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Electric Heaters – The Differences Between Convection Heaters And Conduction Heaters

Updated on December 1, 2011

Choosing from amongst the huge array of electric heaters can be extremely difficult, especially with the vast array of available options. The price and the operating costs are important considerations, but finding the optimum type ultimately depends upon your specific needs. This guide will help you to sift through the various electric heater options, and prevent you from spending more than you need.

The majority of electric heaters use one of two processes to heat a room, namely convection and conduction. Convection heaters heat the air and circulate it around the room, providing gradual heat. Many convection heaters use a fan to physically push air around the room, whilst others rely upon rising hot air to circulate warmth.

Conduction heaters, conversely, uses radiant heat to warm objects directly, rather than indirectly heating the air. This direct heating action, provided by exposed elements, ensures that conduction heaters are unaffected by drafts, and provide focused and intense heat.

Convection Heaters – The Gradual And Efficient Electric Heater

Oil heaters

This familiar style of electric heater uses electrical power to gently heat a sealed oil reservoir. This liquid releases warmth into the atmosphere gradually, slowly heating the entire room. It takes a little time to heat the oil and circulate warm air around the room, but oil heaters are by far the most economical electric heater; it takes little extra electricity to maintain the temperature after the initial heating. Oil heaters tend to fall into the mid-price range, and the lack of moving parts ensures that they are sturdy and durable.

The economy and gentle heat generated by oil heaters makes them into a great option for providing permanent heat throughout the day and night. Oil heaters are the safest option, and can be left to run overnight with no more danger than any other electrical appliance.

Oil heaters do have some disadvantages, and are not always the best solution. The main downside is that they do not deliver instant heat, and need to be turned on an hour or two in advance. In addition, oil heaters heat the entire room so, unlike conduction heaters, everybody has to endure the same temperature. Finally, larger oil heaters are heavy and cumbersome, so are best used as a static heat source.

Fan Convection Heaters

Fan convection heaters use an inbuilt fan to force air over an element, providing quick heat and good air circulation. Fan convection heaters are available in a range of sizes and capacities, from the small desktop heaters to larger freestanding types. Many natural convection heaters give the option of using a fan, and this hybrid type provides the best of both worlds.

However, fan convection heaters have some major drawbacks, and should be used sparingly The inbuilt fan means that they need a lot of electricity to operate, and fan convection heaters are a poor choice for heating large spaces; they are best used for delivering quick heat.

The most serious disadvantage of fan convection heaters is that they are prone to overheating, especially when the element accumulates a covering of dust. Higher quality fan convection heaters contain inbuilt safety cut out switches, and these are worth the extra cost.

Natural Convection Heaters

Natural convection heaters heat up the air, via an element, and allow natural circulation carry the heat around the room. Natural convection heaters draw cool air into the bottom of the unit, heating it as it passes over an exposed element. Warm air rises from the top of the natural convection heater and circulates around the room, gradually heating the entire space.

Natural convection heaters are cheaper to buy than oil filled radiators, and they heat the room much more quickly, reaching operating temperature in a couple of minutes. The downside of this is that they use much more electricity, and natural convection heaters do not deliver instant heat as quickly as conduction heaters.

Natural convection heaters are much less liable to overheating than fan-assisted convection heaters, although it is vitally important to keep the air vents clear of any obstructions. Like most convection heaters, they struggle to heat large spaces, especially when there is a door to the outside, constantly mixing warm and cold air and disrupting the circulation. Natural convection heaters are a good compromise between the various factors, a natural balance between economy and quick heat.

Conduction heaters

Radiant heaters

Radiant heaters are the use an exposed element to directly heat an object, through conduction, rather than heat the surrounding air. Old-fashioned electric bar heaters, and halogen heaters, are the two most common examples of radiant heater. Radiant heaters provide instant and intense heat, so are a godsend if you have just come in from the cold. Radiant heaters provide directed heat, so are a great option where only a few people feel the cold.

Conduction heaters are not designed to heat up large spaces, and are limited in range. In addition, they are extremely uneconomical, especially when compared with oil heaters. Conduction heaters are best used for a quick blast of instant heat rather than to provide permanent heating. Finally, radiant heaters can be extremely unsafe, easily causing burns or electrocution. A model with robust guards and an anti-tip cut off is the only safe option.

Electric Heater Summary

For quick, direct heat, radiant heaters are the best option, but they are too uneconomical to provide permanent heat. Oil heaters, by contrast, are an economical and efficient way to heat up large areas.

Natural convection heaters are the best compromise option, providing a great balance between economy, efficiency and practicality. Fan heaters are the worst option, and are the most inefficient and uneconomical of the electric heater types.

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    • profile image

      Adam Thomas 

      6 years ago

      I don't think it is fair to say that a type of heater is more economical than any other. A heater converts energy to heat, 1 unit = 1kwh, no style heater can produce more heat than any other type of heater for the same amoutn of kWh, so you still pay the same.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks, Garima

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanx for ur guidance....its truly useful......

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Cheers, Mani :)

      Alan - Glad to help :D

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks Sufi. I really found your hub very helpful. You saved me then from buying a fan convector heater. I was almost buying a new one which would cost me a fortune. Gracias!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Its very nice thankyou for heaters for you post

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks, uykusuz

    • uykusuz profile image


      8 years ago from England

      Nice share thanks.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks for visiting this far-flung corner of HP, grex22

      All the best :)

    • grex22 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great information! Lot's of good stuff here. I've bookmarked this hub for my own research and writing.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      No worries, Tom - Thanks for dropping in!

    • Tom T profile image

      Tom T 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Natural Convection it is then! Thanks for this hub. I'm going to bookmark this for when it is cooler.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Hi Peter - Sorry about the delay in replying - I have been very busy.

      Fan convection heaters are the most prone to overheating. The desktop ones are particularly dangerous - Personally, I never use those.

      The safest are the oil-filled heaters - I have never heard of problems with those :)

    • profile image

      Peter Enmore 

      8 years ago

      Can you tell me which one is more prone to overheating?

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Hey Ryan,

      Cheers for stopping by! 'Tis true - the radiant heaters are wonderfully warm but eat the juice. What we do (we don't have central heating) is use a radiant heater to take the edge off the cold and then use the oil-filled radiator. That seems to be the most economical solution.

      Mind you, we now have the wood-burning stove installed, so look forward to using that next year!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have to admit that I had no idea, and this hub has taught me something new! All I know is that my cheap radiant heater was a godsend when the central heating packed in during the coldest week of 2009 just before xmas! On the highest setting it heated the room like a log fire, but I bet it added a few quid to the electricity bill!

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks for the kind words, White Feather, and welcome to Hubpages. Look forward to reading your work :)

    • White Feather profile image

      White Feather 

      8 years ago from Portugal

      Very nice hub! I'm new in hubpages and I'm very impressed. Very interesting and direct to the subject! Thanks for your example.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Hi Dame Scribe - I apologise for missing your comment. Always good to see you :)

      That is a little further down the line - we would love to have solar panels, one day, but we will wait until the price drops.

      Thanks for the great advice, BCB - The oil ones are excellent and extremely economical.

    • profile image

      Baby Crib Bedding 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for the information. I;ve used several different heaters, but I like the oil heaters best. Keep warm.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Hook it up to alternative energy source and the bills drop big time :) great info, Sufi.

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks, Dave - it is very hot here at the moment, pushing 40 degrees! It is cold in the winter, and we often have snow. The problem is that many old houses do not have double glazing or insulation, so winter is spent huddled around the stove :|

      Take care

    • bwpotman profile image


      9 years ago from England

      Hi Sufi, cold in Greece! I dont believe it. Last time I was in Crete it was so hot even the locals were complaining! (Mind you that must have been 20 years ago). I find all forms of heating work well in summer over here but in winter beds the best place!

      Speak soon, Dave

    • Sufidreamer profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks, dohn. Glad that you found the information useful. It is summer here, too, so maybe I should write about air conditioners.

      Enjoy the summer - it is always over too soon :)

      Thanks, thefount. I prefer the oil heater, too. Believe it or not, it gets very cold in Greece over the winter, and we have no central heating. Our oil heater warmed the bedroom nicely and didn't pump up the electric bill too much!

    • thefount profile image


      9 years ago from North Central Louisiana

      I enjoyed this article because it breaks down the options really well. For me personally, I like the gradual oil convection heater because it's more economical, and yet powerful enough to run you outta there! Thanks for a well written hub.

    • dohn121 profile image


      9 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Thank you sufidreamer for this useful and resourceful hub. Being that it's summer here, I'll definitely have to bookmark this hub and re-analyze everything in a a couple of months! Good to see you're still hard at work! Talk to you soon.


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