Electric heating

Most electric heaters are relatively cheap to buy, but expensive to run.

When to use electric heaters

Electric heaters can be suitable:

  • for smaller rooms that only get used occasionally, for short periods of time
  • instead of portable LPG heaters or open fires - electric heaters are much safer and cheaper to run if you don’t have other options, for example in rental houses.

Efficiency of electric heaters

The heating capacity of electric plug-in heaters is typically no more than 2.4 kW. This means that in larger or poorly insulated rooms, you may need to run more than one heater. Only use one heater per power outlet to avoid overloading.

With the exception of heat pumps, all electric heaters are equally efficient. They convert all the electricity they consume into useful heat - so don't believe claims that any one type of electric heater is more efficient than the other.

Types of electric heaters

Choosing the right type of heater is important to get the full benefit of all of the heat you're paying for. Ask your heating supplier to advise you on the right type and size heater for your needs.

Radiant heaters

Bar heaters with glowing elements and a reflector are radiant heaters. They mainly heat objects and people rather than air in a room, and are commonly available as either free-standing, wall or high-wall mounted models.

  • Good for rooms with high ceilings.
  • Good for large rooms where you only need to heat one area of the room.
  • Great for instant heat - rather than waiting for the air to warm up. For example in large bathrooms (only use high wall mounted models here), while standing at the kitchen sink or for that quick early morning breakfast in a cold house.

Radiant heaters can be a fire risk and are dangerous to children. You can have a high-wall mounted models (available from electrical supply stores) installed out of reach of children and away from flammable materials.

Panel, marble or stonestore heaters have the element behind or inside a panel. These heaters give you a more even, lower temperature heat, but still cost you the same to run for a set amount of heat. They’re no more efficient than any other type of electric heater.

Fan heaters

Fan heaters (or ceramic heaters) can be noisy, but distribute heated air around your room rather than letting it form a layer of hot air below the ceiling.

  • Fan heaters can boost convection heaters - providing additional heat and distributing the heated air, so your room feels warm quicker.
  • They provide quick warmth in smaller rooms - for example the kitchen or bathroom in the morning, where you need heating for very short periods of time.
  • They’re safe - high-wall mounted models can be installed out of reach of children.

Convection heaters

Convection heaters mostly heat air rather than surfaces. They include column heaters (oil and oil-free) and convection heaters with a heating element inside the casing, which has grilles at the top and bottom for air flow.

  • Convection heaters are good for medium-sized rooms - that need heat for longer periods of time, for example living rooms and bedrooms.
  • They steadily warm the air by convection - the hot air rises and then slowly circulates around the room, providing background warmth.
  • May have a built-in fan to mix the air more effectively.
  • Surface temperatures are lower than radiant heaters - so they’re safer, but still get hot enough to burn skin.
  • Safety first - convection heaters can easily be tipped over so you need to fix them in place. The weight and sharp fins of oil column heaters can be dangerous to children too.

Panel heaters

Flat-panel heaters are often promoted as ‘eco’ or cheap to run. However they produce very little heat - usually not enough to heat up a room to comfortable and healthy temperatures

The advantage is they don't get hot enough for children or pets to burn themselves.

A higher wattage heater controlled by a thermostat is usually a better alternative to panel heaters - the thermostat can cycle the heater on and off so you can maintain a comfortable temperature without wasting energy.

Night store heaters

Night store heaters use cheaper off-peak electricity at night, store it as heat in clay or ceramic bricks, and slowly release it during the day. They’re more economical than common electric heaters if your house is occupied during the day, and if cheaper night-rate electricity tariff is available in your area.

Electric underfloor heating

Electric underfloor heating normally goes between your floorboards and the floor covering. It‘s very important that your floor is well insulated, otherwise much of the heat you pay for will be lost . Electric underfloor heating can heat large areas well, but can be expensive to run.

Checklist for electric heaters


  • Use a thermostat to help maintain an even temperature and conserve electricity. Some electric heaters have a temperature dial, but most don't so you’ll need to use trial and error to find the right thermostat setting. Most electric heater thermostats aren't very accurate - the heater itself often interferes with the temperature sensor and you can end up with large temperature fluctuations.
  • Put the temperature sensor far away from the hot parts of the heater - for example at the bottom of the heater where the unheated room air is drawn in.
  • If the thermostat of your heater doesn't work very well, use a separate plug-in thermostat.You can buy them online. Or you can get an electrician to install a separate, hard-wired room thermostat. They’re usually wall-mounted and, if installed correctly, are better at sensing the actual room temperature.


Timers allow you to turn on a heater to warm up the kitchen half an hour before getting up, or turn a heater off after you have gone to bed.


Fans help to warm up rooms faster by distributing air evenly rather than letting heat build-up near the ceiling.

Thermal cutout

Some heaters have a built-in thermal cutout, which turns the heater off if it overheats - this is an important safety feature to look for.

Tilt switch

Some portable heaters have a built-in tilt switch, which turns the heater off if the heater overturns - another important safety feature to look for.

Cost of electric heaters

If your heater has a few different heat settings, somewhere on the heater it will often say the wattage of each setting. You need to know this to calculate the running costs.

Using electric heaters wisely

  • Safety first - risks associated with using electric heaters include electrocution, burns and fire. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Only heat the areas you're using - and only while you're using them.
  • Keep the heat in - by shutting doors and curtains.
  • Set the thermostat for healthy indoor temperatures - World Health Organisation guidelines recommend at least 18˚C in any rooms you're using (or at least 20˚C for vulnerable people like children, the elderly or anyone unwell), and at least 16˚C in bedrooms overnight.