As the chill of winter starts to creep, it’s not long before thick socks and warm jumpers aren’t enough to combat the cold weather. But with the inevitable spikes in our power bills that come with the winter months, choosing a heating source that’s both the best and most efficient choice is an important decision.

Two of the most popular ways to heat our homes are electric heaters or heat pumps. NZ-wide these two methods of heating are well-liked for both their ease of use and reliability, but how do they compare to each other? If you’re thinking about investing in a heating solution and wondering if an energy efficient heater or heat pump is the way to go, look no further.

Benefits & Downsides of Electric Heaters 

Heating your home with an electric heater is incredibly easy, which is why it’s such a popular choice for homes all over the country. Using an electric heater has a relatively low upfront cost, making them an attractive choice for many. An electric heater can heat a small room fairly quickly, which is particularly good on those extra cold nights when you need heat as fast as possible.

Cat sitting in front of electric heater

However, finding cost-effective electric heaters can be difficult and they are less energy efficient than a heat pump. Even those touted as the cheapest electric heater to run — panel heaters — generally don’t produce enough heat to warm a large room to a comfortable temperature (the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum indoor room temperature of 18°C). However, they can be suitable for warming small rooms or rooms you only use occasionally, such as bedrooms or studies[1]. Panel heaters are secured up against a wall, but they don’t pose the same safety hazard to children or pets like other heaters as they have a low surface temperature[1]. Therefore, even if you’re looking to get a heat pump installed, an electric heater, such as a panel heater, could be a good addition for any additional small-medium rooms. They can also be used as safer and cheaper replacements for LPG heaters or open fires, though care must be taken to ensure safety around heaters as well[1].

Those looking for an efficient heater in NZ shouldn’t be tricked by claims of one being a more energy efficient heater over another. All electric heaters are equally efficient, with the exception of heat pumps which are more efficient[2]. If you’re searching for the most energy efficient heater you may be better off investing in a heat pump, or instead simply choosing the type of electric heater that works for you (panel, convection, radiant, fan, infrared, etc) and being aware of the potentially higher ongoing costs.

Benefits and Downsides of Heat Pumps 

HRV High Wall Mounted Heat Pump

Over the last few decades installing a heat pump NZ-wide has become increasingly common. Thanks to being unobtrusive and low maintenance, heat pumps have been easy additions to apartments, flats and houses alike. And they’re generally able to be installed regardless of whether a dwelling is a new build or not. Many heat pumps — including HRV heat pumps — are able to be used in temperatures as low as -15°C, making them a great choice for areas of the country that experience extreme cold during winter. We have a great article discussing whether or not a heat pump is worthwhile in NZ

Heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat your home when using electricity, though their efficiency varies depending on the make and model[3]. A heat pump’s efficiency will also depend on whether or not it has been correctly sized and installed for the area it’s in. If a unit is too small, it will not only cost more to run but may not provide sufficient heat. It’s really important you get a qualified installer to do the job for you – it’s not worth the potential higher running costs if you get it wrong!

One of the biggest benefits of a heat pump is the convenience and simplicity of use, as well as how they can complement your home. Rather than having a unit take up significant space, a heat pump can either be high-wall mounted or discreetly floor mounted — or even recessed into the ceiling or floor. And, when you want your unit to work, you can control it with the system’s remote control or even a smartphone app if you opted for the wifi option. 

Your remote control also lets you easily change the temperature, as well as make use of other heat pump settings. The timer setting lets you choose when you want the unit to switch on — perfect for ensuring a warm home before you wake up or when you get home from work and school. And quiet mode means that the heat pump will operate even more silently than its regular noise level.

Heat pumps are also incredibly safe additions to your home, with no need to panic if younger family members get little fingers too close. If your system is correctly installed by trained professionals, like HRV heat pumps, then they require very little maintenance to continue working safely for years to come. HRV heat pumps also come with a five year warranty period, so you can also have that to look forward to!

Heat pumps do require a higher upfront cost than electric heaters. However, an investment in the most energy efficient heater means that in the long-term you’ll likely save on your power bills (as long as it is sized and installed correctly). 

Which is More Energy Efficient? 

When considering your method of heating, thinking about upfront costs as well as ongoing costs is a good idea. Even though it might be a pain to have a higher initial cost, if you want to invest in a long-term solution that will be used in your home for years to come, it’s worth considering the long-term expense of your heating system.

While electric heaters generally have a very low initial cost, they are relatively energy inefficient in terms of home heating running costs[3]. In fact, they’re often more expensive to run than most other heating options. They also don’t offer as much heat output as other heater types, so you might be paying more for less[3].

Meanwhile, heat pumps cost more to buy and install initially but have the lowest running costs and, when properly sized, are the most efficient heating systems[3]. Much like heaters, they produce instant heat but they’re also very easy to control in terms of both timers and temperature.

How to Use a Heat Pump Efficiently 

Of course, your heat pump will only be as efficient as you allow it to be and there are certain things you can do to ensure you won’t be surprised when you get your power bill. Most importantly, your unit needs to be correctly sized for the room it’s installed in. If you’re buying an HRV heat pump then our expert team will be able to assess your needs and recommend the best unit for you. Installing a unit that’s too small for your space will mean it takes a longer time to adequately heat up.

Using a heat pump wisely will also mean it’s more efficient. Fight the urge to crank the unit to the highest temperature, instead set it around 18-20°C to create a comfortable environment at a sustainable heat. Avoiding the system’s auto mode is also a good choice, as this setting will maintain a set temperature and switch between heating and cooling to do so, potentially wasting energy. 

Finally, using the heat pump timer setting is a good alternative to leaving the unit switched on constantly. Try setting your heat pump to start 30 minutes before you wake up or get home from work, that way your house should be warm by the time you’re up and about.

Panasonic Heat Pump panel

Are Heat Pumps and Electric Heaters Accepted in the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act? 

With the passing of the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act in late 2017, all rental properties will soon need to adhere to a number of standards. The requirements have been designed to make Kiwi homes warmer and drier and cover different aspects such as insulation, ventilation and heating.

If you have a rental property — or even if you’re curious for your own home — you’ll want to make sure that you choose a heating method that meets the standard to avoid any future issues. The heating standard states that all rental homes must have a fixed heating device that is capable of reaching at least 18°C in the living room only. The heating devices must also be efficient and affordable in order to meet the requirements.

In terms of heating devices capable of reaching the standard, heat pumps, wood burners and electric heaters are all accepted. However, this does depend on the size of the room the unit is being installed in and an electric heater will probably only be suitable for a small apartment. To be accepted, electric heaters must be a minimum of 1.5 kilowatts but cannot have a heating capacity greater than 2.4 kilowatts. Heat pumps are excluded from this upper limit[4].

In terms of deadlines, private landlords must have fitted their properties with a proper heating device by 1 July, 2021, though the deadlines are longer for boarding houses and Housing NZ homes. 

If you’re curious to learn more about your heating options, HRV is your heat pump specialist. Book a free home assessment to learn more about how our experts can correctly size and install a heat pump with a five-year warranty for your family.