Understanding the cost of using electric heaters vs. radiators is key if you want to stay warm while keeping costs down.
We all want ways to reduce our energy bills and costs will rise as we approach winter. The US Department of Energy projects heating bills will jump 28% for natural gas, 27% for heating oil, 10% for electricity, and 5% for propane.
In our ongoing effort to save money – we compare electric heaters and radiators to find out which is the cheapest method of heating.
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But first, consider our other articles about home energy savings, including wood burning stoves vs central heating, fan heaters vs oil heaters, dishwasher vs hand washing, and our exploration of how to save on energy bills .
To help answer this important question of electric heaters vs radiators, we’ve enlisted the help of our expert friends at The Money Edit to bring you that vital information.
The cost of using electric heaters to heat your home
According to the US Energy Information Administration the average cost of electricity in the US is 15.5 cents per kilowatt hour or kWh. An electric heater for your home can use up to 4.5kWh per hour, depending on variables such as the space heated and the time it is operated. If you run the electric heating system in a house for five hours with these numbers it would cost you $2.79 a day. If you did this 18 days out of the month it would cost you $50.22, as reported by Better Homes and Gardens.
“On average, electric heaters can cost between $0.10 and $0.50 per hour to operate,” says Dale Steven, researcher, and analyst at Mowers and Yard Tools. The big advantage of course is that it can be much cheaper than turning on the whole heating system.
Of course, you can buy larger electric heaters, which are usually portable enough to carry around the house. These might come in handy if you just need a quick burst of heat and you’re the only person in the house.
It’s worth registering your new electric heater with the manufacturer as well as any new electrical appliance you buy. This is free to do and means you will be contacted in the event of any product safety issues or recalls. In most cases the original box should contain details on how to do this with the manufacturer.
Electric heaters can be used to heat a single room but should not be used to dry clothes directly or near a heater. Never power a heater from an extended lead as they can easily be overloaded and cause fires.
Heat is not lost from your radiators immediately when the heating is switched off, but when you unplug your electric heater the heat is lost quickly.
Another advantage is that electric heaters are harder to pre-set to come on at set times of the day – unless you buy a timer plug-in which you can pick up at most DIY stores.
But if you get to the point where you are plugging in electric heaters in every room, the cost could be higher than the cost of central heating.
Heating individual rooms using portable electric heaters may seem convenient, but the cost of running electric heating is much higher than the cost of the gas equivalent.
As a rough comparison – if you use an electric heater in four rooms of the house it could be more expensive than using central heating – especially if you have a smaller house.
The Missouri Department of Energy reports that you can calculate the cost of operating a space heater using the formula kilowatts multiplied by the rate you pay for electricity multiplied by how long the appliance runs. Divide the watts by 1,000 to get kilowatts per hour. If your electric company charges you 10 cents per kilowatt hour and you run a 1,500 watt space heater for 10 hours, that will cost $1.50.
The cost of using radiators to heat your home
It’s a comfort to set your central heating to run regularly so that your home is perfectly warm when you get up in the morning or when you get home – compared to crawling out of a warm bed to switch on an electric heater walk or come home to a cold house.
If you have radiators in every room – there is no need to worry about some rooms being cold – because every room in your house should be equally heated.
If you’re not using your spare bedroom or any other room – you can easily turn off radiators in rooms you don’t use and close the door with smart heating controls and timers on thermostats.
And by heating only the rooms you need in the house, you could save a fair amount of money every year.
On the cost factor, Dr Steve Buckley, head of data science at Loop, said: “Although gas central heating is less efficient in absolute terms, gas is much cheaper than electricity”.
This means that if you need extra heat in the lounge while watching TV or working in your office upstairs – it’s expensive to switch the heating on for an extra hour to keep warm.
The temperature is also crucial to save money. The US Department of Energy recommends that US households set their winter home temperature around 68°F during the day – and a few degrees lower when you sleep or leave the house – to save on energy costs.
The verdict – which is cheaper?
It all depends on whether you are heating a single room or a whole house.
If you’re only using one room – for example working from home – and need a quick burst of heat, using an electric heater could be a money saver compared to firing a central radiator heating system.
And electric heaters come out on top for ease of use, low maintenance and easy installation (just plug it in).
But if you try to heat your whole house with electric heaters in every room instead of radiators – it will cost a lot more and not give the same level of heat.
If you are heating the whole house or multiple rooms and prefer to use the radiators, you can still cut costs by doing small things:
And if you don’t have an electric heater and don’t want to invest in one right now, there are other things you can do to heat the rooms you need in your home with only central heating, which can save money to save you.
Radiators and other space heaters are 100 percent efficient in their use of electricity, but you can achieve greater functional efficiency based on your heating needs. For example, a small parlor or reading room could be heated efficiently using the radiator’s 600 watt heating element, but a family of three spread out on a basement sofa could make better use of a higher wattage oscillating heater. The real energy savings come from reducing your entire home’s furnace usage when spot heating is all you need.