Electric heaters are expensive to run and 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.
Snapshot: The modern aesthetic of the Nouveau 2000W Glass Panel heater will be for nought if it can't provide the heat.
Snapshot: The Dimplex 402BT convection heater has a timer but no fan. How well does it heat a room?
Snapshot: The Dimplex 402TSFTi convection heater has a timer and a fan. How well does it heat a room?
Snapshot: Is this dark horse oscillating tower heater a good option for the home office or small living area?
Snapshot: The Stadler Form Anna looks like a small home theatre speaker. But is it louder than average for a tower heater?
Snapshot: This unobtrusive panel heater can be wall-mounted. Is its performance much to write home about?
Snapshot: Most tower heaters warm up quickly but make a bit of a racket. Is the Delonghi Ceramic TCH7092ER an exception?
Snapshot: Is this compact fan heater a versatile performer?
Snapshot: Can this tower heater warm a room up quickly and keep it at a consistent temperature?
Snapshot: Can the performance of this Noirot panel heater match its hefty price tag?
Snapshot: DeLonghi is a stalwart of the heating aisle, but have they delivered with this high-end oil-column?
Snapshot: In our heater testing Dimplex have served up some stars and delivered some duds. Which category does this panel heater fall into?
Snapshot: The Goldair GCT250 is one of the most affordable tower heaters in our database. But does it compromise on performance?
Snapshot: Is this Goldair tower heater a safe and stable option?
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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.
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 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.
We start the room off at 8°C then set each heater on full power with its fan going (if it has one) and measure how long it takes to heat the room to an average temperature of 13°C, then to 18°C, then look at the final temperature after two hours. This gives us one part of our performance score (the heat up score).
However, many heaters which raised the temperature rapidly didn’t heat evenly, so our performance score includes an evenness component looking at the temperature variation around the room. We also measure how well their thermostat maintains a constant room temperature.
Our ease of use assessment looks at controls (are they easy to read, understand and use?), mobility, ease of cleaning, and whether a heater has cord storage.
We also test heaters to the Australian and New Zealand standards for appliance safety, which involves measuring the surface temperatures to ensure they don’t get dangerously hot, as well as the integrity and anchorage of their power cords, before running some our own safety tests.
We turn heaters up to full temperature on full power and drape a towel over each for 30 minutes. The heaters should either shut down after a few minutes or continue to heat without damaging the heater or towel. Some plastic parts distorted during this test, but no heaters failed.
Finally, we lay each heater on its side with its power on. All models with a tilt switch turned off immediately. We think a tilt switch is essential for any heater with an exposed radiant element. Other convector and panel heaters in our database that lack a tilt switch all turned off after a few minutes when their overheat protection tripped.
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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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.
Our calculator allows you to estimate the capacity of heater you’ll need to maintain a comfortable temperature. Measure the width, depth and height of the room to be heated and enter the figures into the calculator.
Example: A well-insulated bedroom 3m x 4m x 2.4m high has a volume of 28.8 cubic metres. Multiply by 44 to get 1267 watts, and again by 1.2 to get 1520 watts (1.5kW).
Electric heaters differ markedly in the way they distribute heat. We explain which type is best for each situation.
Check out more of our tests, articles, news and surveys in our Home, heating & renovation section.