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Oil-filled heaters vs ceramic heaters

Updated February 21, 2017

With energy prices on the rise and expected to go higher, cutting down on heating bills has taken on a new urgency. Space heaters, because they generate heat where you need it and allow you to turn down your central heating system's thermostat, can be a tool to use to lower your energy costs. Oil-filled and ceramic heaters are both available at reasonable prices and are worth evaluating to see if either would meet your needs.

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Ceramic heaters

Ceramic heaters can be confusing because there are two different kinds and they work differently. A radiant ceramic heater is designed to heat only the objects at which it is directed. By contrast, convective ceramic heaters heat up the air in a room. Air is heated up as it is passes over the heater. The hot air rises on natural air currents and heat the room in the same way that central heating warms a room. Both types are referred to as ceramic heaters because they use ceramic plates to absorb the heat generated by the electric coils to which they are attached. Ceramic space heaters warm up and cool off relatively quickly, which makes them an effective choice if you need your room to heat up quickly -- say, if you keep your thermostat extremely low and want the kitchen to warm up as soon as you and the children get home in the evening.

Oil-filled heaters

Oil-filled heaters, which often look like old-fashioned radiators, are another kind of convection heater. Heat-conserving oil is sealed inside the heater and warmed by an electric heating element. As the oil warms up, it gives off heat into the surrounding air, and the heated air circulates on natural air currents created as the heated air rises. Oil-filled heaters do not burn oil, so they do not produce combustion gases and do not use a flame.

Costs and energy use

Oil-filled heaters are larger and heavier than ceramic heaters. They often have carrying handles or casters to make them easy to move. You cannot expect any space heater to heat a very large room effectively -- think in terms of 30 square metres or so. Ceramic and oil-filled heaters are more or less in the same price range, though you can get a small ceramic heater for less than you would be able to get any oil-filled heater. Determining which type of heater would cost less to run depends on its purpose. Ceramic heaters get hot faster; therefore, they use more energy to get going but provide warmth quickly. Oil-filled heaters use less energy to get going because they heat up more slowly. If you want a heater to warm up the kitchen for 20 minutes until your central heating kicks in, a convention ceramic heater might be a good choice. If, on the other hand, you want to keep your central heating low and use a space heater to warm your kitchen for two or three hours, an oil-filled heater would probably be a better choice. A radiant ceramic heater could be the most economical if you want to keep yourself warm while sitting at your desk for an hour.


With any space heater, a primary concern must be safety -- too many house fires are caused by space heaters that are not used properly. First, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Do not buy a space heater unless it has the "CE" quality mark. Keep the heater at least 1 metre away from anything that could catch fire, such as curtains, clothing or bedding. Never leave a space heater on in an unoccupied room, and never leave it unattended when only children are present.

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About the Author

Tanya Lee is a professional writer with more than 30 years experience. She has published extensively in the field of education and as a journalist, the latter in such publications as "High Country News" and "News from Indian Country." Lee holds a M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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