When the weather gets chilly, it’s comforting to know you have a heater close at hand to keep your home cosy. If you’re on the hunt for a heater before winter sets in but can’t decide between a gas or electric one, there are a few things you need to consider: cost, energy efficiency, safety, and suitability. Luckily, we have done the hard yards for you and put together a complete guide to gas and electric heaters, so you can decide which one is best for you. Find your next heater with Canstar Blue.
What’s a gas heater?
A gas heater is a heater fuelled by butane, propane, liquified petroleum gas (LPG), or natural gas. The heater is connected to a source of gas, gas flow is controlled through a valve, and heat is ignited via an electric filament or pilot light. Gas heaters come in many shapes and sizes and are used to warm up inside and outside spaces, and are generally better suited to larger spaces. Heaters are categorised into flued and unflued, depending on how they dispense the emissions from heat production. Flued heaters are connected to mains and dispose of combustion products outside of the heated space, via a chimney or flue, whereas unflued heaters are often portable, and release the combustion products into the space they are heating. In this regard, flued heaters are often said to be safer, as they don’t allow you to breathe in the by-products of heat production.
Are gas cabinet heaters banned?
Cabinet heaters (where the gas cylinder sits inside directly behind the radiant heating surface) were banned around Australia in the 1980s. The ban was set in place as the heaters were not deemed safe. Cabinet heaters were prone to leaks, misuse, poor construction, and failed to pass Australian emission standards testing.
What’s an electric heater?
An electric heater passes electricity through different materials to create heat. They are generally better at heating smaller, indoor spaces, and, as many models are portable, good for moving around the house. They are simple: they only need an electrical outlet to plug into and they don’t need ventilation like a gas heater. Many include features that allow you to control the heat dispersal such as timers, thermostats, and power-off safety switches. There are a few different kinds of electric heaters.
Types of electric heaters include:
- Oil-filled column heaters
- Panel heaters
- Radiant heaters
- Fan heaters
- Ceramic heaters
- Electric fire heaters
Gas vs electric heater: which performs best?
How well a heater performs is dependent on the type of space it is heating. To put it simply, an electric heater works best to warm up smaller, indoor spaces, whereas a gas heater is able to spread more heat in larger spaces and outdoor areas.
In addition, some models of gas and electric heaters come with smart thermostats, allowing them to interpret the amount of heat being generated and adjust accordingly, and keeping them running at peak performance. This means that if the temperature in the room dips below a certain point, the heater will increase its heat output, keeping you toasty, all without lifting a finger.
Gas vs electric heater: which is cheapest?
The short answer to the question is gas or electricity cheaper, is that: electric heaters are cheaper to buy upfront, while gas heaters are cheaper to run. There are a few variables to this answer, however, such as the type of fuel source you are relying on, whether the gas heater is flued or unflued, and what sort of space you are heating. There are some things to keep in mind that may make gas the more expensive option to run.
You should consider:
- How much a gas connection costs in your state
- Is your gas heater flued or unflued? This will affect how much you pay for gas.
- How big is the space you are heating? An electric heater is more suitable for a smaller space.
- If you have to rely on bottled gas, how much will that cost, and do you need it delivered to you?
- What sort of electricity source do you use? If you use solar then that will greatly affect how much you have to pay for electricity, potentially making electricity the cheaper option.
The table below lays out the prices for similar-sized portable heaters, so you can compare some purchase prices between gas and electric heaters. Keep in mind that these are unflued heaters that don’t require installation, which would increase the cost further.
|Gas heater prices||Electric heater prices|
|Gasmate Deluxe Patio Heater (PH70556): $344 RRP*
|Dimplex Electric Fire Heater (MCFSTV12-AU): $148 RRP*
|Omega Altise Convector Heater (OABRFNGSD): $839 RRP*
|Nobo Panel Heater (NTL4S20-FS40): $509 RRP*
|Bromic Stratos Brahma Gas Heater (2620972): $1, 859 RRP*
|Dimplex Oakhurst Electric Fire Heater: $987 RRP*
|Planika Outdoor Gas Fire Pit; $6, 599 RRP*
|Dimplex Pemberley Wall-Mounted Heater: $1,149 RRP*|
*Prices are taken from Appliances Online, correct as of April 2022.
Gas vs electric heater: which is more energy efficient?
Overall, a gas heater is a more energy-efficient appliance to run. This is based on cost per energy unit and heat output. Gas converts a higher percentage of energy to heat than electricity, meaning you can run your gas heater for a small amount of time and heat a room faster than if you were using an electric heater, getting far more bang for your buck.
However, this is also grounded in the idea that you are comparing energy efficiency based on sourcing gas and electricity from the mains and a coal-fired source. If you generate your electricity from a source such as solar, then an electric heater would be the more energy-efficient appliance to run.
You can get a good indication of how energy efficient your appliance is by reading the energy efficiency rating on the appliance. For example, on a gas heater, a good energy rating sits around 5.8 stars, which means it converts roughly 90% of its energy output to heat.
To ensure you’re getting the most energy-efficient heater:
- Choose an appliance with a good energy star rating
- Pick the right size appliance for the space you want to heat
- Get an appliance with multiple controls, allowing you to control the heat output
- Regularly update your appliances as older units will be less energy efficient.
Gas vs electric heater: which has more functions & features?
Modern gas and electric heaters share quite a few functions and features that allow you to get the most out of your appliance. Many gas and electric heater models have thermostat control, timers, remote controls and safety features. Electric heaters tend to give you slightly more control, with features such as eco-energy mode and anti-frost modes.
Features and functions commonly found in gas and electric heaters include:
- Thermostat control: a digital thermostat control gives you an accurate reading of what temperature your heater is running at. This means you never use too much energy overheating a space.
- Timers: control how long a heater runs for. This means you can control how much energy is used as well as be confident that your heater won’t be running unsupervised if you go to bed or need to go out.
- Remote controls: allow you to control the temperature, and potentially other features, from the couch.
- Safety features: can include functions such as automatic switch-off, overheating preventions, child lock, and protective grills which keep you from coming into contact with heating elements.
- Economy mode: a feature available in some electric heaters, economy mode allows you to lower the heat right down, for when your space only needs a slight adjustment. This saves energy and is a cost-effective way to warm up a slightly chilly space.
- Anti-frost mode: more popular in colder climates, an anti-frost function switches on the heater when the temperature drops below a certain point.
Gas vs electric heaters: pros & cons
Gas and electric heaters each have their benefits and downsides. The table below lays out the most important pros and cons of each appliance, so you can decide which one is right for you. It’s important to consider how often you are going to use your heater before you weigh up which one may be best. For example, if you live in a warmer environment and only use your heater occasionally, it would be financially beneficial to invest in an electric heater, as the cost of running it over time would be negligible compared to the cost of buying and installing a gas heater you would rarely use.
|Gas heater pros||Electric heater pros|
|Cheaper to run||Cheaper to buy
|More energy efficient
|Can become much cheaper to run if you have access to home solar power
|Can warm up large indoor and outdoor spaces
|Don’t require installation, can simply be plugged into any electrical socket
|Better for the environment
|Don’t require ventilation
|Can run without electricity
|Safe and easy to use|
|Gas heater cons||Electric heater cons|
|More expensive to buy||More expensive to run
|May require you to buy gas separately, depending on the type of heater
|Only able to heat small spaces
|Less energy efficient
|Can create air pollution
|Unable to function if you experience power blackouts
|May require installation
|Slow to heat spaces|
Are heaters better than reverse-cycle air conditioners?
An energy-efficient alternative to a gas or electric heater is a reverse-cycle air conditioner. A reverse cycle air conditioner produces around 3kW for every kW of energy consumed, and produces less emissions than gas and electric heaters, making it a resourceful way to heat your home. Using a reverse-cycle air conditioner also allows you to cool your home in summer, and save on installation costs if you already have one. Keep in mind that each air conditioner will have its own energy rating, which may affect how efficient each appliance is.
Gas vs electric heater: which is best?
Gas is a cheaper and more energy-efficient choice, while electric heaters are cheaper to buy upfront and can still be efficient if you are using a renewable energy source. Whether a gas or electric heater is best depends on three factors: the space you are trying to heat, where you live, and where you are getting your energy source from.
- If you need to heat a small space, live in an area that is warm for most of the year, and use a renewable energy source such as solar, then an electric heater is the best option for you.
- If you need to heat a bigger space, live in an area that experiences extended cold spells, and are relying on mains electricity, then a gas heater is the best option for you.
You may also be interested in:
- Heat pump vs condenser dryer: Which is best?
- Electric heaters buying guide
- Oil column heaters buying guide
- A complete guide to energy-efficient heating