Electric Heaters vs Oil-Filled Heaters: A Comparison

Researched & Written by Craig

Finding certainty in buying a new heater can be tricky. Especially with there being so many options out there. For so many applications, an electric OR an oil-filled heater may be the right choice. But it’s can be a close call.

What’s the best between electric vs oil heaters? In short, electric heaters are best suited to smaller rooms and quickly heating a space. Oil-filled heaters are great for efficiently heating larger spaces, and rooms where silence is important (e.g. bedrooms).  However, there’s a little more to it than just that.

To give you a full comparison, I’ve put together this simple guide to help us both get some clarity on what heater is best and where. I’ve covered all the pros and cons, and gone through the different situations each heater is better in.

*A quick note: I realize there’s a ton of ‘Electric’ heaters out there – including oil-filled ones! For the purposes of this article, by ‘electric heater’ I’m referring to standard electric space heaters that provide quick heat through a resistor, typically with a fan to spread the heat around.

Electric vs Oil Heaters: Head to Head

Sometimes it can be best to look at something from a top-down view. So let’s take a look at each fan type with all of it’s pros and cons.

Pros Cons
Standard Electric Fan Heaters
Cheaper - With such a mass-manufactured product, there's tons of competition which means cheap prices. Great if you're looking for a quick bit of extra heating power. Quick Heat Loss - Since these heaters rely on spreading heat through the air, any bad insulation or drafty windows will make you lose the heat fast.
Faster - Electric fan heaters heat up a room in minutes. Their fans quickly spread the heat throughout the air of the space. Higher Bills - Due to the quick heat loss, standard electric heaters need to provide higher heat for longer - costing more energy.
More Options - There are thousands of thousands of models to choose from. You're more likely to find a model that is perfect for your taste. Noisy - Especially for heaters with fans, there's always some level of noise associated with standard electric heaters.
Safer for Kids - Most standard fan heaters aren't overly hot to the touch, and the noise makes it more obvious that it's on (and hot!) Inaccurate - Unless you've got a real high-end model, standard convection heaters aren't as good at keeping one constant temperature. They typically end up going a bit too hot or not hot enough, and need you to fiddle with the controls every so often
- Bad for Allergies - Lastly, all that air movement brings up dust and allergens into the air.
Oil-Filled Heaters
Energy Efficient - These heaters are amazing at heat retention. Once they're at the desired temperature, they can save you a ton of energy only using low power to maintain the warmth. Heavier - By relying on a heavy liquid over a larger surface, oil heaters often weigh over 20lbs.
Silent - Since all the heat comes from heating the oil, there's basically no sound with these heaters. Fantastic if you find the noise of a fan distracting. Slow to Heat - It takes a while to get all the oil to the desired temperature - expect a 30 minute wait before the room's fully warm.
Safer for Fires - Fan heaters being blocked can lead to a fire hazard. Oil heaters are much safer, and don't have fire risks if curtains/clothes are *accidentally* left on them. More Expensive (Up Front) - Typically, these heaters cost a fair bit more than standard electric fan heaters. That said, they should also save you money in the long run.
Accurate - Thermostats on oil-heaters tend to work really well, and are included in most models. Oil heaters are great if you appreciate a continous, constant temperature.
Lasting Heat - Thanks to the high heat retention, an oil heater will stay hot for hours after it's switched off. Great for energy savings, and at night.
If you’re still stuck on which type to get, then read on! My recommendations for different types of uses are below.
In-case you’ve made up your mind, I’d like to humbly recommend our excellent guides to the cheapest electric heaters to run (all types), and the best oil-filled heaters for large rooms. I’ve spent dozens of hours researching and reviewing all the different models, and those two articles have the cream of the crop as the top recommendations.

So What’s Best Heater for You?

As with many appliances, I don’t believe there’s a “best” choice overall. Instead, there’s a “best” choice for different situations.

For example, you wouldn’t want an oil-filled heater in a tiny office you only use for an hour a day. At the same time, you’d love the silent heat while relaxing in a comfy chair and reading a book.

With that in mind, I’ve walked through which heater is best for different rooms in your home. That way, it’s much easier to say which one is definitely “best” for you.

Best Heater Type for the Bedroom

I’ve started with the bedroom because it’s super easy. Hands-down, a good oil-heater is your best bet here.

First off is their silent operation. Unless you’re someone who uses white noise to sleep, quietness is one of the three most important factors in getting a night of good sleep. (The other two being darkness, and coolness). If the heater’s for a bedroom, you’ll love how silently it keeps the whole room warm.

There’s another aspect I love, though. Since oil-filled heaters hold their heat for so long, they’re absolutely perfect for when you’re drifting off. You can switch it off as you get into bed, and the room will slowly cool down. We sleep deeper in cooler temperatures, so this is an ideal way to be cosy when getting into bed, but also sleep well.

Space heaters just don’t work as well. The heat fades too quickly, and if you use a timer then you’ve got to deal with the noise as you try to drift off.

For the best sleep, opt for a quiet and long-lasting oil-filled heater.

Best Heater for a Baby/Kids Room

There’s one exception to the above recommendation for bedrooms. That’s if you’re looking for a heater to place with young children.

See, although oil-heaters are silent – they also get really hot. They can be a bit of a hazard with young, inquisitive kids (or pets!). For that reason, electric fan heaters are normally a better choice. You can get the best of both worlds with an oil-filled heater that’s safe to touch. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in – check out the DeLonghi ‘Dragon’ model in our Best Oil Filled Heaters post.

Best Heater for Small Rooms

BAM! It’s the left-hook of the electric heaters. Oil-filled models take a bow on this one.

If you’ve got a small space – like a small office or utility room – then your best bet is with an electric fan heater.

These excel at quickly heating a small space, and are especially efficient if you may be popping out now and then. While an oil-heater may win out if it’s a larger office you’re in for a long period of time, you’ll enjoy instant heat from a traditional fan heater much more in a smaller space.

Best Heater for Large Rooms

Can you guess this one?

A large room takes a lot of energy to heat. So efficiency is key here.

That’s why an oil-filled heater wins out as the top choice. Even though they take a little longer to warm the room up, the energy efficiency over time is just so much better than an electric fan heater. Make sure to pick one up with a digital thermostat, and enjoy the energy savings as it changes to ‘low’ power while maintaining the warm temperature.

Best Heater for Basements

Basements are a bit of a toss-up. (Or, toss-down)

Since basements often have limited insulation, the heat from a space heater fan will get lost easily. The heat from these is vulnerable to getting lost in drafty/leaky spaces. So, in general, oil-filled heaters are more appropriate because their heat will hang around longer and you’ll get more for your money.

That being said, if your basement is smaller, well-insulated, OR you’ll only ever be popping in for 15-20 minutes – don’t bother with anything but an electric fan heater.

Best Heater for Garages/Workshops

Last up is for your garage or workshop. In this case there’s a lot of similarities to a leaky/drafty basement – and so an oil-filled heater would be my recommendation.

However, I just want to add a note here. In fact, a propane heater can be a fantastic option for an external garage or workshop. They don’t need electricity, and so are super easy to place. They provide huge amounts of heating – so any bad insulation or drafts won’t matter nearly as much.

Plus, propane heaters are also super handy to have around in-case of a blackout. If, god-forbid, it’s the middle of winter and your power goes out for the night – I can’t understate the value of a good propane heater. If you’re interested, we’ve got a full guide for propane heaters in garages here. Speaking of power outages, we’ve got a guide for that too! With 59 unique tips, just-incase the lights do go out.

Electric vs Oil-Filled Heater – Cost To Run

Since this is a frequently asked question, I also wanted to address it here. Oil-filled heaters are generally cheaper to run due to better heat retention. Though they take longer to heat up, the can then change to ‘low’ power and use much less energy to maintain a warm temperature. Electric fan heaters lose their heat quickly, so need to stay on a higher power to keep the temperature high.

Conclusion

Investing in a heater to get you through the winter shouldn’t be taken lightly. There’s pros and cons to each type, and I hope I’ve helped shed some light on which type might work best for you.

If you’re still weighing things up, try not to worry too much. Both heater types are excellent choices. They’re both supremely portable, easy to place (only needing to be plugged in), and do an extra job of heating any small space. Choosing either of these to heat one room over using your whole-house heating system will save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. So you can’t really go wrong!

If this guide has helped you out, please consider checking out some more of our articles.

Have a great day!

-Craig