Home, heating & renovation

Product overview

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Electric heaters

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Keep warm with one of our tested heaters.

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. Our 32 tested heaters vary widely in price and represent just about every type available — including oil-column, panel, micathermic and ceramic.

From our test

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About our test

We test heaters in a temperature-controlled room inside another temperature-controlled room. This means we can evaluate each model against a constant outside temperature. Eighty-one thermocouple sensors are strung up throughout the inner room (17m² with a 2.4m ceiling) to measure how quickly and evenly heat is distributed.

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.

Which heater where?

Walk through an appliance or hardware store and you’ll find an array of heater options: oscillating tower, oil-column, convector, micathermic, panel and more. Which is best for you depends on where you’re using it, and whether you want to heat a whole room or just one person.

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Add a fan?

Our test results show that the upwards convection currents of many fan-less heaters create a "pool" of hot air near the ceiling.

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 than when we tested it without the fan.

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Features to look for

If you're thinking of buying an electric heater, here are the features to consider.

  • Fan: A fan is an effective way to break up the layers of cold and warm air in a room. While noisy, you don't have to use them continuously. Just switch them on for a few minutes, to warm up the room.
  • Cord storage: This allows you to stow the cord neatly when the heater is not in use.

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Issues to be aware of with electric heaters.

Tilt switch
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.

Thermal cutout
All models should have a built-in thermal cutout, to turn the heater off if it overheats.

Oil-filled heaters
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.

What size heater?

Our calculator allows you to estimate more accurately the capacity of heater you’ll need to maintain a comfortable temperature. Measure the different elements (ceiling and walls, for example) of your room as required in the calculator, and enter their size in square metres (multiply length by height or width to calculate square metres).

The DIY approach

Here’s a quick guide if you’d prefer to work out your required heating capacity manually:

  • Allow about 44 watts per cubic metre of room volume.
  • Add another 10 percent for a large window area and another 10 to 20 percent for partial or no insulation.
  • If it's a lounge, multiply by 1.5. If it's a bedroom, make it 1.2, and for other areas multiply by 0.8.

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).


We received information on 1927 electric heaters in our 2016 appliance reliability survey.

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