Informational Guide

Electric Vs Oil Filled Heaters

Compare electric vs oil-filled heaters to see which is the best and safest heating option for your home.

by Josh M

There have never been more options for heating your home, but with so many heaters on the market, it can be challenging to know which is best for you. Electric heaters and oil heaters are two common options with some key similarities and differences.

In this guide, we’ll help explain both and give you the full breakdown of electric vs oil filled heaters so you can make an informed decision.

Electric heaters date back to the 1800s when Thomas Edison experimented with using light bulbs and metal to create heat. His experiments proved fruitful, but the first electric heater wasn’t commonplace until 1912. From there, it grew, and electric heater designs blossomed, eventually becoming the modern heaters we know today.

Electric heaters were designed as a modern way to heat your home. Unlike traditional wood burning heaters, they needed no physical fuel and gave off no fumes or by-products, making them much easier to use. While the first models were expensive, the developments in the industry have allowed the construction costs to come down, and now electric heaters are some of the most affordable on the market.

Each electric heater is different, but they all work in roughly the same way. They have a heating coil or mechanism within the device which, when connected to an electric power source, will heat up. This will, in turn, cause the air around the machine to warm up, which will warm the room. Infrared electric heaters do work slightly differently, but we’ll come to that in a minute.

Electric heaters are typically made from metal, with all the internal parts of modern units made from durable stainless steel. Some of the external components are often made of plastic, but some even use cast iron or glass. It all depends on the style and look of the heater you’re going for, but they are certainly some of the most aesthetic out there.

Electric heaters work well in all modern homes because they’re adaptable, effective, simple, and low maintenance. That’s why they dominate the heater market today.

Different Types on the Market

There are several different types of electric heater, each working slightly differently. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common types:

Fan Forced Heaters

Fan Forced HeatersFan forced heaters work well to heat a room quickly.

They use fans to drive cool air through the device overheating coils and then push warm air back into the room.

Fan forced heaters work well in large or small spaces but can be more expensive to run.

They’re often wall-mounted, but you can get freestanding models too.

Ceramic Heaters

Ceramic electric heaters rely on plates within the heater. Electricity is used to warm these ceramic plates, which in turn heat the air around them. There are two types of ceramic heaters: convection and radiant.

The convection ceramic heater uses a fan to blow the air over the plates and into the room. A radiant ceramic heater passes the heat into the room through radiation and gives a more gradual warming effect. Ceramic heaters take longer to heat a room but are very effective nonetheless.

Infrared Heaters

Heater Battery CellsInfrared electric heaters use light to spread heat into a room. Electricity is used to light bulbs in the heater, which in turn give off electromagnetic waves.

These don’t heat the air but instead radiate heat directly onto surfaces, so it feels more comforting and warming.

Infrared heaters aren’t reliant on the air so they can work well in a range of environments.

Panel/Baseboard Heaters

Panel heaters are used to heat the air in a room and increase the temperature. They can be installed into any small, medium, or large room, but the larger the space, the more panels you will need. These work well because they don’t take up any room on the floor, but they do take longer to have a noticeable effect.

Pros and Cons of Electric Heaters

What We Like
  • Flexible – There are a lot of different variations of the electric heater, so there’s something that works in most scenarios.
  • Affordable – The up-front cost for electric heaters is typically relatively low compared to other types of heaters.
  • Simple – Electric heaters don’t need any special fuel or connections, so you can often just plug them in and go.
  • Aesthetics – Electric heaters come in a range of styles to suit different homes. The designs on heaters like fireplaces really add something to a room, so it’s more than just a heater.
  • Safe And Low Maintenance – Electric heaters typically need very little maintenance and have built-in safety features to prevent any risk of fires.
Things We Don’t
  • Higher Running Costs – Electricity isn’t the cheapest fuel, and the running costs can be higher than other heaters.
  • Cools Down Quickly – Once you turn an electric heater off, the room will cool down quickly. This usually means you need to run electric heaters for longer.

Oil-Filled Heaters Explained

Oil-Filled Heaters

Oil-filled heaters still use electricity to run but use the electricity differently. The power is used to heat trays of oil within the device, which is used to heat the room. Oil-filled heaters are convection-based, so they work to heat the air in the room and this, in turn, leads to a rise in the temperature of your home.

Oil-filled heaters have been around for a long time, and the Romans are actually first credited for using them in their bathhouses to keep the water warm. Their popularity grew in the Victorian era when oil filled central heating units were used to keep your whole home warm. The development of oil-filled heaters has continued, and while they aren’t the most popular option these days, they are still very common.

Modern oil-filled heaters offer speedy heating and work quickly to warm a room. There are two main types, standard oil heaters or mini oil heaters, but they are both generally very lightweight. They are now designed with built-in thermostats and other modern fittings to make them more user friendly.

Oil-filled heaters are popular with homeowners because they are quiet, energy-efficient, and remove the need for a fan. This stops your air from drying out and helps those who suffer from allergies because dust and dirt aren’t blown about your home.

Pros and Cons of Oil Heaters

What We Like
  • Quiet – Unlike other types of heaters, oil-filled heaters give off virtually no noise.
  • Low Running Costs – Oil heaters are really efficient, and with no need for a fan, they don’t cost much to run.
  • Reusable Oil – You don’t need to replace the oil within the heater because it isn’t used for fuel. This makes maintenance a lot easier.
  • No Fan – This means your air won’t dry out, and those with allergies will benefit from the lack of disruption in the air.
  • Prolonged Heating – The oil takes some time to cool down, so even when you switch the heater off, you’ll still feel the benefit for some time.
Things We Don’t
  • Slow Heating – The oil within the heater can take some time to warm up. This means it’s slower than with other heaters.
  • Basic Options – There aren’t many options with oil-filled heaters, and there are only a few basic designs.

Electric Vs Oil Filled Heaters (Key Differences Compared)

You should now hopefully know a bit more about electric and oil heaters, but there are a lot of similarities between these types of heaters. To make it as simple as possible, we’ve given a breakdown of the key factors to consider so you can see how they both stack up:

Initial Unit Costs

There is a much wider selection of electric heaters on the market and more designs to choose from, so you can spend as little or as much as you’d like.

However, the simple design of electric heaters makes them very affordable, and you can find a heater that suits practically any budget. Oil filled heaters are still affordable, but they are a bit more expensive as an up-front cost.

Electric and oil heaters are usually easy to set up, so the installation costs are negligible.

Running Costs & Efficiency

Electric heaters are often criticized for being inefficient and costing a lot to run. The internal mechanisms have been refined over the years, but unfortunately, electricity remains one of the more expensive power sources on the market.

As oil and electric heaters both use electricity as the power source, it will cost you roughly the same to run them, about $30 a month for a typical unit. However, oil heaters normally give off more heat than electric heaters, making them more efficient and slightly better long-term value for money.

Heating Speed

Electric heaters usually heat up fast, and an electric heater with a fan will warm a room very quickly. Oil-filled heaters take longer to have an impact because the trays of oil need to heat up first. However, oil heaters will give off heat for longer as the oil takes time to cool down once you’ve switched it off.

Electric heaters will heat a room more quickly, so if you want that quick burst of warmth, then this is the best option for you.

Heating Size

Oil-filled heaters are usually only designed to heat a single room or small space. Electric heaters often focus on one room, but you can find various electric heaters which work in large spaces. Overall, if you want to heat a big area, then you need an electric heater.

Overall Safety

Both oil and electric heaters are very safe, and there’s a low risk of fire or injury from using them. As they both use electricity, they have built-in fail-safes to switch the unit off if there’s an issue. However, oil-filled heaters will still take time to cool once switched off, so electric heaters are typically safer.

Ease of Use

Both electric and oil heaters are designed to be simple. You should just be able to plug them in and turn them on, and there’s little need to do anything else.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Again, both types of heaters are very low maintenance and designed to run themselves. You don’t need to change the fuel or clean up after the heater, but both oil and electric heaters do have some parts which can’t be replaced if broken. This means you may need to replace the whole device if it starts to malfunction, so make sure you get a good warranty.

Which Is Safest & Best for Home Use?

As you can see, both types of heaters have their pros and cons, but every home is different, and you know where you want to use a heater. We’ve given a breakdown of which heater is best in which room to help you determine which is best for you:

For Baby/Kids Room

In a kid’s bedroom, you want a heater that gives you complete control of the temperature and that’s safe without you having to be there all the time. Electric heaters give you greater control of the temperature in a room by allowing you to customize when the unit switches on and off.

Electric heaters are also cool to the touch, so they’re completely safe for kids and have built-in safety features so that if there’s an issue, they will switch off automatically. The best choice for this room is definitely an electric heater.

For Bedrooms

Your bedroom needs a heater that can give a comforting and relaxing amount of heat but doesn’t ruin the room’s ambiance. An oil-filled heater can work well because it’s so quiet, but an electric heater is probably a better option because there are more style choices.

A space heater or infrared electric heater probably won’t be appropriate, but a panel heater or electric fireplace could work well in your bedroom.

For Living Rooms

Your living room is one of the most used areas in your home, and you need a heater that can keep it at an ambient temperature. Oil heaters can work well in this area, but electric heaters give you much more choice. You can fit an electric fireplace or mount an electric heater to your wall or ceiling.

An electric heater is the best choice for your living room because you can customize the look of the heater to match the style of the room more effectively.

White Thermostat at 63 Degrees

For Basements

Basements often suffer from damp and need continuous heat to counteract it. An oil-filled heater will work well here because it’s more efficient and will cost you less to run each month. You will also be able to move the oil heater to different areas of the room based on where it’s really needed.

For Garages

Garages tend to see a bit more use than basements, but it’s a similar idea. You want some continuous heat so you can use the space more effectively. Electric or oil-filled heaters will work well here, but for smaller garages, we would recommend an oil heater because of the cost savings.

However, if it’s an oversized garage, then you may be better off with an electric heater which you only use when you need to.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Can you leave an oil heater on overnight?

Yes, oil heaters are designed to be very safe and have built-in automatic shut-off features in case of any issues. Learn more about leaving on electric heaters here.

How long do oil filled radiators take to heat up?

Depending on the size of the heater, it can take up to 45 minutes for an oil filled heater to warm up.

How long do electric heaters radiators take to heat up?

Some electric heaters can heat up instantly, but generally, it will take 5-10 minutes before they get to the right temperature.

How long do oil-filled heaters last?

An oil filled heater that is properly maintained can last 15-20 years, but that does vary from model to model.

Conclusion

Electric heaters are very versatile and can be used in a range of situations. Oil-filled heaters are definitely more limited, but they still have a lot of uses, and their low running costs are attractive to many homeowners.

Hopefully this article has given you some useful information about both types of heaters to make an informed choice about what is best for you.

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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