Central Heating Choices in Australia and Do You Need It?

With temperatures touching 27°C today here in Brisbane, it might seem a little ridiculous of me to start talking about central heating in Australia. But elsewhere around the country both Adelaide and Melbourne have had their coldest July in 20 years and Hobart is covered in a blanket of snow right now…

So, whether you need central heating or not largely depends on whereabouts in Australia you’re going to live, but I can assure you that even here in Brisbane it does get substantially colder when the sun goes down. So some form of heating in the house is a very good idea, even in Brisbane and many places further north.

Heating usage in Australia

Being from Brisbane though, as I am, I’m not all that up on the various choices for heating your home, so I’ve had to rely on research on the subject of which there is precious little.

Here’s what I did find out:

  • 77% of dwellings across all of Australia have some kind of heating
  • Non-ducted gas heating is the most popular at 26%
  • Next is reverse cycle split system air conditioning at 18%
  • Around 13% use a heater for less than one month a year
  • Between 25 and 30% use a heater for one month to less than three months
  • Almost 45% use a heater for between three and six months
  • Slightly more than 10% use a heater for six months or more

Source: ABS

For the record, I have ducted reverse cycle air-conditioning and use it between one and three months of each year. It is a modern system, I only had it fitted about a year ago to replace the 25-year-old unit we inherited with the house.

The outdoor unit…

Ducted unit

And an indoor duct…

ductingIt’s hugely efficient, the first hour probably costs around 60 cents as it warms up the house from cold, and then it seems to tick over at between 30 to 35 cents an hour after that. It’s not a stuffy heat either; it’s very comfortable to be in.

Of course, the same system gets around five weeks of use in the summer as an air conditioner to help us get through those sticky humid nights.

Heating choices in Australia

The main forms of heating used across Australia include:

  • Electric heating, including portable heaters
  • LPG gas non-ducted heating
  • Mains gas ducted heating
  • Mains gas non-ducted heating
  • Reverse cycle ducted heating
  • Reverse cycle non-ducted heating
  • Wood heating, both open and closed

Here’s what wood heating, both open and closed, can look like. First, open…

The Christmas FireNow closed; these sort of stoves are quite common here in Australia…

stovesThey are romantic and fun but also a lot of work and not very cost efficient, unless you can get hold of an endless supply of wood for free, which most people can’t.

Piped gas is more common in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. It’s not quite so common in Sydney with around 50% of households having gas. Gas is not at all common in either Queensland or Northern Territory simply because these states are both significantly warmer.

Source: energyrating.gov.au (PDF)

Why Tasmania doesn’t have much gas though, I don’t know, they certainly need it. When we were in Tasmania four years ago, we turned everything on trying to heat up the room…

Heater 1 Heater 2 Clothes heater

heaters…we were still cold.

When I lived in the UK, my heating of choice was gas fired central heating with water filled radiators. Here is one of those radiators:

UK radiatorHere in Australia it seems that kind of central heating has a fancy name; it’s called hydronic heating.

Very posh.

And what of those 23% of households that have no heating whatsoever?

A small percentage of those houses are probably in the far northern part of the country and simply don’t get cold enough. For the others though, where it does get quite chilly, it’s not uncommon for people to snuggle up under a blanket to watch the TV and keep warm that way.

What heating do you use where you are?

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Joe March 24, 2021, 9:12 pm |


    Interested to know how most Australians get hot water – what heats it, how its stored etc.
    Can you enlighten me on this?

    • BobinOz March 26, 2021, 4:32 pm |

      Interesting question.

      The first house I lived in here in Australia had a solar hot water heating system attached to the roof. Imagine a water storage tank bolted on top of your house with some solar panels beneath it, pointing towards the sun and hey ho, pretty much free hot water all year round, certainly here in Queensland. Sometimes I needed to boost it by turning on the electricity, but not often. Easily my favourite method for getting hot water in Australia.

      The house I currently live in doesn’t have that set up, instead it just has a couple of water tanks on each side of my house that are heated up with electrical elements, but use the the cheap tariff known as Tariff 33. This comes on and turns off automatically as and when the electricity supply company have electricity to spare, and only costs about half of the normal tariff, about 14c per kilowatt hour. So, pretty cheap to run, and I’ve never known it to run out of hot water in the four years I’ve lived here.

      The other option I know about are hot water tanks, again that stand on the side of the house, but these are boosted by the ambient warm air that surrounds it and that somehow helps heat the water. When that’s not enough, the electricity booster clicks in. These are quite efficient, but they are also a bit noisy and make a humming noise, which can be annoying it is outside your bedroom window.

      I’m sure there’s plenty of other methods, including probably LPG gas, but for me, the solar heating on the roof is the best. I can show you a picture of it, I had to replace mine when it leaked at the old house, see…


      • Joe March 30, 2021, 12:43 am |

        Thanks Bob – very interesting. Certainly very different to how most do it in the UK! It will be interesting to see how heating/hot water changes in the UK in the coming years as the government is doing its best to phase out gas boilers but the alternatives are far from clear at the moment.

  • Abdul March 15, 2021, 1:05 pm |

    Hi Bob. I can relate with your experience in Tasmania. Quite new in Australia and out of my inexperience rented a house in Melbourne without central heating. It does get very cold and with the windchill effect, it’s unbearable. I am from India and lived in Dubai for 8 years. Rented the house in August and had to switch on 4 oil heaters and we still felt cold. The first month electricity bill was upwards of $400/-. I am moving to Sydney or Brisbane at the end of my 12 month contract. Ducted gas/reverse cycle heating should be a must for rental properties in Melbourne!

    • BobinOz March 17, 2021, 7:01 pm |

      Yes, it gets pretty cold in Melbourne, so I know exactly what you felt like having felt the same when I was in Hobart.

      If you move to Brisbane, you’ll find winters are a lot kinder, and although you probably will need some kind of heating at night time in the winter, our winters are incredibly short. In my view, Brisbane is the best city to living in all of Australia.

  • Dave January 17, 2019, 6:40 am |

    I’m two thirds of the way through a marathon reading of every blog post you’ve written, from the beginning, that catches my eye (and that’s over 80% of them). What an amazing resource it is for someone in the planning stages of getting over to Brisbane next year. Thanks Bob!

    I suppose the biggest surprise of this article to me is how infrequently you need the aircon in the summer. Do you find it’s sufficient outside of the humid 5 weeks to throw open the windows and all is well? I know you said you’d screened them all to make them bug proof. Also, in the first year there would you have run it longer, and 5 weeks is the pattern you’re used to now, having acclimatised? Don’t get me wrong, 95% of the weather you regularly reported from there sounds like bliss. Where I am now it’s minus 7, going to minus 15 overnight…

    • BobinOz January 17, 2019, 4:28 pm |

      Hi Dave, glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. There’s only about 1500 pages, so it shouldn’t take you too long to finish it all off.

      With the AC, I think it’s a bit of a personal choice. Nothing to do with acclimatising, even when we first got here we rarely put it on. We have ceiling fans in every room and when it’s hot they are on. Also, as you said, the windows are always wide open as we have the Crimsafe screens, so it’s not like anyone can just jump in through a window any time.

      For us, the only time we really need it is when it stays hot at night, and for us that’s probably 28° or above. Basically we can put up with the heat during the day, but if it doesn’t drop off at night time, which can often happen during January and February, then we put the air-conditioning on and close all the windows. Otherwise, it’s impossible to sleep.

      Worth mentioning that we do have a media room that has a split system in it, and often my daughter will go in there to watch a film and cooldown during really hot days.

      I’m sure plenty of people do use the air-conditioning a lot during the summer, but it is expensive to do so, and as we do seem to cope with the heat okay, we’d rather stick with the fans.

      Gosh, minus 15; brrr!

      • Dave January 18, 2019, 4:53 am |

        Thanks for the reply Bob.

        Yeah I suppose in Canada here where the houses are built to grab and hang onto any heat they can with thick insulation, the odd days when it goes 30 and above can end up being aircon days. In Oz, without so much (any?) insulation I wonder if the houses cool off better on evenings when it doesn’t stay too hot. Thanks for the tip on Crimsafe, looks very durable.

        • BobinOz January 21, 2019, 8:09 pm |

          The insulation on some older houses can be horrible and they can get really hot in the summer, so probably best to choose a more modern house.

          In Brisbane, certainly in some of the suburbs a little further away from the city, we have plenty of big four+ bedroom detached houses with lots of space, tiled floors and good insulation. I like to pick houses that are on high ground, maybe at the top of the hill, that way you catch the breezes.

          Crimsafe is a worthwhile investment if it’s not already fitted on the house you end up choosing.

  • John October 24, 2017, 8:11 pm |

    I live in Brisbane too and it can get cold in the winter, down to 5c at night time. We often put the heating on from a wall mounted air conditioning unit. I feel like is isn’t a consistent heat though in the same way as central heating, just hot air blown in your face which gives me a headache.

    I’m considering central heating but not sure if we can get the gas…

    • BobinOz October 25, 2017, 7:30 pm |

      Yes, I agree John, it can get cold at night time. Have you looked at reverse cycle air-conditioning? We use our ducted air-conditioning to heat our home during winter, it works a treat and it is super economical. It’s not a stuffy heat either, very comfortable to sit in.

      My system these days is a Daikin with an iZone controller and it’s excellent. In my previous house (the system mentioned above), the controller was MyAir and that turned out to be horrible; not recommended.

      I don’t have any experience of split systems, but I think they can work quite well as well.

      • Dave March 30, 2021, 8:58 pm |

        Just spotted the comment there about iZone and I have to say it’s been brilliant in the house we moved to. We had an older couple do some upgrades before selling, and I’m happy that they didn’t seem to skimp on the HVAC. Although they had no idea what to do with it, we found a wifi controller shoved in a drawer that lets us set the aircon/heat on or off from basically anywhere using a phone.

        And ducted has been good for us definitely. We’re in Corinda in fairly low lying ground, so we don’t get a ton of breezes, and me being born in the north of England I’ve found the air con has actually been on most days in Jan and Feb. That would have been a hard cost to absorb, but we got solar in and it’s great because it kicks in the most power on the hot sunny days you need it most.

        Hope all’s good with you Bob after the recent rains. Think you’re a bit out west of where we are.

        • BobinOz March 31, 2021, 7:47 pm |

          Well, I’m not far from you, but the other side of the river. My wife worked in Corinda State School as a teacher a couple of years ago, so we know the area well. We live on high ground, so we catch a good breeze most of the time and we are pretty much immune to flooding; well if we go under the whole of Brisbane does 🙂 So yes, we were all good, I do hope you were too, I know that area suffered badly in the 2011 floods.

          So for us it’s windows open all around the house for most of the summer and that’s usually good enough to keep us cool. But if we need it, the Aircon is ready to go and as mentioned, the iZone system works great. We also have solar panels, wouldn’t be without them here, they are fantastic!

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    The main advantage of hydronic heating system is in the amount of rule easily reached to you. So heating zones can be created for your home. We all know that temperature is not comfortable at all time but hydronic system can be installed with independent temperature controls known as zones for any area of your home. Geo- exchange is basically a Heating & cooling, which uses solar energy.

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    • BobinOz July 7, 2016, 12:57 am |

      I’m intrigued; I assumed your system was probably something like installed under floor pipes filled with heated water or maybe oil, so I wonder, how can it be used to cool a house?

      I’m currently using reverse cycle air condition (ducted) which can obviously heat and cool my house, which is important here in Australia. In the UK, for example, people only really care about heating systems, air conditioning really isn’t necessary.

      Here it is though, so how does the cooling thing work?

  • Zuzana March 22, 2016, 8:27 pm |

    Hi Bob!
    Thank you for your article, which I found very useful for me and my purpose!
    Our company is going to export to Australia infrared heating panels, which the company produces and this article has just confirmed, that we can help local people to have healthy, efficiant and low cost heating and house without humidity at the same time!

    Thank you Bob and greetings to all your readers!

    • BobinOz March 23, 2016, 11:56 pm |

      Glad to have helped, but do be aware my article didn’t cover absolutely everything and we do have some companies supplying infrared heat panels here already. I’m sure you have already looked into that though. Good luck, Bob

      • Zuzana March 24, 2016, 12:47 am |

        Thank you, Bob, we have put onto account all of those facts and the research has shown the best results for us and our clients.

        Wishing you a nice day and more and more readers!

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  • Todd August 9, 2015, 5:00 am |

    It is a lot of work. I fill it 2 times a day when it is below freezing. 10 cu ft of wood each time. The firebox is a 4′ cube and the door opening is 28″. If you can lift it, you can burn it.

    We are definitely looking forward to Geelong. The Border department has requested a couple more documents for my wife and 1 more for me for the visa; we are taking that as progress. Now, if only I could sell the house. Doesn’t look like anyone on this site will be moving to Upstate NY from Oz, lol.

    • Todd August 9, 2015, 5:05 am |

      It is relatively efficient, but the most important part to us is the cost effectiveness. I have spent under US$500 on wood in the last 15 years. In 2000, to heat the place with propane ran US$800 month during a harsh winter. We quickly added in the wood stove at that time. I live in a heavily wooded part of the state. I had a tree removal business for a period of time and help neighbors with wood lot improvement projects. Costs in dollars have been low, but cost in time and effort is very high. Looking forward to trading that time in the woods for time on the ocean.

      • BobinOz August 9, 2015, 8:06 pm |

        Crikey, wood is very cheap where you are, here you will pay about $180 for a medium sized cage trailer full of wood. Not sure how many cubic feet of wood that is, but you would definitely use more than three of them in 15 years!

        By your description of how this thing burns up wood, I reckon three would last no more than a couple of months.

        Fair amount of work involved though, as you say. For me, the work involved is picking up my smart phone, selecting my air-conditioning controller and switching it to on whilst it is in heating mode 🙂

        Good luck with your application, Bob

  • Todd August 8, 2015, 10:39 am |

    Much like Virginia G, we heat with a radiant system. We have an outdoor woodfurnace with a 500+ gallon water jacket. The heated water comes into the home by circulation pump, hits a heat exchanger and is sent by different thermostats to each heating zone. On the first floor, the tubing runs through the slab floor. Most of the winter we sit on the floor and dry our snow gear on it as well. The second and third floor have baseboards (hydronic) heat. It does take a while to get it humming, but warm feet all winter are appreciated here in upstate NY. This past winter the mean temperature for February was -12c and we received our typical 3+ meters of snow. Can’t wait to get to Geelong.

    • BobinOz August 8, 2015, 8:19 pm |

      Sounds like a lot of work though Todd, what with having to go outside to chop and chuck more wood into that furnace. Do you have to do that every couple of hours or so? Is it an efficient and cost-effective system?

      You won’t be needing it in Geelong so much, that’s for sure.

  • WA August 5, 2015, 5:00 pm |

    Here in Dubai, we dont have/use any heating systems , The options are only whether to switch On/OFF the Air Conditioning Or which units to be On/Off.
    In summer time (May to end of Oct.) , In day time , all AC machines are ON, in night times the bed rooms ones are ON.
    In winter time (Nov. to April) , we switch ON one Machine only to get a blow of chilled air 🙂 , pretty easy ha !
    I have worked in Azerbaijan as well , and the story is different there , there are 4 seasons , and in winter , the majority using the gas/radiator system which is nice and clean with approx monthly consumption (for 2BR flat ) , of around 30 USD .

    • BobinOz August 5, 2015, 9:08 pm |

      Ha ha, I’m not surprised WA, the temperature in Dubai rarely drops below 30°C, anyone using a heater would be stark raving mad!

  • Virginia G August 5, 2015, 2:50 pm |

    Here in Korea, we use “ondol” which is a style of floor heating that was a Korean invention hundreds of years ago. The oldest palaces have outdoor wood furnaces that piped the exhaust underneath the floor boards of the king’s chamber. These days, the apartment building has a supply of hot water that runs through pipes in the floors. Each individual household adjusts the valves (using a computer interface) to heat floors in individual rooms. This is one reason why many Korean families still sit on the floor, eat on the floor, and sleep on the floor (on a thin mattress).

    It takes a while to warm up, but then it stays warm for a long time after you shut it off. We’re on almost the top floor, so we only use it for about a week each year…I guess the heat from all the other apartments rises up to us! Summer air conditioning is sadly another story…as we are experiencing now. Energy bills in the summer are about 30 times higher than in the winter!

    • BobinOz August 5, 2015, 9:05 pm |

      Sounds like a very comfortable, even and efficient kind of heating Virginia, especially for you being on the top floor. I once lived in a second-floor apartment in the UK and I was convinced I got the benefit of the heating paid for by the people downstairs.

      Sounds like summers are expensive though, and if I knew how to do a sad face, I would 🙂

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