This guide to energy efficient heaters will help you choose the right heater for you. Even if you live in a thoroughly insulated home with well-regulated central heating, you may sometimes feel the need for a bit of extra or instant heat.
If so, a standalone heater can be the answer.
They can also be useful if you want to create focused, localised heat in a small room that isn’t otherwise heated – a conservatory, for instance, or an outside office or mobile home. Or you could use them to maintain a constant temperature for someone who is ill or elderly, or has limited mobility.
And of course it’s always a good idea to have a couple of spare heaters around as emergency measures in case your boiler breaks down.
If you use several standalone heaters as the main source of heat all over your home, they’re likely to be more expensive than a central heating system – even if you choose heaters with the best energy ratings.
However, if you only ever heat one room at a time, a single energy-efficient heater could work out cheaper than central heating. To make sure you use as little energy as possible, it’s vital to choose the right heater for your purposes and space, and use controls to regulate the heat and time when it’s in use.
There are all kinds of standalone heaters, with different advantages and drawbacks. This chart shows most of your possible choices:
Portable heaters, also known as non-fixed heaters, are usually powered by electricity, but you can also get bottled gas versions. Portable electric heaters can be convector heaters, fan heaters, oscillating fans, halogen heaters, oil radiator heaters or traditional electric bar fires. Gas portables can be radiant heaters or come in a traditional stove design.
As their name suggests, you can pick portable heaters up, carry them around and put them wherever you need them. Fan heaters are the lightest and most portable – bottled gas heaters are the heaviest and most unwieldy. Electric heaters will need to be unplugged and plugged back in as you move them from room to room, but most modern energy-efficient heaters have cords of at least 1.5 metres, so they give you a lot of flexibility within the room.
If there are small children around, you need to be careful with portable heaters, for two reasons. First, they can get very hot, which would be painful and possibly dangerous if a child touched them or fell against them. Second, as they’re not fixed to a wall, they can be unstable if anyone bumps into them.
Portable electric heaters, particularly fan or halogen heaters, need plenty of space around them, so don’t tuck them right up against, or even under, furniture. Don’t cover them or place anything on top of them.
A fan heater will usually have an inflow vent – if it’s on the back, try not to place it with its back against a wall.
If you’re using an oil radiator heater, start by putting it in the middle of the room so the heat radiates out around the space. Once the room has warmed up, you can move the heater and place it against the wall if you wish.
Convector heaters can be positioned anywhere in the room.
All electric heating devices are rated 100% efficient, because they turn all the energy they use into heat. However, they are never going to be as cost effective as a central heating system running on gas or oil.
If a portable electric heater is definitely what you need, halogen heaters and oil-fired radiators are the cheapest to run, while bar fires and fan heaters are more expensive. The higher an appliance’s power rating in watts, the more it will cost to run.
Fan and halogen heaters heat up and cool down fast, so they’re more efficient if you want instant heat. Fan heaters can also be used to blow the heat exactly where you need it, so you won’t waste energy on heating other areas.
Portable electric heaters work most efficiently if they have thermostatic controls, to make sure they switch off once they’ve reached your chosen temperature – and be sure not to set that temperature any higher than you need. If your heater doesn’t have a thermostat, you can create the same effect with a separate plug-in thermostat which sits between the heater plug and the wall socket. Even a simple plug-in timer can help make sure you don’t waste energy.
Some portable electric heaters also have climate controls, so they’ll switch back on if the temperature falls below your desired level.
Electric heaters come in all shapes and sizes, from really cheap basic models to the latest state-of-the-art technological wonders, so there’s a huge variation in price:
Well, to start with, they’re not very portable. They’re bulky and heavy, so you wouldn’t want to carry them up or down stairs. However, they should have handles and wheels to make sure they’re reasonably manoeuvrable as long as steps aren’t involved.
Gas heaters emit fumes, so you need to have a window open for ventilation. This of course means you’ll use more energy and waste more heat, making them less energy efficient.
You also need to refill or exchange them when the bottles are empty – although if you’re only using your gas heater as a standby or emergency measure, the bottle should last for a long time.
Fixed heaters are usually attached to a wall or set in a fireplace. They could be powered by electricity, gas, coal or biomass (wood).
They should be more energy efficient than portable heaters, and will cost less to run.
However, compared with a gas or oil-fired central heating system, prove more expensive and be less energy efficient.
Fixed electric heaters are usually either wall panel heaters, which can be used to back up storage heaters, or wall fan heaters, which are most often found in bathrooms.
Standalone gas fires can be the focus in a room just like an open wood or coal fire, so they’re often installed in fireplaces. They can be flueless or with a balanced flue, glass-fronted, open flame or radiant.
Heaters, which are mainly convector heaters, lack that focal quality, so they’re better sited against a wall.
Energy-efficient heaters and fires with a balanced flue are most cost effective, as they won’t lose heat through ventilation.
Solid fuel stoves can also be a focal point in a room, and they’re also usually placed in a fireplace. You can choose either a wood-burning stove or a coal fire or burner. Some stoves and fires can handle both types of fuel.
Enclosed glass-fronted stoves are the most energy efficient, and if you live in a ‘smokeless zone’ (they’re now officially called smoke control areas), they should count as ‘exempt appliances’ – which means you’re allowed to burn solid fuel.
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