What is Cheaper to Run − Gas Heater or Split System?

When it comes to selecting a heating system for your living space, the choice between a gas heater and a split system can significantly impact your energy bills. Many Australian homeowners grapple with this decision, wondering what the most cost-effective option is.

Understanding the running costs of each system is crucial and can lead to significant energy savings. Factors like energy efficiency, local climate, heat output, cooling efficiency and usage patterns all play a role. This article will delve into these aspects, providing a clear comparison to help you make an informed choice.

Understanding Gas Heaters

Gas heaters operate by burning natural gas or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to produce warm air, which is then distributed throughout the home. They are known for their quick heating capabilities and can be a reliable source of heat during colder months.

There are two main types of gas heaters commonly used in Australian homes: flued and unflued. Flued heaters expel combustion gases outside through a flue, reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Unflued heaters, on the other hand, release combustion gases inside the home, necessitating proper ventilation.

Initial costs for gas heaters can vary. Flued heaters tend to be more expensive due to the additional installation requirements, while unflued heaters are generally cheaper but may incur higher operating costs.

Installation of gas heaters, such as gas log fires or a traditional fireplace, should always be performed by a licensed professional to ensure safety and efficiency in your gas heating.


Understanding Split Systems

Split systems, also known as ductless systems, consist of an indoor unit and an outdoor unit connected by pipes. These systems are popular in Australian homes for their efficiency in both heating and cooling, making them versatile for year-round use.

There are two main types of split systems: reverse-cycle air conditioners and cooling-only units. Reverse cycle systems have a significant advantage as they can provide both heating and cooling, making them a cost-effective option for households that need climate control in all seasons. Cooling-only systems, as the name suggests, are designed solely for cooling and are typically used in regions with mild winters.

Initial costs for a split system can vary based on the unit’s capacity and features. Reverse-cycle air conditioners tend to be more expensive but offer the benefit of dual functionality. Installation is generally straightforward but should be performed by a certified technician to ensure optimal performance and energy efficiency in your air conditioning.

Factors Affecting Running Costs

When comparing the running costs of gas heaters and split systems, several factors play a crucial role:

  • Energy prices: The cost of electricity and gas can vary significantly by location and over time, impacting the overall cost-effectiveness of each system. Generally, regions with lower gas prices may favour gas heaters, whereas areas with cheaper electricity might benefit from split systems.
  • Efficiency ratings: The efficiency of heating equipment is crucial in determining its cost-effectiveness. Higher efficiency ratings typically mean lower operating costs. Gas heaters usually have an Annual Fuel Utilisation Efficiency (AFUE) rating, while split systems use the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF).
  • Climate: The local climate heavily influences heating requirements. Split systems might be more cost-effective in milder climates, as they can efficiently handle both heating and cooling. In contrast, gas heaters might be preferred in colder regions due to their ability to provide consistent and powerful heating.
  • Home insulation: Proper insulation significantly reduces heating costs by retaining heat, regardless of the heating system. Homes with poor insulation may see higher operating costs, making the choice of heating system even more critical.
  • Maintenance and lifespan: Regular maintenance and the potential lifespan of the heating system also affect long-term costs. Split systems may require more frequent servicing but often have a longer lifespan compared to gas heaters.

By considering these factors, homeowners can make a more informed decision about which heating system is more economical to run in their specific situation.

Cost Comparison: Gas vs Electricity

The cost of running a gas heater versus a split system depends heavily on the current prices of gas and electricity in Australia. Generally, natural gas prices have been lower than electricity, but this can fluctuate based on market conditions and location.

Energy consumption rates and efficiency are key in comparing costs. Gas heaters, especially older models, can be less efficient than modern split systems, which use advanced technology to maximise energy use. High-efficiency split systems can offer significant savings on electricity bills when used for both heating and cooling.

Seasonal variations also impact costs. During winter, gas heaters might seem cheaper due to lower gas prices, but the year-round efficiency of a reverse cycle split system often balances out costs.


Environmental Impact

Evaluating the environmental impact of gas heaters compared to split systems involves considering several key factors:

  1. Emissions: Gas heaters burn natural gas, which emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. In contrast, the environmental impact of split systems depends on the source of electricity. If the electricity is generated from renewable resources, split systems can be a cleaner option.
  2. Energy source: The sustainability of the energy source is crucial. Natural gas is a fossil fuel with limited reserves, whereas electricity can be produced from renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydro, making split systems potentially more sustainable if powered by green energy.
  3. Efficiency: Modern split systems are generally more energy-efficient than gas heaters. Higher efficiency translates to less energy consumption for the same heating output, reducing the overall environmental footprint.
  4. Refrigerants: Split systems use refrigerants, which, if not properly handled, can contribute to ozone depletion and global warming. The choice of refrigerant and its management during the system’s life cycle is critical for minimising impact.
  5. Life cycle impact: The production, operation and disposal of heating systems all contribute to their environmental footprint. Split systems may have a more complex manufacturing process, but advancements in recycling technologies can mitigate some environmental impacts.

By considering these factors, users can better understand the broader environmental implications of their heating choices, which goes beyond just the operational costs.

Making an Informed Decision

In summary, both gas heaters and split systems have their advantages and drawbacks. Gas heaters offer quick and effective heating, especially in colder climates, but they can be less efficient and more harmful to the environment.

Split systems, particularly reverse cycle units, provide efficient year-round climate control and can be more environmentally friendly when powered by renewable energy.

Ultimately, the choice depends on your specific needs, local climate and environmental considerations. By evaluating running costs, energy efficiency, and environmental impact, you can make an informed decision that best suits your home and budget.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.

Published: 2024-06-25

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