Bunnings shopper stunned by troubling detail in heater aisle

The products seem like a 'bargain' but the watts say otherwise.

With some of the country already experiencing the first sight of snow this week, heaters are back on shelves, replacing fans in many Aussie stores — but at what cost?

Bunnings customer Sarah Aubrey was walking through the hardware store on Wednesday when she came across a stack of portable heaters on the shelves. Standing in the aisle, she was taken aback by one specific detail appearing on almost all the packaging of the plug-in heaters — both small and large devices were all advertised as using at least 2000 watts of electricity. Despite a deep interest in the topic, Sarah admits she was "shocked" at how "energy hungry" the products are.

In comparison, much larger but more energy-efficient split cycle wall units like the one she has installed use around 1000 watts when turned on, then 300-400 watts once the room is warm.

While in Bunnings, Aubrey went online to reveal the hidden expense of running the "power hungry" heaters being sold for a "bargain". The sustainable energy advocate also noted it's for this reason that she believes every home should have energy-efficient wall units installed as a minimum standard.

"[Wall split systems] shouldn't just be for people who can afford to put them in," she told Yahoo News Australia. "We have cheap bills but what about the rest? There needs to be a minimum standard."

Sarah in Bunnings looking at the heaters in store.
Bunnings shopper stunned by troubling detail in heater aisle. Source: Instagram/electrify_this

According to Finder's 2023 research, it cost Aussies on average $2.55 a day or $228 per winter to heat their home — assuming they were using the heater for 4 hours a day over 90 days.

In comparison, Finder's energy expert Mariam Gabaji told Yahoo it can cost on average $1.47 a day or $127 overall to run a reverse cycle split system for the same hours over the same amount of days.

For those who can afford to install split systems, they’re more energy-efficient than traditional forms of heating "because they draw heat from outside whereas other heaters need to ‘make’ heat".

However, Gabaji added that the main "downside" of these reverse cycle air cons is the "upfront cost and installation".

"It can set you back $1,000-$5,000 depending on the size and mode," she said. "The silver lining is it can save you money in the long run and be used to cool your home in the summer too in an energy-efficient fashion."

Both Aubrey and Gabaji agreed that oil heaters are one of the most energy-efficient choices for those who cannot install a wall split system.

Other ways to reduce already high energy prices

After electrifying her home and making thermal improvements, Aubrey was able to slash her electricity bills by more than half.

She did this by not only adding the energy-efficient wall split air conditioner but also by replacing any gas with electricity and improving insulation in the roof and floor.

"We were using on average 42-kilowatt hours (kWh) a day in Winter 2022," she said. "Last winter [after making the changes] we used an average of just 12 kWh per day, and had no gas bill either."

Houses with insulation in the floor and roof, draught-proofing and double-glazed windows keep heat in better than those without. Combined with moving to energy-efficient heaters, energy bills can then be reduced significantly.

But, Aubrey noted, making these changes to a home is not something everyone can easily do, not only because of the upfront costs. There are many renters without the option of installing permanent heating systems or improving the design of a home — in an already problematic housing market.

"There needs to be a minimum standard with rentals, social housing and houses in general in Australia," she reiterated. "They need to have a certain amount of insulation and at least one wall split in the property — the onus should be on the landlord".

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