Floor heating could be one of the most effective solutions for keeping Australian homes warm, given the prevalence of building designs in the country that cater more to the challenges of cooling in summer than heat retention in winter.
According to Sandra Skelly of Comfort Heat, many Australian homes are difficult to keep warm in colder weather given that their designers have focused more on effective cooling during the country’s torrid summers.
In other words, the ability of Australian homes to cool themselves in summer can in turn make it difficult to keep them warm in the winter.
“People come from overseas come to Australia and find that they’re the coldest that they’ve ever been in winter simply because our buildings are built for summer, and for letting the heat out,” Skelly said. “So of course, it keeps letting the heat out every time you try to heat it up in winter.”
This design emphasis upon cooling as opposed to heating means Australian homes tend to be highly energy inefficient during the winter months.
“What we’re finding is that most of the energy costs for buildings are in the winter environment, especially in residential projects where you can put in vents for venting the heat in summer, but there is very little being done in the heating of properties,” Skelly said.
Operating within the strictures of such building designs, air conditioners prove adept at keeping indoor environments cool but struggle to heat them effectively when it’s cold outside.
“The heat from a reverse cycle air conditioner just doesn’t work – cooling does, but heating doesn’t,” Skelly said. “A lot of people are finding that if they use air conditioning and things like that, they get hot spots and cold spots, draughts, all sorts of things.”
Another problem with both air conditioners and other forms of localised heating for Australian homes is their inability to diffuse warmth effectively throughout the entire premises.
“If you also look at many other solutions, you may have very high heat systems in just one room, but if you’re expecting that heat to permeate the entire house, well, it just never will,” Skelly said. “You might have a nice warm living room but then you go down the hall to the kitchen or anywhere else in the house it will be freezing cold.”
Skelly considers floor heating to be a potential panacea for keeping Australia homes warm, given its unobtrusive installation configuration and the basic principles of physics that it employs.
“Because heat rises from the floor, we’re just using basic physics to get heat past people as their walking on the floor rather than using systems that force heat into a space,” she said. “So with floor heating you can get the heat to be even throughout the house, (which) makes it a much more liveable space.
“It’s invisible, it creates no draughts or dust, and you can run it from either electricity or a natural gas boiler. It has a lot of applications in trying to get the house comfortable in winter without overburdening your services in providing energy which you are paying for that is just not usable.”
Skelly notes that floor heating systems are also capable of more precise and nuanced temperature regulation compared to existing solutions.
“Air conditioning systems aren’t capable of being regulated as well because of all the draughts and variable air flows,” she said. “Depending on where you’re putting your sensors for the temperature in your house, the management of those systems can be very questionable.
“But with the floor heating system, we’re putting the sensors directly into the floor and also using air sensors in our thermostats, which means once the air reaches the temperature that you want, whether the room is warm enough or not, it will turn off. It’s a more precise system.”
The costs of floor heating is also comparable to that of other solutions while providing greater latitude for interior design options given that they’re essentially an unseen presence.
“(Floor heating is) gaining traction on the market because the cost of installation is about the same cost as an air conditioning system or a gas flued fire place,” said Skelly. “So it’s on par with any other heating system, although it’s the only one that’s invisible.”