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What’s the most energy-efficient way to heat or cool my home?

With a rising cost of living, smart decisions around heating and cooling your home can have a positive impact on your energy bills.

Australian weather can be extreme – from scorching hot summers to bitingly cold winters, which makes both heating and cooling a necessity for year-round comfort.

Depending on where you live, cooling and/or heating can account for 20% to 50% of the energy used in your home. To keep your household bills down and environmental impacts low, it’s now even more important to consider cooling your home as efficiently as possible.

But here’s something that might surprise you. For many years it’s been said that gas is the more cost-effective way to heat your home. However, with technological improvements and increasing gas prices, this is no longer always the case. An energy-efficient, reverse-cycle and split-system air conditioner can be your most efficient year-round option – and here’s why.

Two women on their couch turning their air con on

What is a reverse-cycle split-system air conditioner?

A split system is one of the most popular types of air conditioning because it’s convenient, efficient and can provide both heating and cooling options.

Split-systems are designed for maximum comfort with the inside sleek and quiet, holding just the cooling coil, long blower and an air filter. The compressor and fan are housed outside your home – which keeps any noise out of your living space.

What makes reverse-cycle air conditioners efficient?

Conventional heaters generate their own heat energy, such as burning gas. But a reverse-cycle air conditioning system absorbs the heat from the air outside and uses that energy to help heat the air inside, making it very energy efficient. And it doesn’t need to be warm outside either – this technology works the same way even in freezing conditions. It’s the opposite of how your fridge works.

A reverse-cycle air conditioner can reach 300–600% efficiency, which means that it can take one unit of thermal energy and turn it into three to six times as much heating or cooling energy. Under mild conditions, some products can achieve efficiencies of over 1000%.

To maximise your energy savings, set your heating between 18 and 20 degrees in winter or your cooling between 25 and 27 degrees in summer.  As a general guide, every degree above 20 degrees can increase your energy usage by 10%.

Reverse-cycle air conditioners are not only great at keeping your home at comfortable temperatures year-round. Chosen well; they can be an efficient and cost-effective option that can help reduce your power bills and environmental footprint.

A man and a woman sitting on their couch scrolling on their phone

Not all heating and cooling systems are created equal

A split system is just one of many options when choosing an air conditioner. The best solution can often depend on your priorities and the spaces you’re heating and cooling. Below you’ll find different types of heating and cooling:

Evaporative coolers

Evaporative coolers blow air over a film of water on a filter or sponge, cooling the sponge and the air through evaporation. Outside air is drawn through the evaporative unit (generally on the roof) and cooled.

This cool air is then forced into the house, which pushes the hot air out through open windows and doors. This type of cooling unit is only suitable in low-humidity areas that don’t experience extreme heat (over 35 degrees Celsius).

Ducted air conditioning systems

A ducted system is designed to cool and heat an entire home. They have an outdoor unit and ducting that is usually installed in the ceiling or under the floor. Air ducts run from the outdoor unit, generally through channels in the ceiling, and then into each room. This can be an expensive option to both install and run, but it can be a cost-effective way to heat or cool a large house. Think about whether a ducted system or multiple split systems would suit your needs better.

Window air conditioning units

A window unit is a single box installed in a window or less typically, through an external wall. For smaller spaces of up to 50 square metres, these can be useful and affordable options, especially where a split system is unavailable (for example in rental properties).

These units aren’t as energy efficient as split systems but can be a viable alternative with lower up-front costs. However, as their energy efficiency rating is lower, they will have higher running costs.

Wall air conditioning unit

A wall unit is made up of an external compressor unit and an internal unit mounted on the wall. Usually, one wall unit is installed in each room in the house. There is a range of products in the market so be sure to choose the ones with the highest star rating to keep your heating and cooling bills under control. Wall units are also a great way to match installation costs according to your income (i.e. you don’t have to install them all at once).

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