Which Type Of Heater Is Cheapest To Run? Heater Costs Explained

How Much Electricity Does A Space Heater Use: The Full Guide

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Heating your home is expensive – in fact, it is probably one of the largest regular expenses in the budget of any homeowner or renter.

But what many people don’t know is that some heaters can be significantly less expensive to operate than others, and there can be pretty impressive savings on your utility bill if you choose the right one – or the opposite if you make the wrong choice!

So let’s look more closely at which type of heater is the least expensive to run.

What Heater Is Cheapest? A Quick Summary of Affordable Heating

It should be clearly stated that central heating is the least expensive way to heat a home in most parts of North America and other parts of the world. 

The heat pump, which is like an air conditioner in reverse, also tends to be a very affordable way to heat a home, or a large area in a home. They are usually only useful in milder climates – not applicable in most of the US, and not even a consideration in the northern or mountain states or in Canada.

All that said, an energy efficient space heater can really help with cutting utility costs. While standard space heaters, with their hot electric coils, aren’t always the cheapest, or the safest or most healthful, three specific types of electric space heaters prove to be significantly less expensive to operate (not to mention safer and healthier):

I’ll talk about each of these a bit more just below, but any one of these can be a great way to complement central heating – by turning your central heat off in unused rooms, and turning it down overall, you can use any of these electric heaters to spot-heat smaller areas as you need them, and in this way save a significant amount on your utility bill.

What Kind of Heater is the Least Expensive to Operate?

This is an interesting question, and one that is perhaps not as straightforward to answer as one might think.

Many simply consider the energy rating of an electric heater, and assume that the lower the kilowatt rating, the cheaper the heater is to run – and while this is true in the broadest sense, it doesn’t take everything into consideration.

Though we can talk on and on about formulas for determining electrical usage, kilowatt hours and hourly rates, actual usage and a person’s specific environment and situation are more important than the basic specifications regarding electrical consumption. The three types of heaters I’ve included below are the cheapest heaters to run overall, but they also have certain qualities that make them even less expensive in real-world usage.

Other approaches to this question, and other guides out there, end up looking at so many different kinds of heaters that the selection, and the question itself, quickly become overwhelmingly complicated, and many types of heaters are considered that are either not generally available, too expensive to purchase (which kind of defeats the purpose) or impractical for other reasons.

So in helping you find the cheapest electric heater to run, I would like to focus on these three basic types of highly energy efficient electric heaters:

Infrared Heaters

Infrared heaters are, along with ceramic heaters, generally the least expensive heaters overall to run. They use (totally safe and healthful) infrared radiation instead of metal electric resistance coils for heating, and are known for the unique way they heat objects rather than space. And so while they are not the best for larger spaces, they are fantastic – and quite efficient and affordable – for heating up you and your family.

✅ Pros❌ Cons
Lovely and healthful heat that really warms you throughNot so good for larger rooms
Very efficient and inexpensive to runSince they don’t warm the space, they aren’t always the best for rooms with a lot of activity
Heat very quickly
Long lasting and reliable
Environmentally friendly and emission free

If you want to purchase a new infrared space heater, I think the best company going is the aptly named Dr Infrared, which makes heaters that are very high quality and super reliable, and as effective and efficient as it gets. I highly recommend the well designed and hugely popular Dr Infrared Heater Portable Space Heater, but you can also check out more models at the Dr Infrared Product Page.

Ceramic Heaters

Ceramic heaters are, along with infrared heaters, generally considered to be the least expensive electric heaters to use. They are similar to standard electric space heaters as we normally think of them, meaning that, unlike infrared heaters which tend to warm objects (like your body) directly and not the space around them, ceramic heaters warm the whole space. Their ceramic element is much cheaper to heat than traditional metal elements found in most space heaters, and they are a bit better for larger and more active rooms than infrared heaters.

✅ Pros❌ Cons
Inexpensive and efficient way to heat a smaller roomSlower to warm up and heat – though still faster than most types
Low purchase priceStill not as good as central heat for larger rooms or spaces
Heats Quickly
Reliable and long lasting
Environmentally friendly and emission free

When it comes to ceramic space heaters, I am enormously impressed with Lasko products. Their heaters are inexpensive but very well made and well designed, and are among the most recommended of all products here at Know the Flo. I especially like the Lasko Oscillating Tower Ceramic Heater, and their Portable Personal Ceramic Heater is super-affordable and great for smaller spaces.

Oil-Filled Radiators

Oil filled radiators may be slightly more expensive than ceramic or infrared heaters to run, but this is not necessarily true in real-world usage, and in many situations they can be the cheapest of them all. Because they use electricity to heat a sealed oil chamber, these heaters tend to keep warm long after they are shut down, and so for more extended use they can be a great choice, Indeed, once you get the hang of their heat retention and recovery rates you can use their generally excellent programmable timers to create a very effective and affordable heating schedule.

✅ Pros❌ Cons
Inexpensive for extended useMuch slower to warm up and heat
Excellent heat retentionCan be more expensive to purchase
Highly useful programmability
Won’t dehumidify your air
Silent running and very reliable
Kid and pet friendly 
Environmentally friendly and emission free

If you decide to go with an oil-filled electric radiator, my personal favorites are made by Pelonis. Their 1,500 Watt Electric Radiator is a bit more expensive than others, but is superbly designed and really built to last, and has a premium fit and finish I haven’t seen in any other electric radiators. For a great budget choice, the Costway Oil Filled Radiator is very nice, but keep in mind it has less than half the heating power of the Pelonis, which is thus probably a better value, and definitely more appropriate for larger spaces and colder climates.

Conclusion: What Is the Least Expensive Way to Heat Your Home?

Although I’ve mentioned the three least expensive space heaters you can get, none of them are ideal for heating a whole home, or even for larger rooms or open spaces.

The bottom line is that central heating – the good old furnace – is still the most effective, efficient and inexpensive way to heat a home.

An electric heater can definitely help, though, and if used in the right way can allow you to use your furnace less, so you can save a lot on heating bills. Specifically, turning your central heating down, and even turning it off in empty, unused rooms, will make a huge difference in utilities, and you can use a good electric space heater to heat smaller spaces where you and your family are.

This is especially effective, and will lead to even better savings, if you choose an electric heater that is itself as inexpensive to run as possible, and the three best in this respect – the most cost effective heaters and the cheapest space heater to run – are infrared heaters, ceramic heaters and oil-filled electric radiators.

Infrared and ceramic heaters are, strictly speaking, even cheaper to run than radiators, but each type has its own advantages (as detailed above), and one or the other may be the best way to save money given your own specific situation and usage.

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