The best value ways to heat your home over winter

STUFF
It turns out having a warm bed at night is cheap as chips but the cost of a hot shower may surprise you.

It’s getting cold out (and in, depending on your insulation and heating options).

Before you reach for the thermostat remote, you’re going to want to make sure the heater in each area of your house is the right size for the room, the most efficient option, and worth its price tag.

In some cases, a few little, low-cost home heating manoeuvres can make a bigger difference than simply turning the dial up to high all day.

Fan heaters distribute warmth more evenly than column heaters.
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Fan heaters distribute warmth more evenly than column heaters.

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* Renters' guide to portable heating - many make the wrong choice

What is the most cost-efficient type of heater?

Well, that really depends on the space you're trying to heat. Heat pumps are perceived by most New Zealanders as cheap to run and easy to use, but the way we use them can rack up some seriously hefty power bills.

Heat pumps use electricity to shift ambient heat from the air outdoors into your home, and can transform each unit (kW) of electricity into 3 or more units of warmth. By contrast, plug-in electric heaters convert electricity directly into warmth via a resistive element with a 1:1 efficiency.

But – and it's a big but: "The improved efficiency of heat pumps comes with a hefty price tag. They cost at least 10 times more than plug-in electric heaters to buy and install, and can’t be moved from room to room," says Consumer, or from rental to rental, for that matter.

“So, despite their high running costs, electric heaters are often the most cost-effective option for small or occasionally used rooms, such as the office or bedrooms.”

However, in decent-sized living areas, a heat pump will more than pay for itself, while electric heaters (with a maximum heat output of 2400W) just don’t have the grunt to tackle the job.

Heat pumps use electricity to shift ambient heat from the air outdoors into your home, and can transform each unit (kW) of electricity into 3 or more units of warmth.
123RF
Heat pumps use electricity to shift ambient heat from the air outdoors into your home, and can transform each unit (kW) of electricity into 3 or more units of warmth.

A plug-in electric heater is the cheapest option when it comes to upfront cost, which is why they're a quick-fix favourite with renters.

However, buying cheap can prove to be a false economy. While all heaters convert all the electricity they use into heat, the size and type of heater makes a difference to how well they will work in the room.

Oil column heaters heat a room gradually. They don't suck up quite as much power as some of the cheap fan models, but the heat doesn't get distributed evenly in the space. For this reason, fan heaters tend to work better than columns in living areas.

But oil column heaters are good in spots where safety and quietness are priorities, like bedrooms.

Most of the heat from a traditional fireplace goes out the chimney.
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Most of the heat from a traditional fireplace goes out the chimney.

Consumer recommends a fan-equipped convector or oscillating tower heater for a modern insulated house.

Just bear in mind that a plug-in electric heater could tally up by the end of the month. According to Energywise, cranking up one 2Kw electric heater for five hours a day costs $2.50. That's $17.50 a week.

What about burning wood? Most of the heat from a traditional fireplace goes out the chimney, but a properly sized woodburner can heat the whole house.

However, how cost-effective either a woodburner or a pellet burner will be will depend on how much the wood or pellets cost to start with. For the best bargains, you need to have bought seasoned wood – that's wood that's only about half dry – and stored it for about six months so it's ready for winter.

According to Consumer NZ, woodburners are almost twice as expensive to run as heat pumps.

As a homemade hack, sticking bubble wrap to the glass with heavy condensation does work as insulation, but it may not be attractive for everybody.
ROSA WOODS
As a homemade hack, sticking bubble wrap to the glass with heavy condensation does work as insulation, but it may not be attractive for everybody.

Don’t forget the DIY hacks

Around 20 to 30 per cent of an uninsulated home's heat can escape through windows. Marcos Peleneur, ECCA group manager of strategy, insights and regulations, says double glazing is undeniably effective.

If you don’t want to replace all your windows, consider doing it piecemeal: “The first step is to just think about installing double glazing in the rooms your household uses the most, or where there’s condensation,” he says.

Fitted double glazing can cost between $18,000 to $20,000 for an average three-bedroom home, putting it squarely out of the quick-fix price range. It might not look so good, but a sheet of bubble wrap or a window insulator kit will achieve some results for the price of a meal out, not a meal out in Europe.

Secure bubble wrap on internal windows in seldom-used areas with some Blue-Tack or double-sided tape, and make sure it is in line with the frame.

Homed reporter Kylie Klein-Nixon tested out a home insulation kit on her bedroom windows to see if it could solve her condensation dilemma – one year later it was still doing the trick.

Cost: $35 for a 3M Window Insulator kit for five windows.

Condensation on Kylie Klein-Nixon's bedroom windows before she used a cheap plastic film to stop it forming in the mornings.
KYLIE KLEIN NIXON/STUFF
Condensation on Kylie Klein-Nixon's bedroom windows before she used a cheap plastic film to stop it forming in the mornings.
During the summer - which was a hot one - some of the corners started to peel away from the wooden sill. But she still had the roll of the double-sided tape she originally put it up with, so it was a simple job to tape things down and use a hair dryer to smooth out the crinkles again.
KYLIE KLEIN NIXON/STUFF
During the summer - which was a hot one - some of the corners started to peel away from the wooden sill. But she still had the roll of the double-sided tape she originally put it up with, so it was a simple job to tape things down and use a hair dryer to smooth out the crinkles again.

Another solution: roll up a bathroom towel and put it above the curtain rail. That's all.

When Consumer NZ tested out creative home heating hacks to see if they were urban myth, head of testing Dr Paul Smith said the towel hack "worked really well".

"The warm air in your room rises, then it tends to sink down behind the curtains – if it can – and as it passes by the cold window, the heat gets sucked out quite quickly.

"So, rolling a towel, putting it right along the curtain track at the top and covering that gap stops the air going down behind the curtain. So it had a measurable effect.”

Cost: $0.

Add another of floor insulation to draughty old houses with rug.
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Add another of floor insulation to draughty old houses with rug.

Wooden floors are pretty, pretty cold. If fluffy socks aren't cutting it, a rug is a great way to add another layer of insulation to the bedroom or lounge.

Rugs make a room feel cozy and inviting and can tie the rest of your decor together all at once.

A thick rug will help prevent heat loss through the floor, especially if there's no insulation underneath. If you live in a villa, even adding a simple runner in the hallway will help.

You can pick up a large rug secondhand quite cheaply, or the likes of Kmart, the Warehouse and Bunnings have some great options starting around $50.

Cost: $50+

An electric blanket costs about 10 cents per four hours of use, according to Energywise.
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An electric blanket costs about 10 cents per four hours of use, according to Energywise.

What's better than a fluffy throw? An electric blanket.

What's better than an electric blanket? An electric blanket you can use sitting on the sofa. Yes people, they've done it.

The good folks at Kmart and the Warehouse have taken two simple winter items and mashed them together to create the newest homeware trend: the heated throw.

According to Energywise, electric blankets use as little as 0.4 kilowatts to stay toasty over four hours, so each one you put on for the evening is only going to cost you about 10 cents. A family of four running their blankets every night for a month will rack up a grand total of $12 in electricity charges. An absolute bargain.

Cost: $39-$49.