Buying Guide - Heaters

Types of Heater

There are five main types of heaters:

Fan Heaters

These are perhaps the most basic form of room heater and they are the cheapest to buy.  A fan heater reaches its maximum heat much more quickly than its rivals, but as fan heaters are equipped with both a fan and a heating element they are more expensive to run.  This renders the fan heater unsuitable for day-long use.  However, they can provide a fast solution to warm up a small, chilly room which is only being used for a short time period.

Fan heaters dry the air and do stir up dust and fluff.  This means that they may not be suitable for anyone allergic to dust.  A wall-mounted fan heater can come in handy in the bathroom.  More recently, there has been a trend for incorporating fan heaters into towel rails.  The short bursts of intensive heat that a fan heater provides can take the cold edge off of a chilly bathroom or toilet, without causing electricity bills to significantly increase.

Ceramic Heaters

These are similar in performance to fan heaters but use less energy.  In these heaters, heat is stored in the ceramic plates.  However, many also benefit from a built-in fan which distributes heat in the same manner as a fan heater.  Ceramic heaters without a fan remain efficient in their operation.  Whichever ceramic heater you decide to purchase, you will be certain that they will reach the required temperature very quickly.  The majority of ceramic heaters possess thermostats and safety cut-off features.  Ceramic heaters often have an oscillating feature which improves their efficiency and distributes the heat around the room.  The only downside to the ceramic heater is the noise it can generate.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Heaters

Portable gas heaters that run on bottled butane or propane gas have been around for a long while.  While popular in the home, they can also be used in a workshop or greenhouse in the winter.  Gas heaters are relatively cheap to run.  However, care must be taken to ventilate a room when a gas heater is alight.  It is also essential to regularly check the burners for safety.  Gas heaters are best suited for heating workrooms, sheds or patio areas on chilly evenings.  They hold one large advantage over an electric heater: in the event of a power failure, a gas heater will provide much needed warmth until normal power is restored.

Radiant Heaters

This is the oldest and most basic form of electric space heater.  The style and efficiency of the radiant heater has certainly improved over the decades.  These heaters are useful for quick emergency heating, but as they have no built-in heat distribution, they are best suited to heating only small areas in room.  A radiant heater is equipped with a quartz or metal element with a reflective backing of shiny heatproof material such as tin or stainless steel.  Radiant heaters have not been designed for long term use as they are not as energy efficient as some of the other forms of heater.  Radiant heaters remain popular for quick, instant heat.  One of their many uses is as a bathroom heater, but they must be attached to a wall for safety.

Oil-Filled Heaters

One of the most popular forms of space heating is an oil-filled heater.  These heaters offer nearly all the advantages of central heating with the added bonus of being completely portable.  An oil-filled heater takes a little longer to heat up in comparison to other space heaters, however, once the oil has warmed up, the temperature can be maintained more efficiently.  This means that they use less energy than an electric heater.

Oil-filled heaters can be hot to the touch so care must be taken, especially where children are concerned.  When placed close to a wall, these heaters are no more hazardous than ordinary central heating radiators.  Oil-filled heaters contain a thermostatic control which can be set according to your needs.  They can be safely left on all night, providing a pleasant, ambient temperature day and night.  An oil-filled heater is energy efficient and maintenance-free which helps to explain their popularity.  In homes where there is no central heating, an oil-filled heater is an acceptable and efficient alternative.

What Size Heater?

It is important to choose the right size of heater for the room you want to heat.  Furthermore, you will need to consider the level of insulation that the room benefits from.  A room with more than one door and several single-glazed windows will be less energy efficient and will therefore require a heater with a higher wattage.

What is a Watt?

A watt is the short term for the amount of energy the appliance, in this case a room heater, gives out.  One thousand watts are equal to one kilowatt, usually referred to as 'kW'.  When selecting a heater, refer to the label on the appliance as this should tell you the heater's maximum output, as measured in kilowatts per hour.  Oil-filled heaters usually range from 1,000 to 2,500 watts but some can be turned down as low as 600 watts for night-time use.  An oil-filled heater will maintain the temperature at which it is set, so for the most economical heating, the best choice of heater is one with the greatest wattage options.  At the other end of the scale, a fan heater will usually have a 2,000 watt (2 kW) or a 3,000 watt (3 kW) capacity, with little control over the settings.


To reduce the running costs a space heater should be correctly positioned and be more than adequately powered to get the room to temperature quickly.  It is essential to ensure that your chosen heater is the right size for the room in which it will be housed.  A fan heater in a large living room will be constantly running on maximum wattage to provide only a small amount of heat.  An oil-filled heater will be equally expensive to run if it's positioned in a bathroom, for example, and only turned on when a member of the family is taking a bath or a shower.  This is because all the oil in the heater has to be heated up, and once it has reached its most efficient temperature, it is likely to be turned off again.

For occasional use, such as to heat a small study, a radiant or ceramic heater will prove efficient and will probably provide the cheapest way in which to heat up a space quickly for a short period of time.  For night-time use, for example, in a child's bedroom, the safest and most efficient method of heating would be an oil-filled heater.  This type of heater can be set to a minimum low wattage.  They provide a gentle heat while remaining silent and are free of any emissions.  On exceptionally cold nights an oil-filled heater can keep a room at a modest temperature, playing a key role in the prevention of hypothermia in the elderly and the very young.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) heaters use either a seven or 15 kg bottle of either butane or propane gas.  This bottle is contained within the unit and the heat output is up to four kilowatts.  This is enough heat to warm a small room such as a studio or conservatory.

The efficiency of a space heater depends very much on the individual operating it.  With oil and natural gas becoming more expensive, even the smallest of savings made on household energy bills can be beneficial.  It is for this reason that portable space heating must be a good alternative to central heating.

By choosing the right heater for the task required, using the thermostatic controls as efficiently as possible, and monitoring the fuel bills for a few months, it is possible to make modest savings without sacrificing too much warmth.

Safety Issues

Space heaters are a very useful household item, but they must be used with care.  If they are positioned on a level surface, away from flammable materials such as curtains and bed linen, and possess an efficient thermostatic control mechanism, space heaters can be as safe as conventional central heating.  It is essential to check your heater regularly for malfunctions, and in the case of gas heaters, to check that the burners are clean.  Look for a heater with current BSI safety labels and thermostatic cut-off devices.