What is the Cheapest Electric Heater to Run?

As the weather begins to turn chillier and our sunburn starts to fade, a lot of us finding out attention turning to heating.

It’s no secret that electric heating is more expensive than gas; here in the UK the cost of electricity is 10-15p/kWh and the cost of gas is just 3.5-4p/kWh. Even accounting for the inefficiency of gas, it’s still around 3 times cheaper. That said, there are plenty of homes across the UK without access to gas, and even those that are sometimes find our central heating just can’t provide enough warmth for the chillier times.

That’s when it’s time to start scouring the Argos catalogue for an electric heater.

The heater running costs below are based on average standard tariff costs (with the exception of storage heaters). So what is the cheapest electric heater to run?

Fan heater running costs

The old favourite – the kind you crack out on those cold winter days to warm your toes. Though super cheap to buy, these kinds of heaters can be false economy depending on the area you’re trying to heat. If the room is not well draft proofed then the hot air being pushed out by this kind of convection heater will simply flow right out of the door. As soon as you turn it off, the warm air will be gone. What you gain in initial savings and immediate heat, you lose in efficiency.

If you’re thinking of getting a heater like this, make sure that all the doors and windows of the room are closed and any chimneys are blocked. This way the room can hold the heat even after you’ve turned it off and the fan heater running costs will be significantly reduced.

  • Fan heater price: £15 upwards
  • Fan heater running cost: Around 28p per hour for a 2kw heater
  • Verdict: Not bad if used effectively, but very expensive if the room is draughty

Oil-filled heater running costs

Oil filled radiators work on the basis that when electricity is passed through it, the fluid expands and gives off heat through the surface of the radiator. Like a traditional radiator, it is this surface temperature that warms the room.

Unlike a fan heaters, which is directional and instantaneous, an oil-based system heats the room more slowly and evenly. It’s a bit less just-got-in-from-the-cold and a bit more pop-it-on-and-settle-down-in-front-of-the-telly.

Since it’s just another way of achieving convection heating, the same rules apply as with fan heaters. Keep all draughty areas sealed up and yell loudly at anyone that leaves the door open.

  • Oil-filled heater price: £20 upwards
  • Oil-filled heater running cost: Around 21p per hour for a 1.5kw heater
  • Verdict: Very similar costing to other fan heaters, but provide a more even heat

Halogen heater running costs

You know these, they’re the orange glowing ones you see outside pubs and train stations.

While the first two examples operate on convection heating, a halogen heater uses radiant heat to warm you up. This means they skip the step of heating the air and jump straight to heating everything else – you, the walls, the sofa, the pet rabbit. When you’re out on a cold day but can still feel the warmth of the sun, that’s radiant heat.

Unlike with convection, you don’t need to worry so much about draughts and open doors. Since radiant heat doesn’t focus on warming the air, it doesn’t matter as much if the air escapes the room. This is why infrared and halogen are used so much in public places, where people and coming and going and it’s difficult to keep the air in.

Halogen heaters use the infrared rays in a focused direction, meaning that you don’t need to waste energy and money heating the full room. For this reason, often a lower wattage of heater is needed, saving you money.

  • Halogen heater price: £20 upwards
  • Halogen heater running cost: Around 17p per hour for a 1.2kw heater
  • Verdict: A great way to stay warm in public and outdoor spaces, as long as you don’t mind the bright glowing element

Infrared panel heater running costs

Much like the halogen heaters discussed above, infrared panels work on radiant heat. It’s essentially the same technology, tweaked slightly.

Whereas a halogen heater uses ‘near infrared’ technology and has a strong, directional heat, infrared panels are ‘far infrared’. This means they have a much wider dispersal and no glowing elements. They can be placed on feet and used portably, but they work best when wall or ceiling mounted.

Again, since they don’t heat the air, they’re perfect for draughty spaces and old houses that would otherwise struggle to keep the heat in. Just be careful if your property has a lot of glass in it – glass can’t hold the infrared heat properly so it’s a bit of a no-go.

  • Infrared panel heater price: £100 upwards
  • Infrared panel heater running cost: Around 7p per hour for a 500w heater
  • Verdict: One of the best ways to heat with electricity (especially for draughty or inconvenient spaces) but high initial cost for the unit

Storage heater running costs

Unlike all the others on this list, a storage heater has two main differences. Firstly it operates on an Economy 7/10 tariff system, and secondly it is in no way portable. This is not the cheapo heater you pick up from Argos, it’s a serious bit of kit.

It should note at this point that Economy 7/Economy 10 relies on baseload energy generation, which is maintained by technologies being rapidly overtaken in the UK by newer, renewable sources. Therefore the tariff basis on which a storage heater saves money may, in a few years time, cease to be an option.

They’re big, bulky, expensive to buy, and run the risk of becoming obsolete. That said, they can be fairly cheap to run when used properly, plus a high performance storage heater is still the only electrical heating system that can improve an EPC rating.

  • Storage heater price: £500 upwards
  • Storage heater running cost: Around 13p per hour for a 2kw heater
  • Verdict: A lot of negative aspects, but the running cost is good if used properly

Additional considerations

  • Electric heater are generally considered to be 100% efficient (give or take a few percent). This is standard, so don’t be impressed by a heater boasting that.
  • Heaters with a timer function can save you a lot of money by curbing your usage.
  • Radiant heat and radiation are not scary words. Infrared and halogen are 100% perfectly safe.
  • Recent legislation was passed to ensure that all space heaters were relatively efficient – all non-compliant models are now out of commission, but may still be for sale. Watch out for these by making sure that whatever you’re buying is Lot 20 compliant.
  • What? Watts. The wattage of the heater is the most simple way to figure out the running cost.
  • Never leave these heaters on overnight. Although all modern space heaters will automatically cut out if they start overheating, it is still both dangerous and expensive to leave them unattended for a long period of time.
  • Don’t believe what any of them say about the size of room they will heat. It is entirely dependent on the size, insulation, and nature of the room, and its ability to hold heat.
  • Convection is not nearly as efficient as infrared, but it is a helluva lot cheaper to buy.
  • Hot air rises!! Don’t put a convection heater on a table or raised surface. Keep it on the floor, the warmth will reach you.
  • Know your tariff! Economy 7 is ONLY suitable for storage heaters.

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