21 May 2016

Electric heaters: a buyer's guide

From This Way Up, 1:40 pm on 21 May 2016

This Way Up reviews heating heating options and how efficient they are. First up, electric heaters – which rooms are they good for and which ones are best?

 Simon Morton asks George Block from consumer.org.nz:

An oil heater

An oil heater Photo: Wikipedia Ashley Pomeroy CC By 3.0

An electric heater

An electric heater Photo: (aquila2664 Wikipedia CC BY 2.5)

Read an edited extract of the conversation:

I’m amazed that electric heaters are still relevant, because I thought a lot of the new technologies like heat pumps would have made this technology redundant, but it’s alive and well.

George Block: The reason for that is over the past few years... we have been hammering home the message that electric heaters just aren’t powerful enough to service your main source of heat and living areas, but they do have a place. So, for example, in a small area like a bedroom or small study, the amount of money you’ll spend upfront installing a heat pump just for that room is $2,000. That is a lot more than you’ll pay running an electric heater in that small space, which we found to be about $1,300 more than a heat pump.

So the low upfront cost of an electric heater and the fact that they generate just the right amount of heat for a small space means they are the right choice for anything around 15m² to 20m². That’s areas like a smaller bedroom, a study or occasional rooms like that.

You mention that $1,300 figure…

George Block: That’s a ten-year period. So you’ll be spending $ 1,300 more on power bills running one of these compared with a small heat pump. But the heat pump will cost $ 1,500 upfront and another $ 500 to install. So in a small area we think it’s probably best to go for an electric heater. But that doesn’t include things like gas central heating or heat-inducted central heating. If you have those and they’re ducted to various bedrooms they will be a lot cheaper to run than an electric heater.

There’s also another type of panel heater here, micathermic – what are these?

George Block: Micathermic heaters are a recent addition to the electric heating world. Basically, you switch them on and they act in the same way as an old column heater. You have this background, ambient heating. They don’t have a fan so they don’t provide that evenness of heating. But one advantage they do have over oil column heaters is they heat up much faster. So you switch this microthermic heater on and it’s instantly going to come up to temperature and start heating your room. Whereas this oil column is going to take five or ten minutes.

We found that in general oil column heaters are the worst performers in our test.  The reason for that is that they don’t get especially hot and they quite often don’t have a fan so they don’t tend to heat that evenly and it tends to pool up at the ceiling. But we found that if you have an oil column heater with a fan or you place a small desk fan on the ground beside an oil column heater it’ll help it heat up the room three times as fast.

If you’re out there buying an electric heater, what are the key things you need to consider?

George Block: If you want fast, even room heating, you can’t go past an oscillating tower fan ceramic heater. The key to any sort of fast heating is to get a fan. But if you don’t want that whirring away in the background we think a micathermic heater is a great option.