If you find yourself struggling to keep warm in the dead of winter, a space heater could be the quick solution you need to improve your comfort as you weather the season. Space heaters come in all shapes and sizes, and there are several different ways to turn a little electricity into warm air that will make your room toasty and cozy.
One of the biggest problems people have when shopping for the best space heater for their homes is understanding the differences in how they work. In particular, there’s a debate raging online between ceramic heaters and oil-filled radiators. Which one gets hotter? Which is more efficient?
In the battle of ceramic vs. oil-filled heaters, the ultimate winner will be the one that works best for your unique situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To figure out how to choose, it helps to understand how different space heaters produce warmth, as well as the pros and cons of each. Other factors will include things like the size of your room, how often you plan to use the space heater, and your expectations of speed and efficiency.
Understanding How Different Types of Electric Heaters Work
Though almost all space heaters run off of electricity — the exception being a few propane or natural gas garage heaters — they provide their heat in different ways.
Oil-Filled Heaters Are Radiant Heaters
Radiant heat is heat that comes from a hot surface. An oil-filled heater is a great example of radiant heat in action. The “fins” of these types of space heaters are filled with oil, which is then heated via electric heating elements. The oil never burns off and never needs to be replaced; instead, it is merely warmed up. The oil retains heat very well and keeps the radiator warm for hours at a time, using less energy to do so than it would to keep air as hot for the same period.
Once the oil-filled fins are good and hot, the hot air rises off of the radiator and heats the room. It’s not a fast process, but oil-filled radiator heaters provide intense warmth over time, and they stay warm long after you turn the heat off.
Ceramic Space Heaters Are (Usually) Convection Heaters
Convection heat is heat that comes from the air. Convection heat is produced similarly to radiant heat, in that an element is fired up with electricity, but the convection comes with the addition of a fan that blows across the heating element to spread hot air throughout the room. For this reason, convection heats are often called fan heaters, since the airflow is the major piece of the heating process.
Interestingly, a ceramic heater can be either radiant or convection, depending on its design. Ceramic heaters get their name from the construction of the heating element, which is made of durable ceramic that conducts heat very well. A radiant ceramic heater works by using electricity to warm a ceramic plate, which then radiates heat into the room. A convection ceramic heater, on the other hand, adds a fan into the mix. This blows air across the ceramic parts to quickly heat the air and spread it around the room.
Making the Choice: Ceramic vs. Oil-Filled Heaters
So which space heater is best for your home? It depends on what you want to get out of your space heater. In general, radiant, oil-filled heaters are slower to warm but more powerful while ceramic fan heaters provide instant heat — and cool off just as quickly.
To help you weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each kind of heat, take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Oil Heaters: The Pros
- Silent Operation: Because oil-filled radiators don’t have a fan attached to them, they are nearly silent when in operation. This makes them a great choice for bedrooms, media rooms and anywhere you want to have a quiet, uninterrupted conversation.
- Long-Lasting Heat: Once the oil gets hot, it stays warm for a long time. This means you can turn the heater off but still feel warm for a while afterward.
- Energy-Efficient Heating: Another bonus to that oil staying warm is that your room heater can cycle off for a bit and let the hot oil keep your room warm. The less electricity you use, the less money you’ll spend on operating your space heater. This works best when your heater has a thermostat to regulate the temperature.
- Heat Larger Rooms: While no space heater is ideal for a cavernous great room, oil-filled heaters typically do a better job heating large rooms. Eventually, the constant heat rising upward and outward from your heater can keep an entire room warm.
- Allergen-Free: Radiant heat is a great choice for anyone suffering from air-borne allergies caused by dust, dander and pollen. With no fan to blow these microparticles around the room, you’ll breathe easier.
Oil Heaters: The Cons
- The Price: Oil-filled space heaters tend to cost more than other types of space heaters. This is because a high-quality model will be tightly sealed and designed with anti-tip, automatically shut-off technology. Repairs will require opening up the unit, which can also be pricey.
- The Size: Oil-filled radiators are fairly large and can be heavy. They often come with wheels to help move them around, but these are not the most portable space heaters available.
- High Surface Temperatures: Like traditional steam or hot water radiators built into older homes, the metal surface of oil-filled space heaters can get quite hot. This makes them a poor choice for families with very small children, as they will need to be well supervised when the heater is in operation — and until it cools down completely.
- Slow Start-Up: It can take 20 to 30 minutes for a space heater that delivers radiant heat to warm your room to a comfortable level. If you’re looking for instant, on-demand heating, you’ll be disappointed.
Convection Ceramic Heaters: The Pros
- Instant Heat: Thanks to the fan speeding things along, a ceramic heater delivers instant hot air flow, which can warm up your room quickly. If you stand right in front of it, you’ll feel the warmth right away.
- Accurate Spot Heating: Many ceramic heaters with a fan allow you to aim the airflow exactly where you want it. This can effectively combat stubborn drafts and alleviate cold corners.
- Effective for Small Spaces: If you have a small room or just need to heat up your personal cubicle or office space, ceramic heaters get the job done efficiently.
- Quick to Cool Down: Once you turn off your ceramic heater, the heat stops. This makes these models a better choice for families with young children and pets, since you can make sure everyone is safe from burns by shutting down the heat when you leave the room.
- Convenient Portability: Because ceramic heaters tend to be smaller, they’re much easier to carry from room to room as needed. If you’re looking for a portable heater, this is a great choice.
Convection Ceramic Heaters: The Cons
- Noise: Any electric space heater that uses a fan will be louder than a radiator, but some models are quiet than others. If noise is a concern, check the decibel level and look for adjustable fan settings that offer you additional control.
- Harder to Clean: It’s important to keep fan blades and heating elements dust-free to avoid spreading particulates through the air, but this could require taking the model apart to wipe it down as necessary. If allergies are a concern, convection heating is far less convenient.
- Difficulties Maintaining Steady Temperatures: Because of the instant on/instant off type of heating, it’s harder for convection heaters to heat rooms evenly for a long time. If you’re looking for long-term heating for a large room, the temperature fluctuations could be frustrating.
Your Cheat Sheet for Choosing Oil-Filled vs. Ceramic Heaters
The bottom line is that the right heater for you depends on what you want it to do.
Buy an Oil-Filled Radiator If:
- You need long-term space heating for a medium to large room.
- You need warmth in the bedroom or other spots where silence is golden.
- You have allergies.
Buy a Ceramic Heater With a Fan If:
- You want to take the edge off the chill in a small space.
- You want instant heat.
- You are concerned about safety for small children.
In all cases, look for oil-filled radiators or ceramic space heaters that are UL-certified and come with safety features like anti-tip protection and automatic shut-off. Measure your room so you know what square footage you need to heat to help you choose the right size heater: In general, a 1500 watt heater will warm a small room between 150 and 250 square feet with ease. Finally, make sure you can place your space heater where it will be plugged directly into a wall outlet — improper extension cord use can cause a space heater to overheat and create a fire risk.
Whether you need to heat your bedroom at night so you can create energy savings by turning down your central air or you want to add a little extra warmth to a cold corner, choosing the right space heater will help you weather the winter with ease.
Portable Ceramic Heater | NewAir QuietHeat15
- • Even heats up to 250 square feet
- • Three advanced safety features
- • Whisper quiet operation
Electric Oil Filled Space Heater | NewAir AH-450B
- • Fan free air circulation means super quiet operation
- • Front carrying handles and dual caster wheels
- • Maintain perfect temperature with digital timer and thermostat
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