With energy prices rising and more of us working from home than ever before, heating our homes is becoming more expensive, so cost-effective alternatives, like electric heating, are understandably growing in popularity.
There's a huge variety of heaters available, including fan heaters, convector heaters, infrared heaters and oil filled radiators, but it can be difficult to decide which style is most suited to your needs. That's why, at the foot of this page, we’ve taken a look at the options in a bit more detail, explaining how they work as well as the pros and cons, to help make your decision a bit easier.
A typical fan heater works by pushing air over a source of heat. The fan contained in the heater forces the air to flow over a heating element.
+ Efficient low profile design
+ Cheap to buy
+ Heats enclosed spaces fast
+ Cost efficient if used sparingly
- Some models can be noisy
This warms the air and propels it into the room. Fan heaters work best in rooms with lots of still air, with no open doors or windows that will allow the warm air to escape. Fan heaters are therefore a great option for heating enclosed spaces extremely quickly. However the fan will make a noise when in operation.
Generally speaking, Fan Heaters are cheaper to purchase than other electrical heaters. As fan heaters can warm enclosed spaces quickly, they can be operated in short bursts, which can make them very cost efficient if used sparingly.
How do convector heaters work?
A natural convector heater works by circulating the room's natural air currents over a heating element. This warms the air making it rise and begin circulating around the room. As this heat rises, cooler air is drawn into the appliance from lower in the room to repeat the process.
+ Cost efficient / fast heat balance
+ Silent operation
+ Even heat distribution
- Large space heating
- Expensive over prolonged use
Natural convector heaters are cheaper to buy than oil filled radiators, and although they are more expensive than fan heaters, they offer a much better level of even heat distribution, silent operation and are less likely to overheat. Convector heaters do however struggle to heat larger spaces or where there is air flow disruption, which causes cool air to mix (e.g. a draft from an open door).
Convector heaters reach operating temperature within a few minutes. This means although slower than fan heaters, they heat rooms much more quickly than oil filled radiators – however they use more electricity in doing so. On the whole, convector heaters offer the best compromise between quick room heating and economy.
How do oil filled radiators work?
Electricity gently heats a sealed oil reservoir contained inside of the radiator to produce warmth. Similar to a normal radiator, this warmth proceeds to heat the surrounding cool air, which is then rises to be circulated around the room by natural convection currents.
+ Extremely economical
+ Prolonged operating periods
+ Low wattage and CO2
+ Even heat distribution
- Slow to warm up / cool down
- Slightly more expensive to buy
Although slower to warm up initially, oil filled radiators build up a lot of thermal mass which means they will retain and continue to radiate heat for longer as the oil cools down. Once a desired operating temperature has been reached it takes minimal extra electricity to maintain the temperature; making it far more economical than a fan or convectors heater.
The economy and gentle heat produced make oil filled radiators ideal for providing prolonged heat throughout the course of a day or night. The lack of moving parts also means oil filled radiators are an extremely safe option, whilst being pet friendly too.
Roughly, how much does electric heating cost?
As an approximation, the table below provides an idea of the typical running costs of various electric heaters. The actual cost will vary depending on your provider, but you can see how the various options compare to one another.
Typical heat output
Running cost per hour (standard meter)
Running cost per hour (Economy 7, night)
Running cost per hour (Economy 7, day)
Radiant bar fire
SOURCE: Centre for Sustainable Energy
How safe are electric heaters?
As with most electrical appliances, electrical heaters are totally safe providing the necessary care and precautions are taken.
Don't leave unattended: Radiative and fan heaters especially shouldn't be left running when unattended.
Never cover: This could lead to overheating and malfunction, and in some cases result in fire. Even with oil filled radiators (which are said to be safe for unattended operation); care should be taken to ensure there are no flammable products in contact with the heater.
Position safely: make sure your portable electric heater is positioned where it will not get knocked over or covered (especially if being used in a bedroom). For kitchens and bathrooms, only use appliances rated for use in those rooms as additional moisture in the environment could cause the appliance to fail, and therefore pose a fire risk.
Use a timer: Some electric heaters feature a timer function to pre-set on and off times. If your electric heater does not have a timer function, consider investing in a programmable timer. This will not only help you use your heater cost effectively, it will also provide peace of mind should you ever fall asleep or leave your appliance unattended.