So many electric heaters, so little time. What’s the difference between them? We take a look at several types of electric heaters and break down features, costs, efficiency and other important nuggets to help you find the best electric heater for your home.
Types of electric heaters
Just need a cheap, basic fan heater to survive the chilly season? Or maybe you’re shopping for an impressive electric fire heater to knock everyone’s socks off. Either way, these are the types of electric heaters available.
- Oil-filled column heaters
- Panel heaters
- Radiant heaters
- Fan heaters
- Ceramic heaters
- Electric fire heaters
Oil-filled column heaters
Oil-filled column heaters are ideal for people who prefer to leave a heater on overnight or for a long period of time (i.e. more than three hours) because they’re particularly good at keeping a room warm, even for a while after it’s been turned off. This type of heater uses electricity to transform the oil inside the columns (or ‘fins’) into heat, which then heats up the metal column casings and warms the room through convection and thermal radiation. These are relatively inexpensive heaters, costing anywhere between $15 and $400.
Reasons to buy an oil column heater
Suitable for people with allergies
Oil column heaters typically don’t trigger airborne allergies because, unlike fan heaters, they don’t blow hot air around the room in order to warm the space. This means there’s minimal chance of the unit incidentally circulating dust, pollen and other potential triggers in addition to hot air.
Oil column heaters turn most of the energy used to run the appliance into heat, leaving only a small amount of unconverted electricity to power features like timers and heating modes. You can also save even more power by using energy-efficient functions which briefly causes the heater to switch off and rely on the existing hot oil to keep you warm.
Stay warm for longer
The temperature won’t suddenly start to drop if you’re using it for a long time or as soon as you switch the appliance off. Oil retains heat well, so you’ll be able to take your sweet time enjoying the warmth for much longer compared to other types of heaters.
Downsides to oil-filled heaters
Higher risk of burns
Oil-filled column heaters can be dicey (especially if you have young children around) as they work by transferring heat to external metal casings, making them hot to touch.
Expensive to use
Since it takes a longer time for oil column heaters to fire up, it can take a serious toll on your running costs.
Especially compared to portable heaters like fan heaters and ceramic heaters, oil column heaters can be fairly large and slightly heavy to move around. Although many models do come with wheels if you prefer a portable freestanding heater.
Slow heat-up time
The saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ definitely applies to oil column heaters. These require more time to start heating up a room but offer longer-lasting warmth.
Cheap oil column heaters
Here are some options currently available:
- Kmart 5-Fin Oil Heater: $35 RRP*
- Goldair 1000W 5-Fin Oil Column Heater with 3 Heat Settings (GOC215): $69 RRP*
- Heller Oil Column Heater 5 Fin with Timer (HOCH5T): $87 RRP*
- De’Longhi Radia S Electric Oil Column Heater (TRRS0510T): $129 RRP*
- Dimplex 1.5kW Oil Free Column Heater with Thermostat (ECR15TIF): $190 RRP*
While panel heaters aren’t as compact as standard fan heaters, they may be worth considering if you’re in the market for a slim, space-saving, and stylish model. These are designed to heat and circulate warm air which then rises towards the ceiling, before dispersing to fill any cold spots in the room. Panel heaters usually include all the accessories you need to use, either as a freestanding model or wall mountable fixture. Prices can vary between $40-$700.
Reasons to buy a panel heater
Slim and lightweight
Panel heaters are more compact and portable than oil column heaters, which have a similar design. Both have a variety of models available between the $150-$200 mark.
Heat is consistent
Many panel heaters include a thermostat to prevent the temperature from constantly fluctuating, which can be especially problematic for those who use a heater for long sessions.
Panel heaters have been suggested to better suit households that tend to leave their heater on for extended periods of time, or for at least three hours.
Downsides to panel heaters
Can be expensive to use
Panel heaters that use a fan to spread warm hair throughout the room can attract higher running costs.
Pricier than column heaters
Despite having many similarities to column heaters, in design and their ability to retain heat well, the price range of panel heaters can be about $300 more.
Cheap panel heaters
Here are some budget-friendly options currently available:
- Arlec 1000W Convection Panel Heater with Digital Control (PEH131): $59 RRP*
- De’Longhi Electric Panel Heater (HSX3324FTS): $169 RRP*
- Omega Altise 2kW Electric Panel Heater (OAPE2000W): $189 RRP*
- Stiebel Eltron 1.5kW Panel Heater (CNS150): $270 RRP*
- Polo 1500W Electric Panel Heater (C150): $399 RRP*
If you’re looking to get warm quickly and without much fuss, you might want to consider buying a radiant electric heater. Radiant heaters (otherwise known as infrared heaters) have a distinct exposed heating element to warm up via infrared rays. There are indoor and outdoor varieties available, each available as either freestanding or wall mountable options. This includes options such as patio heaters, portable radiant heaters and ceiling-mounted radiant heaters. These can cost anywhere between $30 and $1,000 or more.
Reasons to buy a radiant heater
Radiant heaters have a short heat-up time so you can get warm fast.
Can be affordable
There are a few inexpensive models retailing from $30, so there’s usually something to suit most budgets.
Downsides to radiant heaters
Chance of burns
Radiant heaters have a heating element that’s largely exposed, potentially making this type of heater more dangerous than others for children. Although many models include features such as a safety tilt switch or flame failure safety system.
Limited to point-and-heat heating
Radiant heaters work similarly to fan heaters in the sense that they don’t usually provide wide coverage and instead only provide heat in the direction they’re facing.
Not energy efficient
Radiant bar heaters can have high running costs and are usually the most expensive type of electric portable heater to use. But there are models available with a higher energy efficiency rating of at least five stars, which can make a difference to your power bill.
Cheap radiant heaters
Some lower-priced radiant heaters include:
- Kmart Radiant Heater: $29 RRP*
- Euromatic 2400W 3 Bar Radiant Heater (RH24W): $29 RRP*
- Goldair 2400W 4 Bar Radiant Heater (GIR450): $99 RRP*
- De’Longhi Radia S Radiant Heater (TRRS0510T): $129 RRP*
Fan heaters are usually ideal for warming small areas for a short time period. This type of unit uses a heating element under a fan to create hot air, which is then circulated throughout the room. It’s one of the cheapest heaters to buy, with prices starting from just $15 while high-end models can reach up to $900.
Fan heaters tend to be compact and portable, typically measuring much smaller than other types of heaters. It’s worth noting that while fan heaters come in all shapes and sizes, different retailers and brands might label other types of heaters under the same category if it similarly uses a fan function to emit heat. That’s why you’ll be able to spot a basic upright fan heater sitting alongside tower fans and column heaters.
Reasons to buy a fan heater
Small and portable
If you’re big on saving space, fan heaters are usually portable and smaller than other types of heaters.
Quick to warm up
Unlike convection panel heaters and oil column heaters, this option has a short heat-up time, so you can feel warm and cozy much sooner!
Can use throughout the year
Just like reverse cycle air conditioners, some fan heaters come with both heating and cooling functions to use all year-round.
Downsides to fan heaters
High running costs
Fan heaters are generally not energy efficient and can be expensive to use. Although if you’re set on buying an electric heater, then you might want to consider switching to oil column heaters and panel heaters. These are definitely still pricey to run but can help save a few bucks in the long run.
The ‘fan’ component in fan heaters can cause the unit to get a bit noisy, with some operating louder than usual when on higher power settings.
Cheap fan heaters
Some affordable options to choose from include:
- Kmart Fan Heater: $15 RRP*
- Goldair Select 2000W Upright Fan Heater (GSFH18): $24 RRP*
- Heller 2000W Electric Portable Upright Oscillating Floor/Desk Heater: $39.95 RRP*
- Sunair 2400W Low Profile Fan Heater (SLF6): $43 RRP*
- De’Longhi Capsule Portable Fan Heater (HFX30C18IW): $98 RRP*
Ceramic heaters are recommended for families with small children and households worried about the potential burn risks posed by heaters. These contain a built-in ceramic block that absorbs heat, before emitting warmth throughout the room. Many different types of heaters can fall under this category. Goldair, for example, sells your standard ceramic heater in addition to several ceramic fan heaters and tower heaters. This is because a variety of models feature a ceramic heating element, similar to how a tower heater can have a fan heating component.
Reasons to buy a ceramic heater
Safer to use
Ceramic heaters are said to be safer than some other heaters because the heating element is at the back of the block. This is different compared to, let’s say, an oil column heater which can be more dangerous since you’re more likely to bump into the metal column casing.
These are usually small and lightweight, making them super useful for moving between rooms.
Fast heat-up time
Ceramic heaters can generate hot air pretty much immediately after you turn them on.
Downsides to ceramic heaters
Good for small spaces only
Ceramic heaters are useful if you want to keep the heater near you or you only need to heat a particularly cold spot in the house. So, as a general rule, only whatever the unit is facing can be heated. You’ll have a better chance of warming an entire room if the space is small, but it’s unlikely that a standard ceramic heater can provide enough coverage for large rooms.
Little heat retention
Once you turn the heater off, it won’t be long until you’ll start to feel the chill come back up again.
No temperature controls
The temperature can fluctuate, which will be more noticeable the longer you leave the heater on. If safety functions are causing it to automatically cycle on and off, this can definitely get annoying since it doesn’t retain heat well.
Cheap ceramic heaters
Here’s some shopping inspiration to get you started:
- Heller 1500W Ceramic Upright Fan Heater (HCFH1577A): $56 RRP*
- Goldair 1800W Digital Ceramic Fan Heater (GCH350): $79.95 RRP*
- Kogan 1500W Ceramic Fan Heater with Thermostat: $89.99 RRP*
- Dimplex 1.5kW Ceramic Heater (DHCERA15M): $100 RRP*
- Omega Altise 2400W Ceramic Electric Heater (ACUBOB): $159 RRP*
Electric fire heaters
You can still enjoy a glass of red by the fire without needing to construct a chimney or deal with all the soot and smoke that comes with owning a traditional fireplace. Electric fire heaters can save you the hassle, as well as quite a bit of cash, but still provides the warmth and classic cozy aesthetic you deserve during the chilly season. Similar to other types of heaters, electric fire heaters can be mounted to the wall or used as a freestanding unit. If the weather isn’t cold enough to justify switching it on, there are plenty of models that let you show off the flickering flames without producing any heat.
Reasons to buy an electric fire heater
Safe to use
Electric fire heaters are less likely to cause burns because the glass window usually stays cool-to-touch.
- Doesn’t affect air quality
Electric fire heaters don’t produce smoke and other dangerous chemicals which usually result from burning wood. Plus, you won’t need to worry about the heater building mold or moisture inside the home which can be especially harmful to people with chronic conditions like asthma.
Easy to install and move around
These may not be as compact as fan heaters, but electric fire heaters can be pretty portable since many models don’t require much effort to install and uninstall.
You obviously won’t need to regularly repurchase wood, sweep up ashes or clean the flue (which can turn into a serious fire hazard if not managed properly). But unless you own an electric heater that uses LED lighting to create the faux flame, you may be required to replace the light bulb every now and then. This doesn’t involve any special technique and works the same way as changing a regular light bulb.
Aside from scooting closer towards the fireplace (or standing further away), controlling the heat output of a real fireplace can be tricky. Fortunately, electric fire heaters work just like any other type and allow you to adjust the temperature with a press of a remote.
Downsides to electric fire heaters
Not as warm as a traditional fireplace
The power of an electric fire heater is only limited by its watt power, which means no model can give you the same amount of warmth as a real fireplace.
Stylish, but obviously fake
An electric fire heater is like cosying up to the hour-long 4K fireplace video on Netflix (or the old school aquarium desktop screensaver) but with the added benefit of actual heat.
Cheap electric fire heaters
To help you get cracking, here are some models you may want to think about:
- Heller 2000W Electric Ceramic Oscillating Tower Heater Fan with Flame Effect: $149.95 RRP*
- Dimplex 1.5kW Mini Cube Portable Electric Fire Heater (MINICUBE-B): $169 RRP*
- Carson Freestanding Electric Log Stove Fireplace Heater with Flame Effect: $169 RRP*
- Goldair 1800W Flame Effect Heater (GFE320): $199 RRP*
- Heller 1800W 70cm Electric Fireplace Heater Freestanding Heater: $309 RRP*
What to consider when buying an electric heater
Heating and cooling make up for approximately 20% to 50% of Australian households’ energy use, according to the Australian government, so finding the right heater for your home is important to ensure you’re getting bang for your buck. But since not all heaters are created equal, we’ve listed a few things to think about when shopping for your next purchase.
1. Type of electric heater
The best type of electric heater for your home will depend on your heating needs. Are you burning to get your hands on a model that can effectively warm a drought-prone room? Then you might want to consider a panel heater. Prefer to invest in something you can use all year round? Fan heaters and electric fire heaters are good for that. Or if you’re worried about small children getting into big accidents, then it may be worth putting radiant heaters and even column heaters way down the list.
2. Size of area
A compact electric fan heater or radiant heater isn’t going to do much in a large, open space. Alternatively, a powerful 2500W unit in a 10m2 room is going to make things very toasty. Here’s a size guide to consider:
with with with with
|Room size||Watt power|
|Small room (5m2 – 20m2)||1000W – 1500W|
|Medium room (20m2 – 30m2)||2000W – 2500W|
|Large room (30m2 – 50m2)||At least 2500W+|
General guide only
3. Energy star rating
The lower the star rating, the less energy efficient the model is and the higher your power bill is likely to be.
4. Running costs
Running costs depend on a variety of things, such as the type of heater you have, the specific heat setting you’re using, its energy star rating, and how long you leave the appliance running. It’s worth noting that electric heaters are usually more costly to operate than gas heaters or reverse cycle air conditioners.
Generally, oil-filled column heaters are the cheapest type of electric heater to use, followed by panel and convection heaters and fan heaters. Meanwhile, tower fan heaters and radiant bar heaters are seen as the biggest energy guzzlers.
5. Purchase cost
If you’re set on a specific budget, keep in mind that the upfront purchase price is only one factor to consider. While you might save a few bucks on a particular model at the store, the long-term cost of actually using the heater might end up more than you bargained for.
Picture credits: New Africa, Shutterstock.com
*Prices are taken from respective retailers, Appliances Online, Bing Lee, Harvey Norman and Dick Smith, correct as of May 2022.