Heating options for your home buying guide

How to keep your home warm this winter. Get unbiased advice and reviews on heaters and heating options.
Learn more

05.Electric room heaters

If an electric personal or room heater is for you, check the pros and cons of the different types: oil-filled column, convection, fan or radiant.

Electric heaters are generally quite straightforward to use, and don’t give you too much choice of features and functions.

  • There are usually two or three power levels.
  • A thermostat allows you to fine-tune the average power to maintain the desired room temperature: it’ll switch the heater off once a certain temperature is reached and switch it on again when the temperature falls.
  • A timer is useful if you want the heater to switch on and off automatically — for example, if you want it to start heating an hour before you get home from work. It’s particularly useful with slow heaters such as column heaters, as they can take a long time to heat up a room.
  • A tilt switch switches the heater off if it’s tipped over.
  • A thermal cut-out switch prevents the heater from overheating — for example, if the thermostat fails.
  • Weight / number of wheels: One advantage of most types of electric heaters is their portability. However, some convection and oil-filled column heaters are rather heavy, so look for wheels (four are easier than two).

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.

They rely mainly on natural convection, so they take longer to heat a room than fan-assisted heaters of similar capacity. Also, if there’s not much air movement (for example, if you’re sitting reading or watching TV), the heat may not be distributed evenly, and horizontal temperature layers may form. This could leave you with cold feet.

However, there are now more and more fan-assisted column heaters available, which may help overcome these problems.

Tip: Use a ceiling fan (if you have one) on very low speed to assist the column heater. It’ll help to distribute the heat faster and more evenly.

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. Data from the National Injury Surveillance Unit, collected from 1986 to 1994, suggests that of the more than 700 recorded cases of burns by heaters, only 10 were caused by oil-filled column heaters.

Check our column heater test results.

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 (for example, if you’re reading or watching TV).

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.

Fan heaters

These can supply heat almost instantaneously, but can usually only chase the chill from a relatively small area — the air around you or maybe a small room.
There’ll always be some noise, as the fan can’t be switched off. While some models are whisper-quiet, fan heaters aren’t really the best choice for areas you want to heat over long periods of time.

There are flat and upright fan heaters. Upright models tend to perform better, but they’re also more likely to tip over. So a tilt switch is a useful safety feature.

While the outside surface of fan heaters usually doesn’t get very hot, the grilles can far exceed 100°C on models with a metal grille. A metal grille will also cause you pain much more quickly than a plastic one, at the same temperature. At more than 100°C, touching a metal grille for a fraction of a second can already cause burns. So if you’re likely to have children playing around the heater, it may be wise to choose a model with a plastic grille.

Radiant heaters

These are personal heaters. As the name suggests, they radiate heat from a red-hot heating element to people or objects in front of it. They’re very inefficient in heating the air in a room.

There are floor and wall-mounted models. 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.


Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments