With winter approaching and the days growing shorter & the temperature getting cooler, it’s not uncommon to try to think of ways to heat your home. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Household Expenditure Survey, the average Australian family spends $41 per week on electricity and fuel for heating & cooling their house, which can add up to more than $1000 per year on heating bills.
Some buildings are just harder to keep warm, especially if you have an older home with poor insulation and little or no weather sealing. Using some of these tips should not only help you save money, but also keep you warm & comfortable throughout the long chilly evenings.
- Let the sun in!
The sun is the best source of free heating you’ll find anywhere. Once the sun is up, open up the curtains to maximise that solar heat gain. It’s also a good idea to prune back over-hanging branches or large bushes that might obstruct sunlight coming in the windows.
- Contain the heat!
Once you’ve got all that free solar warmth, you’ll want to keep as much of it in your house as possible. So close those drapes before it starts getting dark. It sounds simple, but windows are a big influence on the inside temperature of your building – glass’s insulation R-value is around a hundredth an average wall’s insulation R-value. Well-sealed heavy drapes with pelmets, blinds & curtains can help ‘trap’ the heat inside your home. Try touching you window glass with your hands and feel how cold it is. Closing the curtains or adding a thick fabric lining can make a big difference to the warmth in your home.
- Think about airflow!
Heat only the room you’re in by closing any adjacent doors. If there’s an exhaust fan, this can replace cold air from outside. By exhausting the moist air from rooms such as bathrooms, kitchen or laundry, you can avoid condensation, dampness & mould. A stuffy room may not be too healthy. If you live in a really cold climate, consider investing in an energy recovery ventilator that can filter & preheat outside air with the warmer exhaust air.
Windows aren’t the only thing that can leak heat out of a room. Uninsulated floors (especially tiled & wooden surfaces) can account for up to 10% of a room’s heat loss. Putting down floor rugs & mats will help keep a room warmer while making it more pleasant to walk on barefoot. You can always roll them up & put them away when the weather warms up again.
- Fire places need separate combustion air
Fireplaces aren’t in every house, but for the few that have them, they need to be used carefully. Fireplaces with chimneys might seem warm & cosy, but they’re actually terribly inefficient for heating the rest of your home. If the fireplace does not have separate outside air combustion (with an air-tight front), cold outside air is pulled into the house in other rooms to make up for all the hot air being exhausted up through the chimney. This makes the room containing the fireplace warmer, but the rest of your house actually gets colder!
- Mind the Gap
Sealing any gaps is the best way to reduce unwanted air leakage. The best places to start are around doors and windows. For doors, you can buy door sweeps to seal the gaps underneath; or if you’re feeling crafty you can try making a “door snake” out of a long tube of fabric & filling it with rice.For gaps around the sides & top of a door, as well as window gaps, use weather stripping. It might seem like a trivial gap, but sealing up air leaks can definitely make a big difference, especially because these small gaps are multiplied by how many external doors & windows you have all around the house.
While some gaps are easy to spot, don’t forget the less obvious areas – where pipes or cables go into walls, behind the washing machine, under kitchen cupboards, and even key holes. If the gaps are big & out of sight and you’re on a budget, sealing them can be done easily with things like scrunched up newspaper, plastic bags, or old socks. But for more visible areas, sticky draught-excluder products or tubes of caulking are available in most hardware shops, as are keyhole covers. Even some older power outlets can leak air – for these, “childproof” caps can be used in unused power outlets on external walls to seal them up.
- Gauge the temperature with an Infra-Red Thermometer.
Used properly, an infra-red thermometer is the perfect tool to help you identify temperature differences that could be a result of air leaks & poorly insulated areas around the house. You can buy these non-contact thermometers from electronics stores for under $50, or even less online.
An Infra-red thermometer can also quickly inform you of any heating or cooling problems with your air conditioner. Locate the air intake & compare the temperature of the air entering your air conditioner Vs the temperature of the air exiting the vents (taking into account the temperature settings) and you’ll have a good idea whether or not your unit is heating or cooling properly.
- Ceiling Fans / Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning
Check your ceiling fans to see if they have a “winter” setting. This setting reverses the direction the fans spin, gently “pushing” warm air around and down. It’s not too useful on faster speeds, but ceiling fans can be very helpful if you have high or pitched ceilings. Reverse Cycle air-conditioning is one of the most energy efficient ways of heating your home. When purchasing a reverse cycle air conditioner, try to purchase the most energy efficient model you can (ones with more Stars). The higher cost of getting a more energy efficient model will definitely pay you back with lower power bills in the future. Additionally, the Reverse Cycle Air-conditioner will be able to cool your home in summer. To maintain them at their best performance, make sure your air conditioner is serviced regularly and that the filters are cleaned (most units recommend at least annually).
Your infra-red thermometer will certainly tell you that your ceiling can be a source of heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. Ceiling insulation will mitigate the effects of your roof’s exposure to the harsh temperatures of the outside world. Adding insulation to cold walls (South-facing in the southern hemisphere) will reduce unwanted chills. If you have a suspended floor and find that it’s still too cold with rugs, consider adding underfloor insulation – but be aware this will make your home warmer in summer.
- Ultimately, keep yourself warm vs the whole house
The house doesn’t really care if it’s feels a little chilly, but you care if you’re cold. Everyone has their own unique comfort tolerance for temperature; one person’s ‘cool’ is another’s ‘freezing’. In all likelihood, you can probably handle the thermostat being a couple degrees lower than what you’re used to. But being comfortable is key. You don’t want to be so cold that you have to wear multiple jumpers in your own home. As a rough rule of thumb, if you need to wear a jumper outside, wear something warm inside too to reduce the cost of heating.