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May 2019 was pretty mild for most of NZ. But we’re into Winter now. If you’ve set foot into a homewares store in the last few weeks, it’s likely you’ll have been greeted with a large display of heaters. All shapes, sizes, wattage, prices. Kiwis are looking to stay warm mid year but the options are numerous and can be daunting.

You might need multiple heaters for various needs. Let’s break down the common types of heaters and look at who/what they might be right for.

Fan heaters

The standalone plug-in fan heater is favourite of many for heating small spaces. We’ll often place them down by our feet on chilly nights, or under the desk in the office. If we’re working in a small cold home study on the computer, they can heat up pretty fast.

But a small fan heater really isn’t that efficient and struggles to heat medium-large spaces at home. They’re simple to use, with variable heat settings and a thermostat to flick off at certain reached temperature, however they’ll really chew through power as a primary heating solution.

Fan heaters can be picked up cheaply, making them popular.  There are some more expensive fan heaters which offer better heating and efficiency technology, but the price can start to get up to the level where another type of heater could be a better option anyway.

Fan heaters may be good for:

  • Small spaces and rooms

Fan heaters may not be good for:

  • Heating large rooms like a living room
  • A primary heating solution

Buyers’ Tip: Find a model with auto-shut off when knocked over

Wall panel heaters

These are flat, square or rectangular surfaces that are plugged into the wall and then mounted against that same wall, radiating heat into places like hallways and bedrooms. Some panel heaters are standalone (on the ground) and some are convertible to be either. These heaters are typically less effective at heating quickly than other options as they do not heat up to high temperatures. This however does make many models of panel heaters safer for pets and children (always check with the specific model though).

Wall panel heaters aren’t usually very expensive, and being mounted to the wall, don’t take up floor space. You may see panel heaters as cheap to run, but this needs to be balanced out with its effectiveness. Often panel heaters are just left on to keep a room at a reasonable temperature. However a more powerful heater may be able to do the same job and be switched off when not needed.

Do your research and on the heat output, efficiency and safety features of a wall panel heater. It may be that some parts of your home would suit this type of heater, combined with other more powerful heaters in other, larger areas.

Wall panel heaters may be good for:

  • Hallways and areas with little floor space
  • Homes with pets and children

Wall panel heaters may not be good for:

  • Quickly heating spaces
  • Really cold homes with no other heating options.

Buyers’ Tip: Find a model with temperature control and check the efficiency rating

Column heaters

A column heater is a very common type of electric heater that’s usually on wheels and includes heated vertical bars or ‘columns’ along with a thermostat and other features like a timer. Column heaters are often filled with oil which helps to heat up faster, although there are oil-free options too. A column heater releases hot hair upwards towards the ceiling. What this means is that it can take a while for the whole room to feel warm.

A column heater is quite cheap to purchase and relatively effective unless you’ve got a large room. They’re silent in operation making them ideal for a bedroom. Column heaters are often used for a baby’s room for this reason, along with the fact a timer can be set to turn on and off throughout the night. Combined with the handy thermostat function, we’d recommend looking into this type of heater for bedrooms to see if it’s right for you.

These heaters can be heavy and the columns do get hot enough to burn skin, so manage accordingly with small children.

Column heaters may be good for:

  • Heating bedrooms, including a baby’s room
  • Other rooms with regular height ceilings (too high and can be inefficient)
  • Those wanting control over heater on/off without breaking the bank.

Column heaters may not be good for:

  • Larger rooms or high ceilings
  • Toddlers’ rooms
  • Quickly heating up areas with very cold temperatures

Buyers’ Tip: Make sure you’ve got timer function and auto-switch off safety feature when knocked over. Don’t buy the cheapest model, spend a few hundred and get quality.

Gas heaters

Gas heaters can be tremendously effective at heating large spaces in the home like lounges and kitchen/dining areas. But there’s a few different types of gas heaters, and not all are good. Let’s dive in.

Flued gas heater (installed)

Unless you are planning on an LPG gas bottle to supply gas to your heater, to have a permanently installed gas heater in a room, you’ll need to have gas supplied to home already. You’ll also need to get a registered, trusted gas fitter to ensure the heater is installed safely and properly into your gas mains.

These installed gas heaters are ‘flued’ which means gas emissions are sent outside and not into the house. This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of everyone inside. In terms of cost, you will pay for the gas used to produce heat, so this depends on your usage habits.

The flued gas heater option is usually pretty powerful - those very cold winter nights we can get in New Zealand are often well tackled by these types of heaters.

Flued gas heaters, safely installed may be good for:

  • Heating large rooms quickly, with close control over temperature
  • Houses with gas heating installed already

Flued gas heaters may not be good for:

  • Small rooms
  • Homes without gas supply (obviously)

Buyers’ Tip: Get a gas fitter round to give you advice on the cost and feasibility of installing certain models before you make a purchase. Save a bit more and buy a reputable, quality brand.

Non-flued gas heaters

We don’t recommend these types of heaters. Often coming in a standalone unit with gas coming from an LPG bottle, they are not ‘flued’ meaning along with heat, gas emissions just come into the house where everyone is living. Gas emissions include carbon monoxide which deprives oxygen and in quantities can be fatal. This is especially dangerous given it’s odourless so occupants can be affected seriously without warning.

If you do use this type of heater, make sure the room is very well ventilated and never use these heaters in a bedroom. But, in our opinion, if you’re researching what heater is right for your home, just look elsewhere.

Heat pumps

Heat Pumps are fantastic for heating the home. They’re usually pretty energy efficient, put out great amounts of heat and enable a lot of control over the temperature and timing of heating.

The big consideration when it comes to heat pumps is the initial cost of the unit and installation. This will run you into the thousands of dollars. But the heating power and efficiency of the heat pump will likely pay for itself over a number of seasons. You will want to select a unit with a decent energy rating label and if you live in a cold part of the country, make sure the model you go for will cope with a very cold climate.

The installation of the heat pump involves a unit outside with a fan and compressor that converts outside cool air into warm air to come into the home. Inside the heat pump itself (where the hot air comes out) will have a filter to ensure dirt and dust aren’t blown out along with the warm air - cleanliness of air is also important. Modern heat pumps offer a great deal of functions via the remote - time the heat, control the direction of the hot air, adjust temperature and other features.

If you’re a renter then a heat pump is not going to be a heating option that you alone can make a call on - the installation requires drilling, cutting and fixtures that are reasonably permanent. Chat to your landlord about whether they’d consider installing one into the home.

Before getting a heat pump, we’d suggest having a think about insulation. This isn’t just ceiling, floor or wall insulation but thermal curtains and double glazed windows. We’re not suggesting you need to make all these changes before investing in a heat pump, only that the better insulated a room, the faster and cheaper it is to heat.

Heat pumps may be good for:

  • Homeowners who want to heat any spaces in their house (starting with living, dining areas).
  • Those who’re able to make an initial investment with the goal of monthly savings on the power bill.
  • Having close control over the heating of the home.

Heat pumps may not be good for:

  • Renters (unless the landlord is willing to invest).
  • Small rooms solely e.g. a small bedroom or study. Heat pumps can help heat these rooms with heat transfer or a hallway-based unit that heats multiple rooms at once.
  • People on a tight budget - if you’re just concerned with heating a bedroom there’s affordable options available.

Buyers’ Tip: There’s a lot of high quality options for heat pumps. Buy a unit that comes with a decent warranty and servicing. Some providers sell the unit and install it which can make things simpler. Shopping around and getting a provider to recommend the right size pump and best installation location for your space is a good idea.

Wood burners

Woodburners are quite popular in NZ. We have a somewhat romantic view of burning wood to heat our homes - regardless of whether we live in the city or rurally. While the traditional fireplace can put out good heat, it’s not necessarily as safe or compact as a contained wood burner. These units are installed into the house - usually the living or other common areas, and flued via a chimney. The wood burner itself will vary in size enabling some flexibility of where it’s placed. On the front is a door which can be securely shut. Vents around the unit send out heat into the room.

The great thing about a wood burner is that there’s no power bill whatsoever. Instead, you’ll need to get dry firewood to burn. Getting firewood doesn’t need to be expensive, but you must consider whether you’ve got the space to store it when it’s not being used. Damp firewood is incredibly hard to burn and get heat from, so make sure you’ve got a shed or other area where wood can stay dry.

Wood burners installed now must be up to a set standard of environmental friendliness. As you’re burning wood, there’s emissions into the environment which must be kept to a minimum. The Ministry for the Environment has a guide for NZ standards which is worth reading up on to make sure you’re compliant when you purchase a wood burner.

What are the downsides? Well for starters you’ve got limited control over the temperature produced other than how many pieces, how fast, and the type of wood you burn. While you can control the burn speed with a lever that opens and shuts the flue, it’s not comparable with a heat pump as far as features. There’s also the emissions we mentioned above, although modern units must keep these to a minimum. Compared with other heating options, including a heat pump, there’s less options as to where you can place a woodburner as dictated by the construction of the house. It’s not an appropriate way to heat a small room like a bedroom either.

Wood burners may be good for:

  • Homeowners who want a more traditional heating solution
  • Ensuring heat is always available, even during a power cut
  • Homes with appropriate space for a burner and storage space for wood
  • People who don’t like paying a power bill for heating.

Wood burners may not be good for:

  • Renters - this could be a challenging discussion with a landlord!
  • Households who don’t wish to have any emissions from their heating.
  • Homes without ample space for a chimney or burner unit.
  • Properties without dry storage space for wood (although small firewood loads are available, bulk buying is where the savings are).

Buyers’ Tip: Buy new from a trusted supplier. Getting a second hand wood burner may be tempting, and possibly okay if it’s a newer model. But an old wood burner is unlikely to be compliant with current emissions standards. Speak with the installer ahead of purchasing and make sure you’ve got the space checked out first.

Get what’s right for you

There’s many ways to heat your home - and not all heaters are right for everyone. Typically NZ households will have a mixture of heaters for different needs. But we’d suggest that if you own your home, a permanent heating solution like a heat pump is a good call for those larger areas.