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Designing homes to conserve energy and use it efficiently, from sources that cause least environmental harm.
Space heating options by room
Each room in a house has different heating requirements, so different types of heaters will provide the best outcome in terms of occupants’ comfort and environmental sustainability.
On this page:
- Living or dining rooms
- Open plan spaces
- Two-level spaces
- Heat transfer systems
The most sustainable heating approach is to maximise use of passive heating first, then select an active heating system to meet the remaining heating needs. Always start with the simplest and cheapest option for the circumstances.
As discussed in space heating – energy sources, when specifying space heating consider its suitability for the purpose (i.e. the type of space being heated and the type of heat required), as well as environmental and health impacts. The aim, in essence, is to maximise occupants’ comfort and health, while minimising harmful environmental impacts.
Below, we explain suitable heating types for each space in a typical home.
Living room or dining room
For living and dining rooms, the space heating system generally needs to provide for:
- heating of larger spaces
- longer periods of use
- low noise
- variable occupancy levels.
Occupants should be able to control the heating, and it should have a relatively quick response time so both the occupants and the space can be quickly warmed when temperatures fall.
As activity within this space is often sedentary, it is important that natural air movements should not make the occupant feel cold.
The space heating system for bedrooms needs to allow for:
- long periods of occupancy with low activity levels
- gentle heating of the air in the room
- low noise levels.
This is best achieved using convection heating. In a well insulated, passively warmed house, an oil-column heater or nightstore may be sufficient.
The space heating system for a bathroom needs to:
- provide for short periods of use
- have a very quick response (to warm the occupant when the bathroom is in use)
- be effective and safe for use in a moist environment.
To minimise the risk of condensation forming, ventilation should be addressed first. After that, a low level of background heat is recommended, such as a hot water radiator or underfloor heating system. Condensation is made worse by cold walls, especially exterior walls that are not insulated.
Other options are:
- ceiling-mounted heat lamps (with exhaust air duct)
- high-level, wall-mounted electric radiant heaters
- electric wall-mounted fan heaters.
The space heating system for a kitchen needs to allow for short or medium periods of use, depending on when the room is occupied and whether other sources of heat such as the oven are being used. The system also needs to allow for raised levels of moist air, which will require ventilation.
In general, heating is not required or installed in kitchens. If it is needed, the best heating option is an electric radiant heater.
Open plan spaces
Open plan areas generally include kitchen-dining, living-dining or a combination of both. The space heating system for an open plan space needs to allow for movement of air between areas and for loss of heat from the immediate area around the heater.
An even, level heat without draughts will be achieved with underfloor heating. Even heating can also be achieved with heat pumps, ducted central heating or hot water radiators throughout the area.
Additional heating for specific areas, such as the area where lounge seating is located, may be provided by gas or electric radiant heaters.
The heating system for a two-level space should allow for convection currents causing warm air to rise from the heated lower level to the upper level.
In a well insulated home, there may be sufficient heat flow from the lower-level heating system so that the upper level only needs a low output radiant or convective heater for boost heating. Alternatively, a ceiling fan can be used to redistribute heat, within a space and heat transfer systems can redistribute heat into adjacent hallways or bedrooms.
Heat transfer systems
When considering room-by-room heating options, bear in mind that a heat transfer system may also help keep some rooms warm.
These systems aren’t actually heaters – they just move warm air to where it is needed. They are most useful in houses where at least one room is heated with a log burner or pellet burner, and the air at ceiling height in that room reaches around 30ºC or more. This is the excess heat that can be moved to other rooms.
The simplest heat transfer units are installed high on an internal wall, moving warmed air directly through to an adjacent room.
Other units draw the warm air from a grille at the opposite side of the room to the heat source, and move it through 150 mm or 200 mm insulated ducts in the roof space to ceiling outlets in other rooms.
The fans typically use 40–120 W of power and move 300 m3–1000 m3 of air per hour. Some systems have thermostats so the fans only operate when the temperature in the source room is above a certain level. Many proprietary systems are available with touch-screen controllers and timers.
These systems are not a good choice for rooms where the heat source is thermostatically controlled and/or there is little heat stratification in the room.
Some heat transfer systems have provision for an outdoor air intake beneath the eaves that allows fresh air ventilation in summer.
Ideally, heat transfer systems should be always contained within the thermal envelope. If this is not possible, then the insulated duct runs should be as short as possible and the R values as high as possible.
- www.smarterhomes.org.nz – heating
- www.yourhome.gov.au – energy use
Updated: 12 August 2021