensure it is installed correctly and safely. There are many types and styles of flued gas heater involving different technologies – radiant and convector flued heaters, wall furnaces, gas fires and ducted gas heating.
Radiant and convector flued heaters:
- Are similar to portable gas heaters – the main difference is that they are flued
- Are available in three different types: radiant (space), convection or a combination of the two
- Heat one room
- Models can be freestanding or inbuilt into a chimney or custom built wall
- Are not as efficient as unflued gas heaters because some heat is lost through the flue. However it is preferable to lose heat through the flue than to lose heat through the two vents required with an unflued heater,
- Cost $1,800-$3,700 installed, with radiant heaters being cheaper than convection heaters.
- Are wall mounted gas heating that use heat exchange technology
- Can be console (on wall) or inbuilt
- Heat one room but can heat the room behind by an optional rear vent
- Have a large heating area popular for open plan homes
- Commercial models popular for community halls
- Are quiet and cool to touch
- Cost $1,800 – $3,000 installed
Gas fires are often used as a feature in homes due to their attractive appearance. They provide you with the warmth and allure of a wood fire without the hassle of firewood. Free-standing gas fires contain realistic looking logs that are ‘lit’ by a gas flame, while inbuilt gas fires are available with realistic looking logs, pebbles and glass. You can also choose the size, style and fascia for a personalised fireplace that suits the decor of your home. Gas fires generally heat one room, some premium inbuilt fires have an optional system to heat two or three rooms.
Gas fires are generally less efficient than other forms of heating. Check the manufacturers’ brochures to determine the models most effective at heating.
Inbuilt gas fires can be installed in a fire rated plasterboard wall in a zero clearance box and generally cost between $3,500-$7,000. If you decide to opt for an inbuilt gas fire, you will be looking at $4,000-$12,000 including installation.
With some premium fires, like Heat n Glo and Escea, you can install an optional heat transfer system to provide heating to one or two further rooms. A heat transfer system comprises ducting attached to the gas fire and an inline fan to propel the warmed air to outlets where the heat is distributed into the other rooms.
Inbuilt gas fires can be flued or direct vent. Direct vent fires do not need a flue because the air is expelled directly outside through the wall.
Ducted gas heating is the only gas heating system that heats your entire home. It is unobtrusive with the only visible sign of a heater being the vents, which are located in the ceiling or at floor level depending whether the heater is installed in the roof space or under the floor. The higher star premium systems can be zoned, which reduces running cost by only running part of the house at one time. The running cost of a four star ducted gas heater is similar to ducted reverse cycle air conditioning. This system uses heat exchange technology and poses no risk to children because the heater is not accessible to touch. The installed price ranges from $3,200-$8,000.
Ducting attached to the heater distributes the warmed air to the rooms. If the heater is in the roof, special outlets are installed in the ceiling which direct the airflow to ground level.
In Victoria, it is popular to add an optional cooling unit to the ducted gas heater so you get heating and cooling. In Western and Southern Australia where evaporative cooling is more popular, typically ducted gas heating is installed along side an evaporative system as an alternative to ducted reverse cycle air conditioning.
Reverse Cycle Air Conditioners
In Australia, the efficiency of reverse cycle air conditioners has increased significantly over the last five years, causing them to become very popular for convenience and ability to provide year long comfort.
Reverse cycle air conditioners:
- Used for both heating and cooling
- Comprise an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The indoor unit is out of the reach of children. Most outdoor units can be wall mounted.
- Wide range of single room air conditioners – wall splits are the most common form
- Wall split system installed price $1,500 – $5,000
- Ducted reverse cycle is the only air conditioner that heats and cools the whole home
- Ducted reverse cycle aircon price $6,000 – $25,000 installed
- Ducted systems are unobtrusive as the indoor unit is in the roof
- Uses heat pump technology which is a very efficient form of heating
Wall splits and ducted air conditioners have an outdoor unit (the compressor) and an indoor unit (the fan coil). For wall splits, the indoor unit is hung on a wall that is usually adjacent to the outdoor unit. Ducted reverse cycle air conditioners are installed in the roof space where the ducting distributes the heat to the rooms via ceiling mounted outlets.
For every unit of electricity consumed, reverse cycle air conditioners produce over three times as much heat. Compared to electric heaters where every unit of electricity consumed produces one unit of heating, reverse cycle is much more efficient. The efficiency of residential reverse cycle air conditioners is measured as Coefficient of Performance – the higher the number the better.
The Energy Rating website estimates split system annual running costs (including ducted) based on standard usage. It does not allow for air conditioner usage that is significantly above or below capacity.
Ducted reverse cycle air conditioners need to be designed and installed by an air conditioning specialist. Ducted systems are usually zoned to reduce running costs and purchase price. To maximise performance and prolong the life of the system you should have the filters cleaned quarterly.
Our Ultimate Guide to Air Conditioning explains all types of air conditioning available and their application.
The efficiency of wood heaters has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. Whilst not a popular suburban option they often suit people in rural and semi-rural areas.
Wood heaters can heat a single room or whole home depending on the size and efficiency you choose. This type of heater allows you to enjoy the warmth and appeal of a real fire and has a low running cost if you buy wood in bulk and choose an efficient model. They can be easy to keep going if you choose a model with a long burn time. You can choose a free-standing wood heater or have it inbuilt into a brick or stone chimney. The price of an installed free-standing fire is between $1,300-$6,300 and inbuilt fires range from $2,900-$7,500. These heaters have radiant heat boosted by a fan and are hot to touch.
Wood heaters refer to slow combustion wood fires. The fire is contained in a sealed chamber making it much more efficient and a lot safer than an open wood fire. It is important to note that they still need a fire retardant floor or a hearth to catch any sparks whilst the fire door is open.
Because smoke is emitted from the flue, not all suburban councils allow wood fires. Wood heaters suit rural and semi-rural areas which don’t have mains gas and have a dry space to store wood in bulk.
Wood heaters may not suit people who are more sensitive to emissions – e.g. young, elderly or individuals with asthma and respiratory medical conditions.
Heating your whole home with a wood fire requires an appropriate sized fire with a slow burn time which can run 24/7. To keep your running cost low it is important to maximise the performance of your fire.
The flues of wood heaters should be properly maintained for both safety and efficiency. Sweep flues annually to get rid of creosote build-up that can hamper burn efficiency, create the risk of a flue fire and increase unhealthy unburnt gases.
To find out about the most important considerations when buying your heater, read on for Part 2: Choosing the Best Heating for You.