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What we did

When we bought the house, it had an open fireplace and a very old Vulcan gas-fired wall heater. We kept the Vulcan unit to take the chill off the kitchen in the mornings, but fitted a Coonara slow-combustion wood stove into the fireplace. It needed a fan to push the warm air into the room but worked very efficiently. This was our main heat source in winter until we extended.

When we extended the house, we fitted a standalone wood heater (a Norseman Tilefire) in the new living room. This allowed air to circulate around a firebox and thus didn't need a fan. We also got radiant heating from the exposed flue. This became our main heat source for the house. This does mean that we get a temperature gradient across the house, but (in Melbourne at least) bedrooms don't need heating. Dawn has a small efficient electric strip heater under her desk which keeps her warm enough in her study on cold winter days (and which runs off the photovoltaic electricity panels on the roof during the day in any case).

We purchased firewood once (in 1987). Since then all our heating needs have been met by scavenging firewood from local tree removals, fence replacements and six-monthly hard waste collections. We like to run about two years ahead of our needs to allow the wood to dry out thoroughly, and Andrew built a new woodshed in 2007 to allow for one shed for long-term storage and another for use in the coming winter. This has now been expanded into a system with wood stacks for the next four years. The rationale for burning wood as a heat source is that it is a renewable resource, and would otherwise end up in landfill producing methane (which is a 20 times worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). In addition, because the slow-combustion heater can be shut right down overnight, I am using it as a source of incidental biochar. This appears to be having a good effect on the vegetable garden.

In 2009 we removed the Vulcan gas unit (which consumed a finite resource) and replaced it with a reverse-cycle air-conditioner. We mostly use this as a heat source, only running it as a cooler (see separate cooling page) on particularly hot days, using the photovoltaic electricity panels on the roof.

What we should have done

I don't think that we would have done anything different - we are pretty happy with how our decisions have worked out. Having the fire in winter is a huge part of our quality of life.

What we are considering now

At some point, the existing Norseman Tilefire slow-combustion heater will need to get replaced. Fortunately, although it is nearly 20 years old, we can still source spare parts (baffle plate, handles, secondary air tubes) for it. Eventually we would like to move to one of the more modern super-efficient units that are now available. Unless climate change means we no longer need a fire, of course...