Where there’s no smoke there’s no fires?

By Steve Bohling August 04, 2015 Heating & cooling

Is the net effect of tightening up local emission regulations driving the market away from wood fires and towards gas and heat pumps? Steve Bohling reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download this story button at the bottom of this page.

We are hearing that the recent cold snap hasn’t made much of a difference to retail heating sales, at least when it comes to log burners. And this shift does appear to be a longer term phenomenon. 

The latest New Zealand Census (2013) for example shows that electricity is used for heating in almost 80% of occupied private dwellings. Wood is still the second most common heating fuel, but is decreasing: in 2013, wood was used in 37% percent of dwellings, down from 41% in 2006, and 45% in 2001.

The other side of the coin is that the last few years and 2015 in particular have proven to be ideal for heat pumps, with even some reports of shortages of stock. 

Fiona Harris at Fujitsu General confirms: “The humid, warmer than usual summer months of January and February proved to be a boon, with more and more people buying heat pumps to cool and dehumidify their homes. Summer sales proved especially strong in Auckland and Christchurch.”

So it isn’t all doom and gloom in retail heating. Indeed we hear from some quarters that sales of heat pumps are currently running some 20% ahead of 2014 and that gas is also warming up.

 

HARDWARE HOT FOR HEATING

With Mitre 10 in particular racing along in the retail heating market and PlaceMakers making a concerted effort to become a heating destination for the trade, it’s clear that the hardware channel is taking this category more seriously than ever.

Harris Home FiresSteven King for one talks of his relationships with Mitre 10 and PlaceMakers going “from strength to strength”, adding: “They have seen the category grow beyond I think anything they thought imaginable; my conversations with category managers indicate they are really starting to see the potential for the category.”

There is also even a school of thought that says the hardware channel is taking heating business away from seasonal outlets like lawn mower shops etc and the independent heating specialists. Some of this is down to the sheer buying power of the national chains. 

But, adds Fiona Harris, it also reflects hardware’s buy-in at store level. “We have found that where the individual managers of the larger hardware stores have taken an interest in driving heat pump sales, by building strong displays and marketing, heat pumps are growing significantly and rewarding the effort.”

But, when it comes to log burners, we’re hearing that the retail hardware players have been working hard on the affordable end of the market. More than one commentator has noted “a bit of a swing” towards less expensive wood fires driven by the big box stores’ promotions, some including free flue kits.

It’s also being said that the enthusiastic take-up of these cheaper log burners may show that the market is saying a somewhat shorter lifespan is becoming acceptable. 

But is the market totally price driven? Turning to electric and spot heating, are consumers willing to pay more for more efficient products?

Julian Liew-Young at Glen Dimplex believes they are: “Definitely – our most successful lines are our most expensive products. There is a lot of confusion about energy efficiency when it comes to electric heating and there is a belief that all electric heaters will cost you the same amount of money to run.

"We do a lot of tests to show that this is not necessarily the case and that you do definitely get more from paying more for more efficient technologies.”

 

THE EFFECT OF EMISSIONS

With the Canterbury region taking the lead by clamping down on domestic emissions, the talk in the trade is all about the effect on the market of enforcing ultra-low emission burners (henceforth ULEBs) to help clear the air. 

Indeed, with no locally made ULEBs available so far, the relatively tiny number of imported products and their very high cost appears to be driving some consumers away from log burners altogether and towards gas fires and heat pumps.

Will there be a race for the first NZ-made ultra-low emission burner? We are hearing both yays and nays in response to that question but it’s clear that the expense of ULEBs makes the alternatives look attractive. “The gas and heat pump guys are loving what’s happening down in Christchurch,” says one pundit. 

Both product types beat ULEBs hands down, emissions-wise, and, adds Mark Cowden at gas fire supplier Escea, gas has that added visual appeal: “When was the last time you saw someone walk into a house and stand warming themselves in front of a heat pump? That’s what our fires are designed for…”

But are we looking at the death of the log burner? Julian Liew-Young at Glen Dimplex, with his Masport hat on, doesn’t think so:

“No, I think wood fires will always have a place. Wood fires are not simply a heat source – you can heat water and cook on them too and they will work even during power outages. Wood fires are not dead by any means!”  

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