Here's an example of why energy efficient and expensive are not always synonymous. (And why poor quality and cheap still usually are).

If you've been to a Bunnings Warehouse recently (in the lead up to winter) you may have noticed a vast array of electric heaters on offer. The discerning Bunnings shopper would probably seek to avoid the cheap electric heaters under $30 and go with something which appears to be more 'robust'.

Bunnings Electric Radiant Halogen Heater

Cheap electric heater on sale at Bunnings earlier this year. 

Unfortunately, using this tactic would just mean higher upfront cost and high electricity bills. Here's why:

Look for heaters that heat you, not everything else

The main reason that most electric room heaters perform poorly is because they heat the air, not you. Add to this that most homes are not well sealed and your portable electric heater can be working flat-out for not much benefit. Most electric heaters work in this way. Whether they're a fan heater, convection heater or oil column heater, the outcome is much the same: you get warm when the air (finally) gets warm.

There is one type of electric heater which works in a different way: the radiant heater. These are essentially the sort that 'glow red'. Although they have a bad name for themselves, they are low risk if used sensibly. (Basically, because they put out more directional heat than the other options they should not be placed right next to furniture or other items which are likely to go up in flames).

High power electric radiant heater

A higher power electric radiant heater (2,400 watts) also from Bunnings 

Radiant heaters are great because they heat the items they are pointing at, not the entire room. Many people enjoy sitting in front of an open or slow-combustion fire for the same reason (fireplaces also work by heating you directly with radiant heat).

UPDATE: See also our foot mat heater - a new type of energy efficient radiant heater

Surprise: energy efficient option is the cheapest!

As radiant heaters work by heating you directly, they often need far less energy than their counterparts. So, when I needed a heater last year I was quite pleased to see that the low power electric 'halogen' heater (first picture above) was available for less that $20.

Here are the features which make it more efficient than other portable electric heaters:

  1. It has a maximum power consumption of 1,200 watts (most room heaters consume up to 2,400 watts - which will cost you twice as much to operate)
  2. It has three power settings: 400, 800 and 1,200 watts (the 'low' setting on most other electric heaters is still up around 1,000 watts)

No surprise: it didn't last long

Okay, don't get too excited. It's still cheap and from Bunnings. After less than a year you might find some of the elements don't work anymore (that's what happened with three different units I know of).

Nevertheless, as my friend Adam pointed out recently: even if they do not last that long, the savings can still be high. For example:

  • 50 hours operation of 1,800 watt convection heater cost = $22.50
  • 50 hours operation of 400 watt radiant heater cost = $5.00

For further safety information check out the NSW Office of Fair Trading information on electric room heaters: link.

UPDATE: Our new foot mat heater uses just 75 Watts of power. It's streets ahead of the other options, including the relatively efficient radiant heater mentioned in this article.

- Ryan McCarthy

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July 02 2011 at 05:07 PM


Great to hear that it is doing the job! Bunnings now stocks a 1,800 watt version of the halogen heater (which kind of defeats the energy efficiency purpose benefit above)… so best off buying on-line or somewhere else, as you have done.

July 04 2011 at 08:07 AM


I picked up a 1200W ‘halogen’ heater last week – Bunnings had sold out, so I found an online store. It’s fantastic. On the lowest power mode (400W) placed next to me near by desk, I feel more consistently warm and am able to better moderate the heat than the 1800W electric heater it replaces. I was surprised at how useful the swivel function is to radiate heat at a wider angle.

I’m happy knowing that for the times during winter at my desk that I want a heater running, I can do it with only 400W power usage compared to 1800W last winter.

July 03 2011 at 02:07 PM

High Electricity Bill? Discover The 5 Most Common Causes:

[…] very careful how much you use them.  If you are going to use an electric heater try using a small radiant heater like this or an electric […]

December 16 2011 at 05:12 PM


good points…but I suppose the one thing that radiant heaters don’t do (and which gives them the potential to use just as much energy), is that radiant heaters don’t modulate their heat output, my oil radiator will at least turn off or turn down when the air temperature is fine, whereas radiant heaters will generally do their rating constantly. And people who like having multiple rooms warm wouldn’t get all the benefits of radiant heating. But if you’re onto the controls, turning em off when you leave the room etc, makes sense!

September 16 2011 at 10:09 AM


Thanks for the information. I’m looking for a cheap means of heat for a friend in need.

June 05 2013 at 06:06 PM

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