Beat the winter chills: A guide to electric heating options

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As we head into the colder months, thoughts turn to staying warm. What’s the best electric heating system for you? Lance Turner looks at the options, and their pros and cons.

In past issues of ReNew we have focused on what are arguably the two most popular energy-efficient heating options—reverse-cycle air conditioning and hydronic heating. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and both suit some people, house designs and climates better than others, so which is best? Are there other options that should be explored? When it comes to heating, there are lots of questions to answer, and making the right choices is important for a comfortable, warm home with low running costs and low environmental impact.

Not gas
Firstly, we should note that we are not considering gas heating. Gas is a fossil fuel and there is simply no way to run gas appliances without greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, while electricity is in part generated by coal and other fossil fuels, it doesn’t have to be—you can purchase 100% GreenPower or install a solar power system large enough to cover your needs throughout the year and effectively be greenhouse neutral.

The economics of gas heating also no longer stack up in almost all cases. See www.bit.ly/2Hrfebe for the ATA’s research report on this subject.

Now that is out of the way, what are the electric heating options available? Firstly, we will look at the two technologies we have covered previously which tend to be used for space (whole-of-house) heating—reverse-cycle air conditioning and hydronic heating, then we will look at resistive electric heaters, solar air heaters and other heating considerations.

Reverse-cycle air conditioners
Reverse-cycle air conditioners work by compressing a gas, called a refrigerant, which then transfers heat from one place to another. The technology that does this is called a heat pump. Heat pumps are all around us; for example, in your fridge, a heat pump transfers heat from inside the cabinet to outside, which is why the outside of the fridge gets warm. In a reverse-cycle air conditioner, the transfer can go either way, hence the name. In winter, heat is taken from outside and dumped inside, and in summer the opposite occurs.

Read the full article in ReNew 144.