Co-author: Nicole Barratt
Portable electric heaters are affordable to buy and easy to use by simply plugging them into the wall. All electric heaters are equally efficient by converting the electricity they consume into useful heat, according to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (ECCA). However, choosing the right heater for your room size is essential to get the full benefit of all the heat you’re paying for. With so much choice available, here’s our 2021 guide to the best electric heaters to keep you warm this winter:
There are a range of different sizes and types of fan heaters but all have a fan that distributes the heated air. The bigger the fan, the better the heat distribution. Small fan heaters, often featuring ceramic elements, can be a good option for personal heat – such as if you are the only one in a small room. Oscillating tower fan heaters usually have a radiant heat source and a fan, and are designed to heat an entire room evenly.
- Pros: Fan heaters provide fast heating and the larger, oscillating models distribute heated air evenly, so the hot air is not trapped by the ceiling. Fan heaters can boost convection heaters or oil heaters, helping to warm a room quicker. They are lightweight and portable, and small fan heaters can be cheap to buy.
- Cons: The fans can be noisy, which makes them less suitable for use overnight. Some fan heaters can also be drying and can create a stuffy room if used for a long time. They can easily be knocked over, although most models have a safety switch to guard against this.
Here are some examples of electric fan heaters available to buy in New Zealand.
- Has an adjustable thermostat, safety cut out and overheat protection. It has easy to use controls and its low profile makes it perfect to fit under desks and coffee tables. (2000W). (Pictured)
- Has three heat settings plus a cool fan setting, a silent running system, an energy saving thermostat, safety tip-over switch and a cool-touch handle (1800W).
Oil Column Heaters
Oil column heaters warm the air through metal fins that have hot oil circulating through them. The hot air rises and then slowly circulates around the room, providing background warmth.
- Pros: Most oil column heaters have a thermostat control, which allows a room to stay an even temperature. They are quiet and relatively safe to leave on, so they are good for heating bedrooms overnight. With a number of sizes available, they are suitable rooms of all sizes.
- Cons: Oil column heaters take a little while to start working, as the oil inside the heater needs to heat up, and they can take a long time to heat up a cold room. They also struggle to heat rooms with high ceilings, because the heated air rises and collects beneath the ceiling. A fan or fan heater can be used to move the heated air around while the room warms up. Large models can be heavy to move around the house, particularly up and down stairs.
Here are some examples of oil column heaters available to buy in New Zealand.
- This heater has three different heat settings and a adjustable thermostat. It also provides some peace of mind due to safety features, including overheat protection and a tip-over switch. (2400W). (Pictured)
- The Arlec 5 Fin Oil Column Heater features three heat settings, an adjustable thermostat and castor wheels for easy movement. (1000W).
Oil-free Column Heaters
Oil-free column heaters look like traditional oil column heaters but instead of oil they have an element inside each fin and vents at the top to disperse the hot air. This helps to eliminate some of the cons of an oil heater, as they are quicker to warm up and lighter to move around.
Here is an example of an oil-free column heater available to buy in NZ.
Dimplex Eco Drytech Oil Free Column Heater 11 Fin $149
- Patented Drytech technology provides even greater heating effectiveness, heating up to eight times faster than standard oil column heaters. Two heat settings. (2.4kW). (Pictured).
Micathermic heaters combine convection and reflective heating to quickly heat both the air and nearby surfaces. They are similar to an oil-column heater but use sheets of thermal mineral mica instead of hot oil. They also provide radiant heating, rather than just the background warmth of an oil column heater.
- Pros: Fast heating – a micathermic heater will usually reach its maximum heat output within 60 seconds. They are generally silent, and are lighter and more portable than an oil column heater. The combination of convection and radiant heat makes them cosy to sit around and they are best used for warming small living areas.
- Cons: The biggest drawback of micathermic heaters is that the exterior surfaces get very hot, so they can be hazardous around young children. Most models heat from all sides, so they can’t be placed near walls or furniture. They do not heat a room as evenly as heaters with fana, and sometimes the mica creaks as it warms up.
Here are some examples of micathermic heaters available to buy in New Zealand.
- This heater usually reaches its maximum heat output in 60 seconds, and features double-sided heating, an 18-hour timer and a remote control. (2000W). Pictured.
Like oil column heaters, convection heaters heat cold air, which then rises and slowly circulates around the room. Convection heaters pull air over a heated element. Most units including a fan to speed up the natural convection flow.
- Pros: Suitable for heating medium to large rooms and, with a quiet operation and thermostat, are suitable to leave on in a bedroom overnight. Convection heaters are lightweight and portable, and provide an even, ambient temperature.
- Cons: Can take a while to heat up a large room, especially one with high ceilings, and while most models have a fan, these are often small and not as effective as some fan heaters. Convection heaters can also be easily tipped over.
Here are some examples of convection heaters sold in NZ.
- This model is quiet and includes functions including three heat settings, an adjustable thermostat and a turbo fan, which helps speed up the heat distribution. (2000W). (Pictured.)
- A standard convector heater. Portable and light, operates quietly (2000W).
Radiant heaters are bar heaters with glowing elements and a reflector. They heat objects and people rather than the air in a room, and are either free-standing or wall-mounted, so they can be fixed high out of reach of small children.
- Pros: Good for rooms with high ceilings, draughty areas or large rooms where you only need to heat one area of the room. They are great for instant heat, as you do not have to wait for the air to warm up, and are best used for short periods – such as providing heat while you have a quick breakfast. They also tend to be cheaper to buy than oil column or micathermic heaters.
- Cons: Radiant heaters only provide heat if you are nearby, so you need to huddle around, although some models come with a fan. They are not suitable for bedrooms, as most emit some visible light, and they can also be a fire and burn risk. Most radiant heaters don’t have a thermostat or timer. There is also not a large range of brands available in New Zealand.
Here are some examples of radiant heaters you can buy in NZ.
- Heat settings and fan boost. Integrated carry handles that are easily accessible. Safety cut out and tip-over switches (2400W). (Pictured.)
- Features two radiant bars, two heat settings (up to 800W) and safety tip-over switch.
A flat-panel heater draws in cold air over a large surface, the heated air then rises. While often promoted as economical to run, low-watt panel heaters produce very little heat as a result.
- Pros: Panel heaters have a low surface temperature, which makes them safe for use around children or pets. They are a good option for providing additional heating alongside a heat pump, or continuously heating small rooms, such as an office. They can be wall-mounted so they are unobtrusive, and are quiet.
- Cons: Panel heaters have a very low heat output, so they take a very long time to heat up a cold room. They often don’t have a thermostat or timer, so could be accidentally left running when the heat is not needed. Some of the flat-panel models can be expensive to buy.
Here are examples of panel heaters you can buy in NZ.
- A slim, stylish heater designed in Norway and made in UK, designed to withstand extreme Norwegian winters. Thermostat accurate to 0.3°C ensures consistent temperatures and increased efficiency, fast warm up, low running costs (2000W). (Pictured.)
- Wi-Fi enabled so you can control the heat from your cellphone. Wall mountable or castors, overheat protection (2000W).
Once you buy the right heater for your situation, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, keep all heaters at least 1m clear of things such as curtains or wet clothes, and only use one heater per power outlet.
How to save money on your heating bill
Regardless of what type of electric heater you use, the easiest way to save money when using it is to get a better deal on the electricity you use to power it. To help you compare, Canstar rates NZ power companies for customer satisfaction and value for money, see the table below for some of the results, or click on the button below for the full results:
Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table below is an abridged version of our full results, available here.
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Canstar Blue NZ Research finalised in April 2021, published in June 2021.
See Our Ratings Methodology
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