Energy-efficient heating tips for winter

Heating your home in winter can be a serious drain on your electricity bill. If you have a pre-paid electricity meter, you might have even watched in horror as the available units plummet while that fan heater warms your lounge. Thankfully, there are other energy-efficient ways to heat your home, and keep the warmth inside, that don’t cost the earth.

Step 1: Insulate your home

The first step is to insulate your home. Proper insulation means that you’re not wasting energy and money by letting heat escape. Once implemented, you’ll be able to heat a room to a desirable temperature, and then turn off that energy-intensive heater. The room should remain warm for several hours.

#1: Seal windows

Although the newer aluminium windows are fairly airtight, wooden windows tend to leave more gaps when they are closed, which lets in a draught. To prevent this, you can install draught-proofing strips, which are long rubber strips with a sticky backing (available in a roll from a hardware store) that you can attach to the window frame. They create a tighter fit between the window and frame when the window is closed. Fitting draught excluders on all windows and outer doors can reduce your home’s heat loss by up to 25%.

#2: Raise threshold of outer doors, and seal

It’s common practice in the northern hemisphere, but South African houses could do well to raise the threshold of any doors leading outside. This means that there is no gap under the door for cold air to enter. Rather, the door closes tightly against the bottom of the door frame. You can go a step further by sealing around the door frame with rubber draught excluders, which also helps to stop the door rattling in the wind. Alternatively, if you lack the carpentry skills needed to raise a threshold, you can simply attach a rubber draught excluder (available from hardware stores) to the bottom of the door.

#3: Insulate ceilings

While you could buy insulation fabric from a hardware store and lay it yourself, there are some excellent eco-friendly and cost-effective alternatives available from professional installers. For example, Eco-Insulation makes insulation from recycled paper and milled cellulose, and Isotherm creates insulation from recycled PET bottles. Depending on the thickness of the insulation, you can reduce your winter heat loss by up to 95%.

Step 2: Insulate yourself

While this may seem silly, dress appropriately for winter. Don’t walk around in a shorts and t-shirt at home, because you’ll have to turn up the temperature much higher than actually necessary. Wrap up a little, and enjoy the change of season.

Step 3: Choose an energy-efficient space heater

Now that there are no significant air leaks, and you’re dressed more appropriately, you can safely heat your home without wasting electricity. Space heaters use less energy than a central heating system, as they only deliver heat to the room in use. Here are the most energy-efficient space heaters:

#1: Gas heaters

Portable gas heaters burn propane, kerosene, butane, or natural gas to generate heat. While more expensive to buy than their electric counterparts, they are cheaper to run. Another advantage is that the heat is generated instantly. The disadvantage is that sometimes there is a gas smell (carbon monoxide) that can cause headaches or nausea if the room is not properly ventilated.

#2: Radiant heaters

Radiant heaters such as the infra-red versions are the most energy efficient of the electric heaters – if you’re only going to be in the room for a few hours. The other advantages are that the heat is instant, and the heater can be set to oscillate to spread the warmth across the room. However, if you’re not directly in line with them, you won’t feel the heat.

#3: Convection heaters

The most energy-efficient convection heaters are those that make use of a heat transfer liquid (usually oil) that stores the heat. This reduces the number of times the appliance has to re-heat to keep the temperature constant. The other advantage is that the room is kept warm for some time after the heater is switched off. The disadvantages are that convection heaters take a while to generate warmth, can burn unwary children or pets, and don’t distribute heat as evenly as an oscillating heater unless they have a fan component.

#4: Wall panel heaters

Wall panel heaters are energy efficient if you want to heat a whole room for long periods of time, e.g. overnight. The advantages are that they are inexpensive to buy and run, easy to install, safe for children and pets, and you can paint the panel to suit your wall. The disadvantages are that they take a little time to warm up, and you won’t feel the heat as directly as with a gas or radiant heater.

Published on Jacaranda FM’s website on 17 April 2012

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