Types of heaters: Which is right for you?

With the winter months on their way, now is a good time for households looking to buy a new heater, or to upgrade their current heating set-up, to consider their options. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on what type of heater is appropriate for your living space, and a number of different options to choose from, each with various benefits, dependent on individual circumstances.

From fan heaters to convector heaters, heaters running on electric power and those running on gas, the following is a guide to some of the more popular heating options available.

Factors to consider before making a purchase

While there are a number of factors to weigh up before buying a new heater, you would do well to first consider the bottom line of your electricity bills, in that the most energy-efficient heating choice made – determined by budget – will save you money in the long run.

Ramping up heating-related energy costs throughout the winter months can cause financial headaches when bills arrive, and avoiding potentially energy-demanding appliances is a practical first step. That said, there can be a dramatic difference in heater costs, ranging from the budget through to premium, so you should research the running costs of any potential purchase and consider both your short-term and long-term budget before making a purchase.

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Types of heaters

Stuck on which type of heater is best-suited to your household? Understanding how different types of heaters work, as well as their unique advantages and disadvantages is the first step to finding which is right for your needs.

Fan heaters

Fan heater

Electric fan heaters are available at a range of costs and sizes from a variety of different manufacturers, and as a general rule are one of the cheaper heating options straight off the shelf, with prices starting from $30 for smaller units.

These sorts of heaters, which operate by fanning heated air (circulated over a heating element) into a room, are usually comparatively small, portable, and are suited to heating small spaces, rather than a whole home, generally being used over shorter periods of time. A major perk of fan heaters is that they offer both a heating and cooling function, making them highly versatile all year round.

Fan heaters may be suitable for households on a limited budget, for people looking to heat a small room, or for those looking for a heater that will provide immediate warmth within a smaller space.

Fan heaters: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Quick to heat up

Energy efficient

Heat can be oscillated

Cool-to-touch housing

Stop radiating heat as soon as turned off

Not suitable for large spaces

Reliant on insulation to keep your living space warm

Exposed elements can represent a safety risk

Radiant bar heaters

Radiant heater

Radiant bar heaters, like fan heaters, fall in the category of electric heaters; and as the name suggests, radiate heat (using infrared rays) outward, generated by a number of bars built into the heater. This type of heater transfers heat directly to people and objects within proximity, so isn’t the best option to heat an entire room.

When shopping for a radiant bar heater, you will notice that the bars are numbered – such as a two-bar or three-bar heater. As opposed to fan heaters, radiant bar heaters do not circulate heated air with a fan, which means they operate silently.

Like fan heaters, radiant bar heaters are small, portable, and best suited for personal use. They can also provide heating for small spaces like an office or small bedroom. Radiant heaters are available at a range of budget-friendly prices, starting from $60 and reaching up to $1,000 for heavy-duty models.

Radiant heaters: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Energy efficient

Quieter than convection heaters

Available as freestanding or wall-mounted units

Good option for allergy sufferers (no circulating air)

Only provide targeted heating

Limited temperature control settings

Stop radiating heat as soon as turned off

Feature exposed heating elements, so not ideal if you have children or pets

Convector heaters

Convector heater

Convector heaters (also known as convection heaters), which are also electric-powered, operate by drawing cold air in (convection currents) over a heating element before passing it back into the room.

Convection heaters can effectively heat an entire room and not just a particular area, over an extended period of time, as opposed to radiant heaters. As such, these are ideal for shared living spaces like your living or dining room. Convection heaters also offer the benefit of operating silently. For more efficient heating, look out for convector heaters with a micathermic panel, which absorbs and releases warmth, offering the benefit of both convection and radiated heat.

Convector heaters come in various shapes and sizes and can be purchased at a range of price points, starting from $50 for smaller units and reaching to up $500.

Convector heaters: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Quick to warm up

Suitable to heat an entire room for long periods of time

No exposed heating elements

Cost less than radiant heaters

Not as energy efficient as radiant or fan heaters

Can overheat if fan fails or is damaged

Can take longer to heat a room if there’s a cold draft

Louder than the alternatives

Oil-filled heaters

column heater

Oil-filled heaters, also known as column heaters (sporting a recognisable column design), produce radiant heat. Once plugged in, oil within the heater is heated and circulated throughout the columns, producing heat.

Given that the oil retains heat, oil-filled heaters continue to produce heat for an extended period of time once they are turned off. This means you can switch off your column heater before you go to bed and still enjoy heat throughout the night.

Oil-filled heaters are electric-powered, are widely available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and like radiant and convector heaters, operate silently. Bear in mind though that oil-filled heaters are typically heavier and bulkier to carry than other portable heaters, although most models now come with castors to help move them around.

Column heaters can be found at a range of prices ($100-$500), however are generally more expensive than radiant and fan heaters.

Oil-filled heaters: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Provide long-lasting heat

Can heat larger rooms

Available as oil-filled and oil-free radiators

Silent operation

Slower to heat up than other portable heaters

Large in size and heavier than the alternatives

Hot to touch

Costly to repair

Gas heaters

gas heater

For households with natural gas in their area, a gas heater, providing either convective or radiant heat, may present a viable option to electric – while for those without natural gas, LPG heaters are also an option.

Gas heaters are either unflued, meaning they will be portable, or flued, which means they will be fixed, with a flue pipe venting emissions out of the home. Given that unflued gas heaters emit emissions directly into the home, it is recommended that you research and understand potential side-effects before making a purchase.

Gas heaters tend to be more expensive than the electric options listed, and whether they prove cheaper to run will, of course, depend on economic factors. Given that they run on gas, if there is a power blackout, gas heaters will not be affected.

Gas heaters: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Quick to heat up

Can generate enough heat to warm your entire home

More environmentally friendly

Can last up to 20 years with regular maintenance

Cost more than any other type of heater

Require professional installation

Potential safety risk in case of a carbon monoxide leak

Produce water vapour which can lead to condensation and mould

Reverse cycle air conditioners

Reverse cycle air conditioner

Reverse cycle air conditioners offer the option of colder air during the summer and heated air during the winter, and in addition to their dual-functionality, can also be among the most energy-efficient heating options.

There are many variations of these types of air conditioners, suited for different homes and environments, and for people interested in making a purchase, it is important to talk to a professional.

While reverse cycle air conditioners are as a general rule, considerably more expensive than some of the other options listed, you should keep in mind their potential to deliver long-term electricity cost savings.

Reverse cycle air conditioners: pros & cons

Pros Cons
Dual heat and cool functionality

More energy efficient than portable heaters

Can help purify the air

Can last up to 20 years with regular maintenance

Cost more to buy than portable heaters

Require professional installation

Doors and windows need to be closed for maximum efficiency

Need to be wall-mounted

Making the purchase

When purchasing a heater, it may all come down to your initial budget, and for short-term use cheap and portable heaters may well be the best option for consumers. However, when thinking longer-term, heating options that are initially more expensive may well deliver savings in the long run.

You can help aid the heating process by making sure that your home is well insulated and by buying an appropriate heater for your purpose. It’s certainly worthwhile shopping around, and talking to heating experts, before making a final decision.

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