What is the Cheapest Type of Electric Heater to Run?

Researched & Written by Craig

Over the years I’ve owned a few electric heaters that just guzzled up electricity. They used so much I dreaded to even turn them on! So I’ve done some research on electric heaters and found some that won’t torpedo our electric bills.

So what is the cheapest electric heater to run? The cost of running a heater depends on its wattage. Infrared heaters have lower wattages and are one of the cheapest types to run. Alternatively, space heaters on lower power can be cheap, especially if you use them efficiently (I’ve covered how to do this below).

When it comes to choosing an electric heater that’s cheap to run, there are two things to consider. The first is the type and model of the heater; the second is how you use the heater. Below I’ve gone through all the different electric heater types with plenty of tips on how to get the most out of them.

I’ve only considered ‘space’ heaters in this guide. If you’re looking into full-house heating systems, try checking out the Department of Energy’s advice.


Quick Description: Wattage

Just before we dive into the heaters, I want to quickly cover wattage. Many shoppers don’t know how heaters are rated, but understanding this could save you money!

What does Wattage mean on an appliance?

  1. Appliances are rated in Wattage. For example, ‘1500W’.
  2. This number is how many ‘Watts’ it uses per hour.
  3. We measure electricity in kilowatts per hour (1kwh = a 1000W appliance on for 1 hour)
  4. So 1,500W is 1.5kW/h
  5. The amount you pay for 1 kWh depends on your electricity tariff. The US average for 2019 is $0.13.
  6. This varies by state (see the chart below for averages).
  7. It can also vary by time. Some plans (‘Time of Use‘) will charge you more during peak hours.

As an example, let’s say you buy a 1,500W heater and your tariff is $0.13.

For every hour you have the heater on full power, you would pay 1.5kWh*$0.13 = 20¢ ($0.20).

Wondering how expensive or cheap your bill is? I’ve pulled all the data from Choose Energy to show the average costper state below.

Average electricity cost per US State. Aloha, Hawaii!

Which Type of Heater is Cheapest to Run?

Let’s get into the actual heaters and their types.

First up is the cheapest to run overall – infrared heaters.

Type 1: Infrared Heaters

Infrared heaters emit a constant and gentle heat that works just like the sun. What does that mean? That they heat objects, not air.

While a normal heater just heats up the air around it, an infrared heater will heat up any objects in front of it. That could be furniture, or people! Those hot objects then heat the air around them.

Here’s a quick explanation from a popular UK infrared panel manufacturer:

Basically, not only are infrared heaters one of the cheapest to run – but it’s easy to use them efficiently, too!

Here’s some of the great benefits:

  • There’s tons of incredible looking options (wall, panel, freestanding, ceiling heaters – even as a art piece or a mirror!) See below recommendation.
  • They heat you up, not the air around you. A cold draft won’t ruin the heat.
  • The warmth is 100% healthy and safe since it’s the same as the sun.
  • You can feel the heat instantly, and over time the whole room gently heats up (and stays warm).
  • You can control the heaters individually – no need to waste money heating unused areas.
  • They’re not affected by drafts or cold air. With a normal heater, if someone opens the door and lets the hot air out, the air needs to heat back up again. Infrared isn’t affected. The objects it has heated stay warm!

AND they typically have the lowest wattages for any space heater. Because of all this, infrared heaters can save you up to 60% on your heating bills! What more can you ask for! While they may feel like a ‘new’ option to some, these heaters would hands-down be the lightest load on your electric bill. While having a ton of other great benefits.

What’s not to love? There are a few limitations:

  • Infrared can have a higher up-front cost than normal heaters (looking at $80+ for a decent one).
  • They only heat the objects in front of them. If you’re in an office and your screen is between you and the heater – it’s your screen that will absorb the heat.
  • If on the wall or ceiling, they’re typically a bit more permanent than a space heater you can roll between rooms.
  • They are typically more on/off rather than with variable controls.

Panel Heater Recommendation

If you’re considering going infrared, there are three models I can personally recommend.

First are these amazing panel heaters that double as amazing art pieces. They’ll never fail to have friends go ‘Wow!’ – or confuse the kids as you ask them to find out where the heat’s coming from. They’re fully working, very capable heaters – they just also happen to look fantastic. They’re lower on the wattage at 470W, so will be super cheap to run though better-suited to smaller spaces.

Here are the four-panel designs currently available. Yes, these will heat your whole small-sized room and are super cheap to run!

Click on any of the panel designs to see the full-size version on Amazon.

(Wondering about the mirror types I mentioned earlier? Check this one out. Just be warned – it’s over 5x as expensive!).


Tower Heater Recommendation

Second, is a great infrared tower heater. This is a much more mobile and portable option. Looking for a space heater that’s easy to move between rooms? This is definitely one of the cheapest to run. It’s rated at 1200W (with a 600W power option), so will be much cheaper to run than standard 1500W space heaters. All while being totally silent once it’s warmed up.

Click here to check the latest price on Amazon.


Wall Heater Recommendation

Lastly, this wall model below is like a much more powerful version of the panel heater. It’s rated at 1000W, while the panels are half of that at 470W. It would be too powerful to help heat up a smaller space, so just consider this if you’ve got a large space and need plenty of heating power.

This model even has attachable feet, so it can fully work as a space heater too! Great if you’re wanting to get some heating in another room without any hassle.

Click here to check the latest price on Amazon.


Type 2: Ceramic Heaters

Ceramic heaters work by heating up a ceramic heat, which then heats up the surrounding air. They may also have a fan which moves the air around.

These are standard electric heaters. They’re pretty standard: cost of running them depends entirely on their wattage and how you use them.

These are #2 because of their simplicity. There are plenty of options so you can choose a favorite, you don’t need to worry about setting anything up, and they’re easy to move around.


Ceramic Heater Recommendation

One model I’m a fan of is this ceramic tower heater by Lasko. For a super low purchase price you’re getting a fully modern eletric heater with all the trimmings. Programmable timer and digital controls means you’re in complete control.

Click here to check the latest price on Amazon.


Type 3: Oil-Filled Heaters

While an oil-filled heater may sound pretty old-school, modern versions are still very effective. They’re also almost completely silent!

Consider oil-filled heaters if you’re not normally in a rush. They take a long time to heat up, but a keep their heat for a very long time. With that in mind, be sure to get one with a digital timer if you can. That means you can skip the slow wait for heat by switching it on before you even get home. You get all of the pros, and skip the main con.


Oil Heater Recommendation

For a recommendation – check out this full-sized model by Pelonis. It’s rated at 1500W, but it also has a setting for ‘Eco-friendly’. This alternates it between the high and low settings, meaning that it’s very cheap to run (around half of the 1500W) when it’s just maintaining a warm temperature. On top of that, it’s also got full digital controls and a timer – so you can have it warmed up before you even get home!

Click here to check the latest price on Amazon.


Type 4: Space Heaters

We also have our standard space heaters. These are the standard models with a heating element that use fans to move hot air around the room. They’re what we know and love, but not they’re not the best in terms of cheap running costs.

They’re great if you’re looking for a fast heat, but any cold drafts or open doors can make all that heat go to waste. They’re so popular because of their cheap up-front cost, but people don’t realize the extra cost in having to run them!

That said, they can be great if you use them right. Slower heaters tend to stay on full power longer until a room is fully heated. This can add up in running costs. A space heater can take under an hour to get a room fully warm. After that, you just need to maintain with a lower power setting. If you’re looking into getting a space heater, pay extra attention to the efficiency tips at the end of the post.


Space Heater Recommendation

One model I really like is this ‘Vortex’ heater by PELONIS.

Click here to check the latest price on Amazon.

It’s small, easy to place, and gets heat moving around the room fast. Not to mention the looks! It’s an inexpensive option that won’t cause much of a bump to your electric bill, while giving you plenty of hot air circulation.


Type 5: Storage Heaters

Lastly, I just want to touch on storage heaters. These are a much more expensive up-front model, but can be very cheap to run.

How these work is they ‘store’ up electricity. They’re made to go with electricity tariffs that have cheap off-peak hours. They ‘use’ the cheap electricity at night and keep it stored within thermal bricks. Then, when you need the heat during the day, they act just like a normal heater.

What does this mean in terms of running costs? That you save around 50%! Compared to using electricity in peak-hours, off-peak times can be much cheaper, offering you plenty of savings.

The trade-off is that these models are highly expensive. We’re talking over $400 – so only consider it if you’ll be investing in one to use for years.

If you want to know more, a good supplier to check out are Steffes.

How to Get The Most Out of a Space Heater

Where to Place a Space Heater

When it comes to positioning, our first concern is safety. Never place a space heater under curtains, or have anything touching the hot part of the heater. Since space heaters are for smaller rooms or areas, place it where it’ll be most useful to everyone. Try to avoid putting it near frequently opened doors, or drafty windows.

Ways to Increase Space Heater Efficiency

There’s a few tips you can follow to get the most out of your heater and save on your electric bill:

  1. Insulation – Make sure the area you’re heating is nice and insulated. Avoid paper-thin walls or single-pane windows.
  2. Check for Drafts – Next, make sure there’s no drafts that can suck out your hot air. Especially near windows and doors. (Tip: Check by placing down a candle and seeing if the flame flickers).
  3. Focus the Area – Have a good think about where best to place the heater. Try to not have any objects (couches or big desks) blocking you from it – especially if it’s infrared. Good tactics are to just have it close to you, or near the room door to trap in the heat.
  4. Heat up fast – When you use a lower heat setting, you use less electricity. Often, the most efficient way is to put the heater on full blast to heat up quickly, then maintain the temperature using a low settings.
  5. Use timers – Have the room warm for when you get home, or turn off the heat an hour after you’re asleep, by using digital timers. If you come home to a warm room, you may use less energy than when you’re freezing and need it to feel like a furnace!

How Long Can Space Heaters be Left On?

Modern space heaters can generally be left on without worry – even overnight. (Though you may worry about your heating bill!) Historically, many house fires have started because of people leaving clothes or curtains sitting on top of a heater. While you should never do this, modern models have heat sensors which will turn off the heater if there’s any trouble, or if it tips over.

Conclusion

Electric space heaters can be a fantastic solution during the cold months. Unlike gas, the only ‘fuel’ they need is a plug socket, and there’s no problems with ventilation.

The huge range of models and heater types give you plenty of options – hopefully this guide has helped narrow some of those down for you.

While heating is never going to be super cheap, using a low wattage and doing so efficiently can save you hundreds of dollars a year. By adopting some smart ways to use them, and considering cheaper alternatives like infrared heating, I hope you’ll end the next year with plenty of extra money once winter is over!

Have a great day.

-Craig