Winter Heating Costs Explained

Winter heating costs explained

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As the mercury falls and Aussies begin to dust off their heaters, it’s time to think ahead to your winter energy bill. So to help customers better understand their electricity and gas usage for this coming winter, we have calculated the running costs for different types of heaters, including gas, electric, radiant, oil column and panel heaters (plus reverse cycle air conditioners).

This guide will also explore which type of heater might be best for your home and what you can do to reduce your power bills this winter.

Winter 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. Keep in mind these pricing calculations are indicative only and may not be correct to your situation.

Gas heater running costs

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 24,900 Megajoules (MJ).

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Room Size Capacity Average Hourly Gas Consumption (MJ) Total Consumption (MJ) Brisbane Sydney Adelaide Perth Melbourne Canberra
Small 2.9-4.2kW 15 4,050 $198 $146 $142 $166 $146 $150
Medium 3.4-6.6kW 20 5,400 $265 $194 $189 $221 $194 $200
Large 5.2-8.2kW 25 6,750 $331 $243 $236 $277 $243 $250

General guide only. Source: www.canstar.com.au – 18/04/2024. 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 – 3.6 c/MJ in Sydney, 3.6 c/MJ in Melbourne, 4.9 c/MJ in Brisbane, 3.5 c/MJ in Adelaide, 4.1 c/MJ in Perth, and 3.7 c/MJ in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database available for an annual usage of 24,900 MJ.

As you can see, running a gas heater over winter can add between $142 and $250 to your household bills, depending on circumstances, such as, your location, room size and heater capacity. While it’s still a substantial amount to for out for the quarter, gas prices have reduced actually reduced in some Australian cities over the past year. Both Adelaide and Melbourne customers are paying less to run gas heaters this year. However, customers in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth are once again paying more than they did the previous year.

Electric heater running costs

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.

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Type Average Hourly Electricity Consumption (kWh) Total Consumption (kWh) Brisbane Darwin Sydney Adelaide Perth Melbourne Hobart Canberra
Radiant Bar 2.1 567 $175 $159 $191 $247 $171 $142 $167 $142
Ceramic 1.8 486 $150 $137 $164 $212 $146 $122 $143 $122
Fan 2.1 567 $175 $159 $191 $247 $171 $142 $167 $142
Oil Column 1.8 486 $150 $137 $164 $212 $146 $122 $143 $122
Panel or Convection 2.1 567 $175 $159 $191 $247 $171 $142 $167 $142

General guide only. Source: www.canstar.com.au – 18/04/24. Average energy consumption figures based on a sample of indoor electric heaters across heater type for the highest output level (for multi-level heaters). Electricity usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 33.7 c/kWh in Sydney, 25.1 c/kWh in Melbourne, 30.9 c/kWh in Brisbane, 43.6 c/kWh in Adelaide, 30.1 c/kWh in Perth, 29.5 c/kWh in Hobart, 28.1 c/kWh in Darwin and 25 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database for an annual usage of 4,378 kWh, with the exception of Perth which is based on the Synergy Home Plan (A1) tariff and Darwin which is based on the Jacana Energy Everyday Home tariff.

Much like gas heaters, electric heaters can also prove costly to run during the cooler months, adding between $122 and $247 to energy costs depending on the type of heater.

Oil heater running costs: Do oil heaters use a lot of electricity?

Of the electric heating options shown in the table above, oil heaters generally use less power than the other options. An oil column heater tends to consume around 1.8kWh of electricity per hour, which is slightly less tan radiant, fan, panel or convection heaters.

Are oil heaters cheap to run?

While oil heaters aren’t necessarily cheap to run, they’re generally much more cost-effective than other electric heater types, such as panel or radiant bar heaters. On average, using an oil heater for three hours per day in winter will add an extra $122 to $212 to your power bill, depending on your location.

Reverse cycle air conditioner running costs

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 4,342kWh.

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Room Size Capacity Average Energy Consumption (kWh) Brisbane (Hot) Darwin (Hot) Sydney (Average) Adelaide (Average) Perth (Average) Melbourne (Cold) Hobart (Cold) Canberra (Cold)
Small 2.9-4.2kW 65 (Hot)
432 (Average)
1,164 (Cold)
$20.09 $18.27 $145.58 $188.35 $130.03 $292.42 $343.68 $291.25
Medium 3.4-6.6kW 93 (Hot)
634 (Average)
1,726 (Cold)
$28.74 $26.13 $213.66 $276.42 $190.83 $433.23 $509.17 $431.50
Large 5.2-8.2kW 129 (Hot)
886 (Average)
2,425 (Cold)
$39.86 $36.25 $298.58 $386.30 $266.69 $608.68 $715.38 $606.25

General guide only. Source: www.canstar.com.au – 18/04/24. 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. Capacity based on rated heating capacity at 7°C. Electricity usage cost estimates based on average electricity usage costs – 33.7 c/kWh in Sydney, 25.1 c/kWh in Melbourne, 30.9 c/kWh in Brisbane, 43.6 c/kWh in Adelaide, 30.1 c/kWh in Perth, 29.5 c/kWh in Hobart, 28.1 c/kWh in Darwin and 25.0 c/kWh in Canberra. Average usage costs are based on rates on Canstar’s database available for an annual usage of 4,378 kWh, with the exception of Perth which is based on the Synergy Home Plan (A1) tariff and Darwin which is based on the government regulated rate. ^Climate zones based on the Zoned Energy Rating Label for air conditioner models imported or supplied after 1 April 2020.

According to our calculations, reverse cycle air conditioners were cheaper to run than gas or electric heaters over the winter period in hot climate zones, like Brisbane and Darwin. Conversely, running the A/C for heating in cooler climate zones could be a costly decision. Keep in mind, other variables such as personal usage habits and rates will impact your personal 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).

Compare 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 3911kWh/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 4613kWh/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 4011kWh/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.

Which type of heater is cheapest to run?

Here is a quick rundown of the different types of heaters and some of the pros and cons for each.

Gas heaters

Gas heaters are a lot more responsive and capable of heating large areas in a short time. The downside is that gas heaters are generally 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 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

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 they are quite efficient, making oil heaters cheaper to run than other types of electric heating. An oil heater’s energy consumption makes these products 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 conditioners

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
55m2 9.0kW – 10.0kW 8.0kW – 9.2kW

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. 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.

Be sure to check 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 boost heating effectiveness. Finally, make sure you don’t leave the heater running when no one is using it.

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 providers in some time, now is the time to see what your options are and if you can find a better deal.

Kelseigh Wrigley
Energy Specialist
Kelseigh Wrigley was a content producer at Canstar Blue for three years until 2024, most recently as an Energy Specialist. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the Queensland University of Technology.

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