Best portable heaters UK 2023: which type of heater is the cheapest to run?
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With the current energy crisis hitting pockets left, right and centre, people are looking for ways to keep warm during the coming winter months without breaking the bank. While some sectors of British society can afford the unprecedented price hikes in electricity, gas and oil, there are hundreds of thousands who will need to find the best way to keep warm without spending a fortune in the process.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered together a quintet of hearty portable electric warmers that are among the cheapest to run. These portable heaters can be moved from room to room and don’t cost a fortune to buy.
Come on in, the room’s feeling toasty.
Best energy efficient heaters at a glance
- Best for style and efficiency: VonHaus 2500W Closed Fin Digital Oil Filled Radiator
- Best for value and efficiency: De’Longhi Dragon 4
- Best for aesthetics: Princess Smart Glass Panel Heater 1500W
- Best for a proximity heater: MeacoHeat 1.8kW Heater
- Best for caravans, boats and titchy spaces: Russell Hobbs RHPH7001 700W Compact Portable Black Ceramic Plug
How to choose a heater? Oil-filled radiator, or electric - which is right for me?
There are many different types of electric heater on the market but some are far more economical to run than others.
If you don’t own a gas or oil-fired household radiator system and you need to heat a whole room and keep it warm for an entire evening, an oil-filled radiator is arguably the most economical way to do it because it uses convection to heat cool air around it. The hot air it creates rises before permeating around the room.
Like any normal fitted radiator, an oil-filled radiator takes a while to warm up an average-sized room with the door closed – around 30 minutes before you feel any benefits – but because most models have a built-in thermostat, the moment the temperature in the room reaches the thermostat’s predetermined peak temperature setting, the heater will go into standby while still emitting a good dose of residual heat.
What do heaters cost to run?
Once the room temperature begins to drop, the thermostat automatically switches on the heat again. An average 1.5kW oil-filled heater will cost between 25p and 30p an hour to run which is about as cheap as it’s possible to go.
Alternatively, if aesthetics are of prime concern, perhaps consider a glass panel heater which can be mounted to a wall or, in most instances, moved around the home and stood on its removable legs. Glass panel heaters are also economical to run because they have high energy conversion efficiency and their radiant infrared waves heat up a room relatively quickly.
Finally, if you just need some short-term proximity heating, a ceramic blow heater with a motion sensor will suffice though even this type of heater will cost between 35p and 65p an hour to run.
Granted, electricity is nowhere near the cheapest way to fully heat a home but if you only require heat in certain rooms or right by your feet, then an electric heater like these we review below is far and away the best option short of wearing a 2.5 TOG onesie and a pair of merino wool mountaineering socks.
Stay warm for less this winter
For even more winter warmers for your home, check out our guides to the top weighted blankets, the best winter duvets for your bed, and also our advice on how to keep warm without having the heating on all day.
You can keep the heat in your house with these insulated curtains, and cut heating bills further with an energy-efficient dehumidifier to cut moisture levels in your house. In case of a power cut - these are the essentials you need this winter.
PROS Excellent performance Economic Adjustable thermostat Attractive design Pull-out wheels
CONS Doesn’t have a weekly timer It’s heavy
Portable oil-filled electric radiators are among the most economical to run but some of them – namely those where the curvy radiator grille is in full view – are also among the most incongruous of home appliances and are often quite ugly in appearance.
Thankfully some manufacturers like VonHaus and De’Longhi have addressed this issue by incorporating a row of flat external panels that hides the ugliness beneath, and for our money, the VonHaus model we’re reviewing here is one of the best looking models on the market. It helps that VonHaus has chosen an attractive matt black paint job instead of the usual old-fashioned off-white tone that most other manufacturers seem to prefer.
This model consumes between 1kW and 2.5kW of juice in three power bands and features an adjustable thermostat, a 24-hour timer, remote control and an auto shut-off function that activates if the radiator were to fall over. Mind, this model is unlikely to tip over because its pull-out wheels provide a good firm base that makes it feel very sturdy.
In our tests, this model performed superbly well, its chimney effect producing a good dose of radiated heat within 20 minutes of being turned on. The VonHaus is very simple to get a handle on, whether it’s using the interface or the supplied remote control.
For instance, if the room requires warming up quickly, the heater can be set to Low, Medium or High power and preferably with the timer in use, which will turn it off after a predetermined time. If you don’t use the timer, chances are you may forget it’s on and that won’t do you any financial favours.
For this reason we would suggest using Eco mode and program the thermostat to between 19˚C and 21˚C. That way the heater will maintain constant room temperature without using too much electricity.
If you’re in the market for an economical oil-filled radiator that warms the cockles without ruining a room’s aesthetics, consider the VonHaus – it’s an effective solution for small-to-medium sized rooms, is easy to use and it won’t consume too much electricity if used wisely. Top choice.
PROS Impressive heat output Great economy Daily timer Fold-out wheels Good value
CONS Quite cumbersome Not the best flat-panelled looker
The Dragon 4 is very similar in design to the VonHaus reviewed above, though it is bedecked in creamy livery that makes it stand out a lot more. It’s not ugly to look at but it’s not especially attractive either. Nevertheless, it trounces the VonHaus in one specific area because it features a daily timer program with 96 time intervals in 15-minute increments.
This means it can be used like a home radiator system where it automatically turns on at pre-specified times before turning off again after and hour or two. This is a useful feature for, say, a home office where the user sticks to a daily regime. To use this feature, you will first need to set the actual time on the interface and then program a variety of on/off intervals.
Alternatively, like the VonHaus, you can select one of three power levels – 1.1kW, 1.4kW and 2.5kW – as well as an Eco mode that uses the built-in thermostat to automatically select the most effective power level. Hence, if the room’s temperature is a chilly 15˚C, it will use the highest heat output until the preset temperature you select yourself has been reached. From there on in it will select a lower heat output to maintain a comfortable room temperature without consuming too much electricity.
If you maintain a regular household routine and don’t mind a slightly dated colour palette, this model is well worth investment. It’s great value, too.
PROS Attractive design Can be mounted to wall Can be used on a stand Decent economy Works with an app
CONS Glass can be damaged Not quite as economic as an oil-filled heater
Princess is a well-known brand that produces a number of home heating and cooling appliances. This glass panel heater – available in both black or white – measures 76 x 38 x 9cm and can be mounted permanently to a wall or used on its supplied legs.
The Princess produces up to 1.5kW of radiant infrared warmth and heats up rooms up to 50m³ in pretty short shrift. Using the HomeWizard Climate app (iOS and Android), you can control this heater from anywhere and that includes setting weekly time schedules, turning it on or off or activating the child safety lock.
And because it has a thermostat to electronically control room temperature, it won’t use excessive amounts of electricity to run.
If aesthetics are of prime concern, the Princess should fit the bill and fit it nicely. It’s attractive to look at, efficient, easy to use, app-enabled for extra convenience and, at £100, top value, too.
PROS Built-in motion sensor High heat output Perfect for close proximity use CONS Can be expensive to run
Blow heaters aren’t normally the most energy efficient of models, nor are they the best option for heating up an entire room. However, while this small-bodied model from Meaco isn’t suitable for warming up a room it is a perfect option for proximity heating like under a work desk or dining table. This is because it comes with a clever motion sensor that switches on the heater the moment it detects movement and turns it off again when you’ve left the room. Granted, it will also turn off if you’re sat motionless but in the case of being used, say, under a desk, all you have to do is move your leg an inch or two and it will switch back on.
This heater is a diminutive 22.5 tall and 17cm wide so it will fit most small spaces with ease. It produces up to 1,800 watts of power in two heat outputs – low level (900 watts) at around 31p per hour and high level (1,800 watts) at about 61p per hour. No it’s not the cheapest heater to leave on for hours on end but that motion detector will at least help keep bills lower than other blow heaters. In that respect it’s a worthwhile investment, especially for close-quarters use.
PROS Surprisingly high heat output Great for caravans and boats Cheap as chips CONS Won’t heat a whole room
Now here’s an unusual option that provides a surprisingly high amount of heat for its size. And by size we mean really, really small, like 15cm small. This highly portable ceramic PTC heater doesn’t come with a power cable because you plug it straight into a plug socket.
Okay, at 700 watts, it’s not going to heat up a medium-to-large sized room but it will genuinely raise the temperature in a small 10m² room if left on long enough. It’s also a brilliant solution for caravan and canal boat use.
If situated close by, this heater will provide more than enough proximity warmth because it also features a two-speed fan that blows a hot breeze towards the user. It also comes with an LED display, 12-hour timer and three main modes – fan only, low power and high power.
For something so cheap (around £23), this writer was impressed by its heat output, lowish power consumption and the ability to take it anywhere.