Winter Heating Costs Explained

As the mercury falls and Aussies begin to dust off their heaters, it’s time to think ahead about your winter energy bill. To help customers better understand their electricity and gas usage for this coming winter, we have calculated the hourly running costs for different types of heaters. This article will also explore which heater might be best for your home and what you can do to reduce your power bills this winter.

Types of Heaters

There are a variety of heaters available. The main types that we will look at are electric heaters, gas heaters and reverse-cycle air conditioners. Each type is available in a range of different models listed below.

Gas heaters

  • Convection
  • Radiant-convection

 Portable electric heaters

  • Fan heaters
  • Panel and convector heaters
  • Radiant bar heaters
  • Oil-filled column heaters
  • Tower heaters

Split system air conditioning

  • Model sizes generally vary from 3kW to 10kW

Want to take the heat out of your winter power bills?

There’s never a bad time to compare energy plans. Hit the link below to see a selection of plans in your area:

Heater Running Costs

While there’s no ‘one price fits all’ scenario when it comes to winter heating costs, we’ve down our best to outline how much each type of heater will set you back below. Keep in mind these pricing calculations are indicative only and may not be correct to your situation.

Gas Heaters

To calculate the running costs of gas heaters, we will assume an average gas usage rate specific to each capital city. For simplicity, we also assume the heater is operating at its maximum capacity. To determine the costs added to your energy bill over winter, we will assume the heater is used for three hours a day over 90 days (approximately three months of winter). Finally, we assume usage costs are based on an annual gas usage of 14,900MJ, plus base the winter running costs off the averages across each state.

Room Size Gas Heater Capacity Total Gas Consumption (MJ) Winter Running Cost
Small 2.9-4.2kW 4,050 $196
Medium 3.4-6.6kW 5,400 $261
Large 5.2-8.2kW 6,750 $327

General guide only. Average energy consumption figures based on a sample of convection and radiant-convection indoor gas heaters for the highest output level (for multi-level output). Usage cost estimates based on average gas usage costs on a single rate tariff – 2.6 c/MJ in Sydney, 2.5 c/MJ in Melbourne, 3.5 c/MJ in Brisbane, 4.2 c/MJ in Adelaide, 12.8 c/MJ in Perth, and 3.4 c/MJ in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database available for an annual usage of 14,900 MJ. Heaters used three hours per day for 90 days. Accurate as of 3 May 2021.

As you can see, running a gas heater over winter can inflate your overall energy costs, adding between $196 and $327 on average. That’s a lot of extra money spent on power bills to keep warm!

Electric Heaters

To work out the running costs of electric heaters, we will assume an average electricity usage rate specific to each capital city. Again, we assume the heater is operating at its maximum output for three hours a day over a 90-day period. We’ve also assumed an average hourly electricity consumption (kWh) for each type of electric heater – 2.0kWh for radiant bar and ceramic, 2.1kWh for fan and oil column, 1.9kWh for panel or convection. Finally, we’ve based the winter running cost on the average across each state – NSW, VIC, QLD, SA, WA, TAS and the ACT.

Heater Type Total Electricity Consumption (kWh) Winter Running Cost
Radiant Bar 540 $137
Ceramic 540 $137
Fan 567 $144
Oil Column 567 $144
Panel or Convection 501 $127

General guide only. Average energy consumption figures based on a sample of indoor electric heaters across heater type for the highest output level (for multi-level heaters). Usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 24.7 c/kWh in Sydney, 21.0 c/kWh in Melbourne, 21.6 c/kWh in Brisbane, 34.1 c/kWh in Adelaide, 28.8 c/kWh in Perth, 25.9 c/kWh in Hobart and 22.0 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database available for an annual usage of 4,200 kWh, with the exception of Perth which is based on the Synergy Home Plan (A1) tariff. Accurate as of 3 May 2021.

Much like gas heaters, electric heaters can also prove to be power guzzlers during the cooler months, adding between $127 and $144 to energy costs depending on the type of heater.

Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning

It’s important to note that there are three bands of energy ratings – cold, average and hot – for climate zones in Australia. For example, Melbourne is in a cold climate zone, Sydney is an average climate zone and Brisbane in a hot climate zone. Each climate zone assumes different average annual energy consumption. In the table below, we assume a standard annual electricity usage of 4,200kWh, and have based the winter running costs on the averages found across each state. Again, we assume the air conditioner operates three hours a day over a 90-day period.

Room Size Air Conditioner Capacity Total Electricity Consumption (kWh) Winter Running Cost
Small 2.9-4.2kW 224 $57
Medium 3.4-6.6kW 337 $86
Large 5.2-8.2kW 478 $121

General guide only. Average energy consumption figures based on reverse cycle, non-ducted, single split system air conditioners listed in the Commonwealth of Australia E3 Program’s Registration database. Usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 24.7 c/kWh in Sydney, 21.0 c/kWh in Melbourne, 21.6 c/kWh in Brisbane, 34.1 c/kWh in Adelaide, 28.8 c/kWh in Perth, 25.9 c/kWh in Hobart and 22.0 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database available for an annual usage of 4,200 kWh, with the exception of Perth which is based on the Synergy Home Plan (A1) tariff. Accurate as of 3 May 2021.

According to our calculations, reverse cycle air conditioners were cheaper to run than gas or electric heaters over the winter period. Keep in mind, other variables such as personal usage habits and rates will impact your winter energy running costs.

How to Calculate Heater Running Costs

To calculate your heater’s running cost, look for a label that describes its capacity or input power requirement. You will also need to have an energy bill handy to see what usage rate you’re paying for electricity or natural gas. Alternatively, you can find your rates by checking your retailer’s energy price fact sheets.

Once you have this information, you can estimate your heater’s running usage costs by multiplying its input requirement by your energy usage rate. For example, let’s say an electric fan heater consumes 2kW of electricity. With a usage rate of 30c per kWh, the running cost is, therefore, 60c per hour (2kWh x 30c).

Check out the Canstar App

Which type of heater is best for me?

There is plenty to choose from for those in the market for a heater. Here is a quick rundown of the different types of heaters and some of the pros and cons.

Gas Heaters

Are gas heaters good?

Gas heaters are generally a little cheaper to run than electric heaters. Gas heaters are also a lot more responsive and capable of heating large areas in just a few moments. The downside is that gas heaters are generally a little more expensive to purchase. They may also produce harmful waste gases such as carbon monoxide. As a result, Australian laws require certain indoor gas heaters to have a flue installed to vent the dangerous gas. This reduces their portability.

Convection gas heaters draw in the cold air and heat it up using a gas-powered element. It then evenly disperses this heat throughout the room. A convection-radiant element is similar, but the element is slightly more exposed. This results in more focused heating.

Electric Portable Heaters

Are electric portable heaters worth it?

Electric heaters are cheap to purchase, however they can be quite expensive to run. They are ideal for heating small spaces and should be used sparingly to avoid an electricity bill blowout. As we mentioned above, there are several types of electric heaters.

  • Convection and panel heaters: These heaters draw in cold air, heat it using an internal element, and disperse the warm air evenly throughout the room. Panel heaters are a type of convection heater that is generally light, extremely portable, and sometimes even wall-mountable.
  • Fan heaters: These are designed to blow hot air at a targeted location and can be perfect for individual use. These fans are cheap to purchase and cost relatively little to run.
  • Oil-filled column heaters: These heaters use electricity to heat oil inside a sealed column. This heat is then transferred to the rest of the room. Column heaters take a little longer to heat up and some models unevenly distribute the warm air. Once the oil columns heat up, however, they are quite efficient to run, making it particularly ideal for long-term heating.
  • Tower heaters: These heaters are effective only within a few square metres, so they are most suitable for bedrooms or small living areas. Tower fans usually have a myriad of settings to suit your needs.

Reverse-cycle Air Conditioning

Reverse-cycle air conditioners are an effective way to keep your home at a comfortable temperature all year round. They are available in a range of capacities between 3.5kW and 10kW. It is important to find the right size for your home. If your system is too small, the system will struggle to effectively warm or cool your home. Conversely, if the system is too large, you’ll have spent more than you needed on an excessively large system.

Finding the right air conditioner for your home depends on a myriad of factors, including ceiling height, window size, insulation and of course, room size. For this reason, you should always get a quote from a professional before purchasing a new air conditioner. As a general guide, the below table indicates what size air conditioner is appropriate for your home.

Room Size Heating Capacity Cooling Capacity
9m2 3.2kW 2.5kW
25m2 4.3kW 3.5kW
30m2 3.7kW – 6kW 3.5kW – 5.0kW
40m2 6.0kW – 7.2kW 5.0kW – 6.0kW
45m2 7.2kW – 8.0kW 6.0kW – 7.1kW
50m2 8.0kW – 9.0kW 7.1kW – 8.0kW

Source: Air Conditioner Buying Guide, Harvey Norman

It is also important to consider the energy efficiency star ratings. Reverse-cycle air conditioners usually have two different star ratings – one to represent cooling efficiency and one for heating. The more stars that an air conditioner has, the more energy-efficient it is and the cheaper it will be to run. While energy-efficient models are generally more expensive to purchase upfront, there will be potential savings in the long term.

How to save on energy this winter

Keeping warm this winter doesn’t have to break the bank – it is a trade-off between costs and comfort. Ideally, you should set your heater as low as you comfortably can. Be sure to check that all the windows and doors are closed to make sure you’re trapping in the precious heat. If you have a reverse-direction ceiling fan, this can also be used to circulate the warm air through the home. As hot air rises, a ceiling fan on a low setting can tremendously boost heating effectiveness. Finally, make sure you don’t leave the heater running when no one is using it.

Consider that for every degree warmer you set your heater, the more it is going to cost you. Likewise, the longer that heater is running, the larger your energy bill will be.

Of course, if you’re paying too much for electricity and gas, then you’re already paying too much for heating. If you haven’t compared energy companies in some time, now is the time to see what your options are and if you can find a better deal.

Electricity Prices

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Original author: Brendon O’Neill

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