Electric heater buying guide

Radiant, oil-filled or convection - which type of electric heater is right for your home?
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01.Your guide to buying an electric heater

Three pairs of hands being heated over an electric heater

Did you enjoy winter last year? Or did you freeze? Were you in shock after reading the energy bill? Then it may be time to move to an island off the coast of Fiji. Failing that, you can always get an electric heater. A move to an island is pretty drastic after all – who are you, Richard Branson?

How much space do you need to heat?

If you have a big space to heat (a castle, for instance), you may want to try a gas heater. However, if you have a small, enclosed space like a bathroom or bedroom, an electric heater will do the job – particularly one with a fan.

Let's take a look at the different types available:

Radiant heaters

These are personal heaters. As the name suggests, they radiate heat from a red-hot heating element – Gwyneth and Madonna will have to take turns sitting in front of it.


  • There are floor and wall-mounted models.
  • Relatively inexpensive.


  • They're not going to heat the air in a room very well.
  • The relatively exposed heating element can be a fire and safety hazard. For example, a piece of clothing dropped over it may ignite, or small children playing around a floor model may burn themselves – so be careful.


From $20 to $200.

Oil-filled column heaters

These don't actually burn oil – they use electricity to heat the oil that's sealed inside their columns or 'fins'. The heat from the oil is then transferred to the casing and to the air circulating the fins. And some column heaters aren't even oil-filled but instead use other material or heating technology, but work the same way.


  • Column heaters are particularly useful in rooms where they'll be switched on for long periods of time or where they'll operate unattended, such as overnight in a bedroom.
  • The surfaces you're likely to touch on a column heater don't get as hot as on other types of electric heaters.
  • You can use a ceiling fan on very low speed to assist the column heater to distribute the heat faster and more evenly.


  • They rely on natural convection so they take longer to heat a room than fan-assisted heaters of similar capacity.
  • If there's not much air movement (for example, if you're sitting reading or watching TV), the heat may not be distributed evenly.


From $50 to $380.

Convection heaters

These heaters draw cold air over an electric heating element. The warmed air then leaves the heater and rises towards the ceiling, while cooler air moves in to replace it.

They usually have a fan which enhances the convection effect by forcing the warm air from the heater. When you use the fan, the room will heat up more quickly and evenly. Without it, the air is more likely to form horizontal temperature layers which could leave you with cold feet – particularly, if there's not much movement in the room (again, the example of if you're reading or watching TV – activities lots of people enjoy during winter). The fan will break up these layers to a certain extent. However, it's also noisy – so make sure the fan can be switched off. You don't want your celebrity guests complaining.


  • More portable than their oil-filled column heater counterparts because they're significantly lighter.
  • Will heat the air in a room evenly and quickly.
  • Like a column heater, you can use a ceiling fan on very low speed to it to distribute the heat faster and more evenly.


  • Some models, particularly panel heaters, are comparatively expensive to buy.


From $40 to $600.

Ready to buy?

We review and compare 31 electric heaters, including models from DeLonghi, Dyson, Sunbeam and more.



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