Home heating options

There are many different heating systems and fuel sources that can keep your home warm, comfortable and healthy all year round. Christian Hoerning, Senior Advisor at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), says you need to consider where you live and the climate of your area.

Gas freestanding fireplace in living room.
Article by Stephanie Matheson, PHOTOGRAPHY Escea

The thought of the approaching colder months needn’t make you shiver. With the right heating system, you can prepare your home for winter and turn it into a cosy haven for you and your family.
There are many different heating systems and fuel sources that can keep your home warm, comfortable and healthy all year round. Christian Hoerning, Senior Advisor at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), says you need to consider where you live and the climate of your area, before deciding upon the best way to heat your house.
"Modern wood burners are a good option in cold or isolated areas as they aren't affected by power cuts,"  he suggests.  "In general, they're a very economical and environmentally friendly heating option that can also be used to heat hot water through a wetback system. When using dry firewood, they can be quite effective in heating large or poorly insulated rooms."
Open fires are often very inefficient and because they draw cold air in, they can actually make the rest of the house feel colder. However, modern freestanding burners, such as the Pyroclassic IV which uses ceramic components to store and release extra heat, are an excellent choice. If you have an existing open fireplace, you may be able to install a retrofitted modern wood burner.
Alternatively, you can opt for a wood pellet burner, which looks very similar to a conventional wood burner but requires special wooden pellets. Equipped with a remote control and timer, pellet burners offer more control over how much heat is produced and when. Furthermore, they are often permitted to be installed in areas where zoning forbids retrofitted wood burners. However, as they use electricity to start up, they’re not completely self-sufficient.
While a building consent is required for the installation or replacement of free-standing log and solid fuel burners, heaters and open fireplaces, no consent is needed for gas fireplaces. Another advantage is that flues for gas fires can run horizontally as well as vertically. This means that gas heaters don't need to be fitted to an exterior wall and can be installed almost anywhere in the home.
“A gas fire provides the comfort of a real fire without the hassle of having to cut, stack or carry wood,”  says Escea Gas Fireplaces’ CEO Nigel Bamford.  “The fire starts conveniently with the push of a button. When the room is up to temperature, the thermostat turns the flame down so you don’t waste energy overheating the room. Gas is very clean burning; no matter where you are in the country there is no emission issue when installing a gas fire.”

The new Escea DX1500 for example, is an ultra wide gas fireplace with up to five star efficiency and heat output of 10 kilowatts for large living areas. It can be operated via the internet or an iPhone. Another option is Rinnai’s Symmetry DV3610, which has a large landscape frame with different fascia options, a 7.5 kilowatt output and a 4.2 star energy efficiency rating. 
Gas fires can be fuelled by LPG (propane) or natural gas, however, reticulated gas is predominantly available in the North Island. As Lyall Smith from Central Heating New Zealand (CHNZ) puts it:  “Gas is the heat source of choice in the North Island. The cost per kilowatt of natural gas in this part of the country is almost unbeatable.”
In addition to gas, CHNZ’s hot water central heating systems can be fuelled by wood, wood pellets, diesel or even geothermal ground-source energy. Hot water, produced by a boiler or heat pump, is used to distribute the heat from the heat source to the rest of the house via radiators, underfloor heating or a combination of both. This type of heating is growing in popularity, as it’s one of the most comfortable and effective heating methods available. It can heat your domestic hot water, too.
As a fuel, wood pellets are more expensive than wood, but produce less emissions whilst being just as sustainable. Clean burning diesel requires the installation of a small fuel tank outside the home and is available in all urban and rural areas in New Zealand. Then there is geothermal ground-source heating.  “Using the earth’s natural energy to heat a home is extremely efficient and environmentally friendly,”  says Lyall Smith.  “The systems can be installed almost anywhere throughout New Zealand. They use underground pipes to source heat from the ground, where the temperature is warmer than the air found above ground during the winter.”
Central heating has a high capital cost depending on the type of system you select, but it can produce low running costs. EECA’s Christian Hoerning advises:  “If your plan is to heat your whole house, installing a central heating system with an efficient heat source can be cheaper and more practical than installing many efficient single-room heaters or using inefficient heaters in bedrooms for extended periods of time.”
Electric air heat pumps are a popular option for central heating when connected to a distribution system. “Heat pumps are economical, produce instant heat and the temperature and timing can be controlled,”  comments Christian Hoerning.  “But they won’t work during a power cut and some models don’t cope well with very low outside temperatures. If you live in a colder area, you need to ask the supplier to size the heat pump based on its  ‘H2’  performance.”
With all heating options, it's important to get the size of the unit right, so that you get enough heat out of it but don’t waste energy and money.  “The size of heater you need is influenced by the size and shape of the room, the layout of the house, the amount of insulation you have and where you live,”  explains Christian Hoerning. The heater sizing calculator at Energy Wise helps you work out what kind of output you need to keep a room at a healthy temperature.
You may find it useful to combine different kinds of fuel options and heating systems. For example, having a gas or wood fire to substitute an electric heat pump, can be a good idea. Even electric heaters – such as radiant, fan, convection and night store heaters, which are expensive to run – may come in handy for use in rooms that need infrequent heating and in small areas where you need warmth quickly, such as in bathrooms or kitchens on those crisp and clear winter mornings.

You might be interested in reading one of this column series: Home heating.

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This article by Stephanie Matheson featured in Issue 004 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.


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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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