Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?

Sales of portable heaters have soared, as households look to cut their energy costs. But which is better: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put them to the test to see which one comes out cheaper.

Households are increasingly searching for the most cost-effective way of heating their home, as they battle to keep a lid on rising energy bills. The average typical energy bill is expected to hit £3,000 a year from April 2023 when the less generous Energy Price Guarantee comes into play.

According to a survey by the charity Electrical Safety First, 42% of people are using or considering using an electric heater to heat a single room in their home, due to concerns over the cost of central heating. This represents an 8% increase year-on-year on the number of people planning to use an electric heater this winter.

While the government recently announced measures to limit energy price rises, the average energy bill for a typical household is still running at almost double the level it was last winter. The government’s energy price guarantee means average annual bills are capped at £2,500 until April 2023. A year ago, the price cap was £1,277.

Next April, the cap will rise to £3,000, meaning households that are not on a fixed tariff will likely see an increase in the unit price that they pay for their gas and electricity.

Many customers have delayed turning their central heating on this winter, or are using it sparingly, to save money during the cost of living crisis.

As the weather gets colder, some people may be wondering whether a portable heater could be a cost-effective way to heat a room and stay cosy.

But which is best: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put the duo to the test. 

How much does it cost to buy a fan heater? 

You can buy a fan heater fairly cheaply. This 2000W freestanding fan heater from Screwfix costs £11.99. 

Meanwhile this Dunelm DF Fan Heater (which has 1000W and 2000W settings) costs £14.

How much does it cost to buy an oil heater? 

Oil heaters tend to be more expensive than fan heaters. This 500W oil heater from Screwfix costs £19.99, which is a relatively cheap oil heater, but at 500 watts it’s not that powerful.

This 650W oil heater from Dunelm is slightly more powerful, and has a higher price tag, of £28.

For a 2000W oil heater, Dunelm has one costing £59. This is almost five times the price of the Screwfix 2000W fan heater, which cost £11.99.

Fan heater or an oil heater: which is cheaper to run?

The cost of running an oil heater versus a fan heater varies depending on how much energy it uses.

If you compare models of the same power, fan heaters and oil heaters have similar running costs. Dunelm says its 2000W oil heater and fan heater (which we mentioned previously) cost around 68p per hour to run.

Our sister website Goodto.com found that a more powerful oil heater (2.5kW) cost 85p an hour to run. If used for four hours a day, it would cost £3.40 a day to run.

For less powerful heaters, the running cost is lower. The 650W oil heater from Dunelm only costs 22p per hour to run.

What are the pros and cons of fan heaters?

Fan heaters are a convenient way to heat a room, and are easy to move from room to room.

Most have a thermostatic control so you can control its temperature and an overheat protection feature as a safety precaution. 

Fan heaters are widely available from a range of shops, and are generally cheaper to buy than oil heaters.

To get the most out of your fan heater, there are several things to consider. First, how big is the room you’re trying to heat? If you have a large room or high ceilings, it could take a while to warm the room with a fan heater. 

Also consider what insulation you have in your home. A fan heater will be a lot more effective if you have decent insulation, meaning there’s less chance of heat being lost through windows or walls. 

Bear in mind that fan heaters give off short-term heat, so as soon you switch it off the heat will disappear. 

If you want to heat a room temporarily, then a fan heater is a good idea. But if you want to maintain the heat in the room, switching the central heating on (and keeping the thermostat turned down to low) could be a better option.

What are the pros and cons of oil heaters?

Portable oil-filled radiators typically come with an adjustable thermostat control and a tip-over safety switch.

Oil heaters also have good heat retention. So, in contrast to a fan heater, when you switch an oil heater off, it takes a while to cool the oil down. This means even when it’s turned off the heater is still giving off heat, further cutting your energy costs. 

However, if you’re trying to maintain the heat in a room for more than a couple of hours, it could be better to flick the central heating on. 

Heating a room with a radiator or fan heater usually makes the air dry. Dry air can make certain health problems worse, or lead to health issues like dehydration or respiratory problems. However, with an oil heater this is less of an issue. Oil-filled radiators are designed to keep the airflow in the room stable, meaning the room won’t get dry.

Another pro is that oil heaters are silent, making them much quieter than fan heaters, which can be noisy.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that oil heaters are more expensive to buy than fan heaters.

A word about safety

Although electric heaters are not inherently dangerous, they can and do cause fires if they are not used sensibly.

According to Martyn Allen, technical director of the charity Electrical Safety First, “oil-filled heaters are generally safer to use than fan heaters as there is no fan motor that may become blocked.”

Regardless of which heater you have, Allen warns that “heaters should never be left switched on at night and never powered via an extension lead”.

The charity gives further advice on staying safe while using a heater:

  • Put your heater on a level surface, well away from anything or anyone that could knock it over
  • Make sure the heater is away from combustible materials, such as paper, furniture or curtains
  • Never use it to dry your clothes
  • Never leave your heater unattended for long periods while switched on, or while you are asleep
  • Make sure you buy from manufacturers or retailers that you know and trust. Avoid second-hand heaters (but if you do, ask them what safety checks are carried out)

The verdict – fan or oil heaters?

If we look at the costs, both types of heater have similar running costs, although an oil heater is typically more expensive to buy than a fan heater (when comparing models with the same wattage). 

Both types of heaters tend to have the same functionality, such as a temperature controller.

However, an oil heater may actually be cheaper to run, when you factor in the residual heat after it is turned off. Other benefits of oil heaters are that they are safer to use and quieter than fan heaters, and they don’t make the air dry. 

If you’re able to pay a bit more for a heater, then we think the oil heater is the overall winner. An oil heater could be a great way to lower your energy bills (compared to turning on the central heating), as well as being a better option than a fan heater.

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