Heating your home in Tasmania

Typically, the types of heating you will expect to find in Tasmanian homes are:

Electric panel heaters:

A panel heater. Photo: comparison.com.au

When we purchased our house it came with one of these panel heaters affixed to the bottom of the wall in each of the bedrooms. We removed them because they were old (1970s beige and brown) and we didn’t want any fiery accidents. We haven’t yet replaced them but we will be doing so in due course, once we get a few other things (like re-doing the laundry!) done first. The old ones that we removed were reasonably bulky but the ones you can buy these days from Harvey Norman are sleek, attractive, slim and white so they blend into the wall and the room a little better. Last winter we purchased a $399 2000W panel heater (that we currently have on castors because we’re not sure where its final home will be) which provides a good amount of heat and warms you through reasonably quickly. Some of the manufacturers that make electric panel heaters are Noirot (this is the brand that we have), Nobo and IXL.

Electric heat pumps (also known as reverse cycle air conditioners):

A reverse cycle air condition or "heat pump" as they are known in Tasmania. Photo: kimyairconditioning.com.au

These are the long things with the flappy bit that moves back and forth and they can spit out cool air as well as hot air. Yes, they’re commonly called reverse cycle air conditioners on the mainland but here in Tasmania they’re called “heat pumps”. They are made by several different brands including Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Daikin and LG. They are usually fixed near the top of a wall and are connected to an “engine” section which is fitted to outside of the house. These are great for providing “on demand” immediate heat into a room. Electric heat pumps are said to be the most cost efficient electric heating currently available, though not sure if this is marketing spin from the manufacturers. Here’s some technical details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_pump

Electric heat banks:

A heat bank heater. Photo: derbyheatbanks.com.au

When we purchased our house it came with 2 electric heat bank heaters, one in the hallway and one in the laundry. We removed them because they were old, big, brown, heavy and horrible to look at. Inside heat bank heaters there is a metal coil and several terracotta bricks that look a bit like patio pavers.  Heat bank heaters work by using the off-peak electricity (which is only found in older houses – the off-peak comes on at our house between 2pm and 4.30pm and then again between 9pm and 7am). While the off-peak electricity is on, the metal coils heat up the terracotta bricks and because the bricks have natural heat retaining properties, the heat is stored in the bricks for a very long period of time. By the time the off peak electricity goes off, the terracotta bricks inside have hopefully stored enough heat in them to provide a comfortable level of warmth until the next boost of electricity from the off-peak metre.

Heat banks produce quite a slow heat, not at all an “on-demand” heat and takes a couple of days to get up to peak temperature but it definitely takes the edge off the chill in the room. My understanding is that these heat bank heaters are quite rare these days and they are very expensive to buy (I was thinking about replacing the old brown 1970s ones that we removed and I had a quote for $700 for a heat bank heater, but not sure if the guy was trying it on). Plus, heat bank heaters are big and bulky and take up a lot of room. The upside is that they are quite cheap to run because they run from the off-peak electricity.

A word about off-peak electricity: Off-peak electricity runs on a separate metre to your ordinary electricity. There is a monthly fee that we have to pay for our off-peak metre, even if some months we don’t use any off-peak electricity. Only older homes are fitted with off-peak electricity metres. The electricity company down here (Aurora) is no longer fitting off-peak electricity metres to houses so if you have a new-ish house then you won’t be able to get an off-peak metre.  And if you have an old house and get the house re-wired, don’t rip out the off-peak metre because you won’t be able to get it replaced!

Electric undertile heating:

Under tile heating. Photo: radiantheat.co.nz

This is a new trend in home building that I have noticed. I have looked into having some underfloor heating laid in our bathroom (when we eventually get around to renovating it) and the cost would be about $600. There are varying opinions on the net about how quickly the underfloor heating heats up and how cost efficient it is. I have heard of people laying the underfloor heating to their entire house (though this is more common in Europe).

Gas heating:

A gas heater. Photo: hotfrog.com.au

Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, mains gas is not always readily available in Tasmania. When we moved into our house it came with a large gas heater which was run from the biggest gas tank I’ve ever seen. We removed the gas heater shortly after moving in (it was old and brown and horrible to look at, just like the heat banks and the panel heaters that we removed) and we replaced it with a large wood burning heater (an Ultimate Esperance heater). From memory, the tank might have been re-filled twice a year and I have a memory that it was very expensive (we used Origin, but there are other gas providers in Tasmania).  I think the cost was part of the reason why we removed the gas heater and replaced it with a wood burning heater. Gas of course is an immediate heat source, although it does take some time to thoroughly warm a large room. You can get gas heaters as an in-built heater or a freestanding heater.

Wood heaters (also known as wood stoves or fire boxes):

A wood burning heater. Photo: thefireplace.com.au

Shortly after we moved into our house we removed the gas heater that was here and we replaced it with a wood burning heater. The wood burning heater produces a nice glowing warmth and the dogs love to bask in front of it both during the day and at night. Sometimes we have to jostle with the dogs for a position in front of the heater :) There is nothing better on a winter’s night than laying on the couch at night watching TV and listening to the fire roar. It’s not an immediate heat but once the fire gets going it lifts the temperature of the room nicely. Some people we have spoken to about their heaters have reported that their fire was going so strong that they had to open windows to let some cool air in! Wood burning heaters come as free standing units or as built-in units.

After having the wood fire now for a little over 12 months, the downsides are that it can get messy with all the twigs and wood that are brought into the house, it physically takes up a lot of space in the room, it can smoke up the house for a little while just after you get it started and it seems to create a lot of dust on surfaces. Additionally, you have to make sure that you keep a good stock of wood and if you don’t have a large backyard then a wood stockpile is going to take up a lot of room in your backyard.

Now, it is not terribly eco-friendly to spurt smoke into the atmosphere and depending on which time of year you buy your wood it can be just as expensive as some of the other forms of heating to run your wood heater. If you buy your wood in bulk in summer you are likely to get a good bargain compared to if you bought your wood in the middle of winter. You’ll probably also get nice dry wood in summer too. Make sure that your wood isn’t green and make sure that it is dry before you burn it otherwise it will cause a lot of smoke to come out of your chimney. If your fire is burning nicely then you shouldn’t be able to see any signs of smoke coming out from your chimney.

To be used in conjunction with your wood burning heater is a ducting kit that you can purchase that basically acts like ducted air conditioning but it takes the heat from the heater and disperses it into the various rooms in your house using ducting. So you’d create a vent in the ceiling just above the wood heater and create a vent in, for example, a bedroom and then connect the two using ducting pipe. I’m not sure how efficient this would be but this is something that we want to at least try as our hallway can get quite chilly at times.

Hydronic heating (also known as boiler heating):

This is not something that I have any personal experience with but when we were house hunting in Tasmania we viewed a house in Deloraine that used hydronic heating (or “boilers” as the real estate agent called it). It’s basically a wood burning heater (but without the see-through window) that is connected throughout the house and it pipes hot water through the pipes which then in turn heat the house. Check out these bad boys: http://www.wiseliving.com.au/hydronicheating.htm  Or instead of a plain box you could have the boiler connected to your wood burning oven. Look at this: http://www.wiseliving.com.au/stovesandovens.htm Not sure how much something like this would cost to buy and install but I would imagine it would be pricey. I suppose the up side with having the boiler is that you could have it outside and not have to deal with smoke or mess on the inside of the house like you do with a wood burning heater.

Alternative fuels:

These days you can get heaters that run on alternative fuel such as pellet fires (which are supposed to be eco-friendly), solar power (not worth it in my opinion as the amount of solar panels you’d need to make a heater run is out of this world crazy). If you’re building a new house then the best thing you can do for heating is utilize passive solar heating methods in the construction of your home.

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