Electric heaters are notoriously expensive to run, but is this reputation deserved? In a like-for-like comparison, it's true that electric heaters do cost more per-minute to run than a radiator in a centrally-heated household, but fan heaters are also hyper-efficient, pumping out more heat in just a few moments than a radiator does in half an hour. This article explains more about the different types of electric heaters and explains how economical the different models are.

The Knowhow

There are various different types of electric heater, and the appliances vary significantly in terms of cost.

What different types of heaters are available?

Storage heaters Radiation heaters
Convection heaters: oil and ceramic insulation Fan heaters

'Electric' heaters are any heaters which use electrical power to heat air; there are various types of fan heater, and each uses a different types of insulation material (i.e. water, oil, ceramics, or metal) to generate warmth. The following are rated in terms of efficiency from '1' to '4', with '1' being the most efficient and '4' the least:

Storage heaters

  • Storage heaters use clay bricks to store heat.
  • The heater stores energy during the night (when the electricity company charges a lower price for power than during the peak day period), which is then released during the day; this makes them both highly effective and also very cheap to run.
  • Storage heaters are fixed in place; they are not portable like most electric heating appliances.

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Radiation heaters

  • Radiation heaters use a metal filament inside a glass sheath to radiate warmth
  • Different to most heaters - they do not heat the surrounding atmosphere, rather they heat objects in the room (i.e. you and your sofa); they can heat object to a very high heat and have better 'staying-power' than a standard fan heater.
  • A great option for transition rooms - those with a steady flow of cool air which would otherwise negate the effects of a normal fan heater.

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Convection heaters: oil and ceramic insulation

  • The most common type of fan heater is a convection heater.
  • Uses the high density of cold air to propel warm air around the room.
  • Convection heaters are well-suited to small, closed spaces; they create a 'cycle' of heat, in which cold air is constantly replaced by warm air, but once the heater has been switched off the cycle comes to an end and the warm air dissipates quickly.

Oil insulation

  • Heaters which contain oil-based substances are usually the most expensive. Their high initial outlay brings them in at number three on the 'efficiency' chart, but oil heaters are worthwhile investing in because they reach a high heat in a short amount of time.
  • The oil inside can heat to an incredibly high temperature (allowing for better, faster heating).
  • Retains the heat better than water does (prolonging the effects of the heater).

Ceramic insulation

  • Ceramic heaters work in more or less the same way as oil heaters, but are heavier and more cumbersome to operate. They also create a 'stuffy' atmosphere as the cool air turns quickly into warm air; the heating is uneven (meaning that it is very hot close-up to the fan and still fairly cool in the furthest corners of the room).
  • Ceramic substances are often used in irons and hair styling tongues, because they heat to a very high temperature and retain the heat.
  • Industrial ceramics - unlike the pottery ceramics used to make vases and plates - are also fairly strong and do not break easily, making them a good option for a long-term heating investment.

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Fan heaters

  • All electric fans are referred to as 'fan' heaters, but in actual fact only one type of electric heater uses a fan to create warmth.
  • Fan heaters are a variation of convection heaters, and they use the energy created by moving fan blades to heat cool spaces.
  • Fan heaters are good for heating small spaces, but have trouble with large, open rooms; they also create a significant amount of noise as the fans turns.

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Updated On:

Feb 17, 2012

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