Feature

3 ways to: Reduce your heater's running costs

Green Lifestyle

It's the time of year when heating bills for many households will take a leap into the stratosphere. Learn how to minimise your winter heating costs, and maintain your comfort, with these three no-cost behaviour changes to save you energy and money.

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There are a range of low-, medium- and no-cost changes to behaviour and technology in the home that can result in a comfortable winter without breaking your energy budget.

Over the coming weeks I will outline for Green Lifestyle readers a series of potential changes that could help to minimise your household's winter heating costs while maintaining comfort.

First, I'm starting with three no-cost behaviour changes that could immediately help you to save energy and money, because no matter if you've got electricity- or gas-powered heaters, your power bills needn't be nasty.

Tip 1: Time – Minimise the time your heater is running

Let's start with a pernicious myth: 'leaving your heater on all the time will save you money.' Proponents of this myth usually suggest that your heater heats the building itself (ceiling, walls, floor, etc), and that you’ll use more energy reheating the building each day than by leaving the heating on the whole time. But this couldn't be more wrong for a number of reasons: most of the heat from the heater is not stored in the building materials, but rather escapes from most dwellings; many building materials have low thermal mass and thus low capacity to store heat; and, most of us employ heating systems that heat air, a very inefficient way to transmit heat into the thermal mass that may be available.

Actually, the reverse of the myth is true: use your heating only when you are home and gaining benefit from it and you will reduce your heating bill significantly versus leaving it on the whole time.

So, what is the best way to use your heater? No one likes to come home to a cold dwelling, so an easy way to solve this problem is to set the timer to turn the heater on shortly before you get home: 10-30 minutes will usually do, depending on how long it takes to banish the chill. Turn the heating off half an hour to an hour before you go to bed, and use the timer to switch the heating on again shortly before you get up in the morning, if you need heating in the morning.

Many people are straight into the shower and may not need morning heating since showering, eating, and putting on clothing generally warms people up quite well. If you do use heating in the morning, use it only to take the chill off your home, then turn it off, rather than running it until you leave. Why? Saving one hour of heating per day adds up to about 150 hours per year over the cold months, so that will certainly make a difference to your heating bill.

Tip 2: Space – Minimise the space you heat

This tip is pretty simple: the more space your heater has to keep warm, the more energy it will use, so try to heat only the room that you are using, and shut that area off from the rest of your home if possible.

Always use a space heater (this is a heater dedicated to one room) before a central heater if they are of roughly equivalent efficiency (more on this in a later installment). If you have a central heater with zoning, always use the zoning to avoid heating rooms that you are not using. And if your central heater does not have zoning, inquire about installing it as it will likely pay for the cost of installation rapidly in energy savings.

Tip 3: Settings – Minimise the thermostat setting on your heater

This tip is also very simple: the higher the temperature your heater has to maintain, the more energy it will use. In winter, most people are comfortable around 17–20°C, so find the lowest temperature that is comfortable for you and set your thermostat there.

Every degree that you increase your thermostat setting will add five to ten per cent to your heating costs, so if you set your thermostat on 25°C and walk around in a t-shirt and shorts, just be aware that you will have a sizeable heating bill! If you want to save energy and money, dress appropriately and set your thermostat moderately.

So, this winter try experimenting with your heating behaviour – time, space and thermostat setting – and you might be just as comfortable with lower heating costs.

When you save energy, you also save money and help the environment at the same time – it's a win win!

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Matthew Ruffin is the manager of Progressive Sustainability. He is a specialist educator and consultant in energy, environmental issues and Triple Bottom Line (TBL) sustainability – that is, considering decision-making in three dimensions: people, the environment and the economy. Matthew completed over 1000 educative home energy audits under the ACT Government’s now defunct Home Energy Advice Team (HEAT) program, during which he taught households how they could be more comfortable in their homes while saving money and reducing their environmental impact. He also teaches Green Building principles to builders through the HIA’s Greensmart program, and began lecturing at the University of Canberra in 2013, running their Sustainable Communities course.