Keep warm with one of our recommended electric heaters.
Electric heaters are expensive to run and often aren’t powerful enough to keep living areas warm, but their low purchase price means they’re often the best value for money in small spaces like the bedroom or study.
The heaters we've tested vary widely in price and represent just about every type available — including oil-column, panel, micathermic and ceramic.
These tall, pivoting heaters have a radiant element and usually a fan. Note: we test large fan heaters designed to warm an entire room. Small fan heaters that sit close to the floor can be a good option for personal heating (for example, if you’re in the only one in the study and just want direct heat).
Good for: Quickly heating an office or rumpus room.
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. Often have a fan-assist option.
Good for: Spaces where you want an unobtrusive heater that can run quietly, like bedrooms or hallways.
These models heat oil sealed inside their columns/fins. Heat from the oil is then transferred to the casing, and released into the air.
Good for: Areas where safety and silent heating are priorities, like kids’ bedrooms.
Similar shape to an oil column heater but thinner. Uses sheets of mica (a mineral similar to slate) encased in a metal housing, which heat up quickly.
These smaller heaters are designed to direct the heat at you rather than the entire room. That’s not to say they don’t pack a punch. Some of the 2000W personal heaters we’ve tested are powerful enough to heat our test room in a jiffy.
Good for: Heating you directly in your office or living room
But there’s an answer: we took one of the oil-column heaters and did some extra tests using a small desk fan placed on the floor and aimed at the heater.
The results were dramatic – the heater raised the average room temperature by 5°C three times faster when we tested it with the fan.
These heat distribution charts represent a vertical cross section of our thermal lab with the heat source at the bottom left. The green shades are comfortable temperatures, red is too warm.
The oscillating fan heater distributed heat fairly evenly, but the oil-column heater couldn’t break up the layered air temperatures. This shows using a fan-less heater can result in cold feet and a hot head.
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Our table allows you to estimate the capacity of heater you’ll need to maintain a comfortable temperature.
The table assumes a standard ceiling height of 2.4m. If you have high ceilings, adjust the estimates up.
Tilt switches turn the heater off if it falls over to reduce the risk of fire. They’re not mandatory, but we think they’re essential for any portable heater with a radiant element.
All models should have a built-in thermal cutout, to turn the heater off if it overheats.
The relatively low surface temperature makes oil-filled heaters safer than most other heater types. But some models have narrow exposed fins that get quite hot.
Models with wide flat fins or a casing over the fins, and a protective heat shield at each end are safer.
Because they are tall and narrow, column heaters are inherently less stable than other types. They are also heavy.
If a model with narrow exposed fins topples onto a small child, it can do quite a lot of harm. Having wide or enclosed fins helps. A tapered shape may help stability. If there are toddlers about, a loop of chain around the top fin tube and attached to a wall could stop a nasty accident if the child tried to pull the heater over.