How to heat your home on the cheap

If you own a woodburner, keep it burning cleanly and efficiently.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

If you own a woodburner, keep it burning cleanly and efficiently.

OPINION: Bad news everyone: the year's first Antarctic southerly has just landed. Fresh off the ice shelf, it's set to deliver wintry blasts and snow to low levels in the South Island, while rain and strong winds are expected further north.

If this were most other developed countries, you'd be looking forward to a weekend of kicking back with a mug of hot cocoa in your warm, dry home, which is kept cosy by central heating and comprehensive insulation.

Unfortunately, you live in New Zealand, where at least 600,000 households have inadequate or no insulation.

To make matters worse, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) reports the majority of renters rely either on plug-in electric heaters (costly to run and underpowered), portable unflued gas heaters (a health hazard), or don't heat their homes at all.

READ MORE: You've been using your heat pump wrong all this time

Meanwhile, the Government is giving landlords until July 2019 before insulation becomes compulsory in their rental properties. A good start, but means some tenants still face two more icy winters indoors.

Use a timer with your heater so it's only on when you need it.
iSTOCK

Use a timer with your heater so it's only on when you need it.

All is not lost. Even if you're in a sub-par rental here are 10 tips for making your home easier and cheaper to heat:

1. Look at switching energy provider: in some parts of the country, there can be more than $1000 separating the cheapest and most expensive electricity retailers' annual bill. If you rely on electric heaters or a heat pump, switching providers can slash your winter bills. Visit powerswitch.org.nz to see if you're getting the best deal for electricity or gas (it's free).

2. Tackle moisture at the source: A damp home feels colder and is harder to heat. Easy ways to reduce airborne moisture include using pot lids when cooking, keeping kitchen and bathroom doors shut when steam is present, fitting a Showerdome, and attaching security stays to windows so you can keep your home ventilated while you're out. Portable LPG heaters also fill the air with moisture and cost more to run than electric heaters. We don't recommend them.

3. DIY double-glazing: Hardware stores sell secondary glazing kits for as little as $10 per pane. All you need to do is cut the plastic film to size, tape it to the frame and use a hairdryer to shrink it to size. The film won't last forever, but you'll significantly reduce heat loss from your windows.

4. Heat smarter: If you have a heat pump, setting it to 30C to warm your home faster won't work. Select the temperature you want (20C to 23C is optimal) and let the controller do the rest. Only leave your heat pump on all day if your home's well-sealed and has comprehensive insulation. If it is draughty and poorly insulated, you're better off switching it on when required. Using the thermostat on your electric heater ensures it doesn't keep blasting full bore once the desired temperature is reached, while using its timer (or buying a cheap wall-plug timer) means it's not working all day and night.

5. Fan power: Electric heaters with a fan, while noisy, are much quicker at heating a room and give a more even distribution of warmth than fan-less heaters. If you're fond of your oil-column, you can give it a boost by placing a small desk fan on the ground beside the heater. In our testing, we found this warms a room three times faster.

6. Burn smarter: If you own a woodburner, keep it burning cleanly and efficiently by adjusting the amount of wood in the fire rather than turning down the air control. Using dry firewood of the right size (less than 110mm in diameter) maximises the surface area of the logs.

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7. Burn cheaper: Our recent survey found huge variation between the cost of firewood between different suppliers, even in the same city. Don't have misplaced loyalty, ring around to find the cheapest load.

8. Clever curtains: When it comes to keeping heat in a room, how curtains are installed is more important than their material or thickness. Ensure your curtains and blinds form a good seal with all sides of your window frame. Floor-length curtains are more effective than window sill-length curtains.

9. Get more bang for your buck: Using energy-efficient products and appliances gives you more financial freedom to blast your heat pump or heater for longer. Making a meal in a slow cooker costs 6c over eight hours, compared with 50c an hour for an electric cooktop. Replacing halogen or incandescent bulbs with LEDs can also shrink your electricity bill by up to 10 per cent.

10. Rug up: A rug is a great way to add another layer of insulation, especially if you've got wooden or concrete floors. Putting down a thick rug in living areas helps prevent heat loss through the floor, especially if there's no underfloor insulation.

However, these tips are no substitute for a fixed, efficient form of heating such as a heat pump, woodburner, gas fire or central heating, along with comprehensive floor and ceiling insulation. We think the government should require landlords to install efficient heaters in all rental properties, and make floor and ceiling insulation mandatory in rentals from next year at the latest.

* For more advice on the best ways for you and your family to stay warm and dry, Consumer NZ has made its 2017 winter heating guide free at consumer.org.nz/articles/get-your-free-winter-heating-guide.

 - Stuff

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