Space heaters are the perfect solution for those who are looking for a little bit of supplementary warmth for one room.
They’re useful for when it gets a little cooler in the evening and there’s no reason to use the central heating to warm the whole house. For example, if everyone is spending their time in the living room!
If you’re looking to purchase a space heater, you may notice that ceramic space heaters are more widely available, and seem to be the most popular choice. But is there a reason for this? Well, people pick them up because they are easy to use and quite portable but are they the most efficient? And do they suit every situation?
It would be difficult to suggest an overall winner in the ceramic vs oil filled heater debate, as it comes down to what works best for you personally. But if you take into account the pros and cons of each, the potential heat outputs and your own personal preferences, you will find a clear winner for your particular circumstances.
Without further ado, we’re going to take a look at differences between ceramic and oil filled heaters, to get a view on how one could work better for you over the other, helping you to come to an informed decision.
The main difference between ceramic and oil filled heaters is the way in which they disperse the heat that they have produced into your room. They both utilize electricity to power a heating element but then differ from there.
Oil Heaters Use the Radiant Heating Method
This may come as no surprise to you as they resemble central heating radiators which fit onto the wall. Their shape is very much a reflection of their function as the “gills” of the heater are filled with oil which is heated by the electrical heating element.
Once the heater becomes warm enough it heats the metal fins which are in contact with the air. This is the benefit of the fin structure, to have optimal surface area contact with the air which then radiates outwards into the room.
The larger the heater is, and the more fins it gives it a greater surface area allowing it to heat up the surrounding air faster.
The oil itself is not used as a fuel and is merely warmed up and so will never need replacing unless it somehow became contaminated or if it needed to be drained for repairs to occur.
Ceramic Heaters use the Convection Heating Method
Convection heaters are also known as fan heaters, as the method of convection heat employs the use of a fan to blow air heated by a ceramic heating element out into the room.
As we know, warm air rises, and so the newly warmed air is dispersed into the room by the fan, mixing with the cool room air, bringing up the total room temperature, while low lying cool air is drawn into the heater to be warm and dispersed again.
Some convection heaters can employ the radiant heat method, they just do not use a fan and rely on the ceramic element to heat a metal plate and transfer the heat to the air. In practical terms, this is not efficient as it lacks the superior surface area that a finned oil heater will have.
Ceramic vs Oil Heaters: Pros and Cons
Now that you know that the key difference between these two types of heater is the method in which they heat, how does it impact you? The best way to gauge an answer is to look at the pros and cons of each and decide whether or not their benefits outweigh their drawbacks.
Oil Heater Pros
Unlike many other types of heater, including the ceramic heaters; oil heaters continue to output heat after you have turned them off. This is because even though you have turned off the heating element, the oil still remains warm and still warms the metal fins which radiate warmth to the surrounding air.
Oil heaters that are equipped with a thermostat will warm the room to the desired temperature you set and then turn themselves off, saving on the electricity input into the device.
Additionally, since the oil outputs heat continually even after the heater is switched off, you are actually using less electricity than is needed to achieve the desired level of heat.
Oil filled heaters typically range between a heat output of 5000-6000BTU’s which is more than enough to warm up medium sized rooms of about 150 square feet.
This is great for those who wish to supplement their central heating or wish to warm up rooms such as offices, small bedrooms, conservatories or even garages without reaching for the central heating.
Even though one of the downsides you’ll find is that they are slightly heavy, most models have wheels attached allowing you to easily move the heater around a room or between rooms without too much hassle.
The particulates in the air that often aggravate the symptoms of allergy suffers like dust, dander and pollen are not disturbed or dispersed around the room with an oil heater while they are with fan based heaters. Oil heaters are often the best choice for allergy sufferers.
Since there is no fan, and very few moving parts, oil heaters work very quietly and may only make slight creaking noises due to the expansion of the oil or metal as it heats up.
Oil Heater Cons
Given that we mentioned their portability because they tend to have wheels, oil filled space heaters are still really bulky and heavy in comparison to their ceramic heater competition. For many people, this is enough to tip the balance in favour of the convection heaters.
They’re just not as easy to unplug and carry into another room whenever is needed and take more effort to do so. Furthermore, they take up more space in the room.
In comparison to ceramic heaters, they take a while to get going and to start heating the room, meaning they are more effectively used pre-emptively.
This is because all of the oil inside the heater needs to warm up before the heat can be transferred to the metal and then to the air whereas a convection heater begins warming the air pretty much instantly.
Oil filled heaters are less safe for households which has kids and pets as they can become very hot to the touch and cause burns.
Extra precaution will need to be taken in supervising pets and young children when the heater is in operation to keep them away from it, or you’ll need to invest in a safety gate and somehow secure it in place around the heater.
Ceramic Heater Pros
Once the ceramic heater is turned on, the heating element takes no time to warm up and begin heating the air that is drawn into it. The heated air is then dispersed while the next load of cool air is heated and mixed whit the air in the room.
Ceramic heaters are fast acting, which is another huge benefit to most people looking for a quick way to warm their rooms.
Since they have no heated oil or any other substance that retains heat within them, ceramic heaters are quick to cool down making them a lot safer in households with young children and pets.
Another benefit of not containing the oil is that the heater is light weight and easy to carry between rooms. They also come in a high variety of sizes and designs so you can always find a model that’s compact enough to fit in a room and not get in the way.
Since the heater has a fan blowing the warmed air outwards, you can point the heater in any particular direction to get more effective heating. This works well for drafty or poorly insulated areas of the room.
Ceramic Heater Cons
Ceramic space heaters are not typically equipped with a thermostat, and require you to modulate the heat in the room by switching the device on or off. They also don’t give off heat after being switched off.
This means you’ll need them on longer to maintain the temperature in the room and they can be expensive to run, depending on electricity prices in your state. Some find it’s more worth it to heat the whole house with natural gas rather than a ceramic heater.
Relatively, ceramic heaters don’t tend to be seriously noisy to cause a disturbance but due to having a fan, there is normally a constant humming noise as the heater is on.
To some people this can be annoying and they may find that the silent operation of an oil filled heater much more appropriate for them.
The heat output in BTU’s can vary quite significantly between ceramic heater models but they are usually only suited to heating small rooms that are just over 100 square feet. They make great supplemental heat to your main heat source but other than that, not really useful for larger rooms.
To Summarize Ceramic vs Oil Filled Heaters
As you can see, there is a lot to take in, and it may not be apparent form reading the pros and cons as to how a radiant, oil filled heater or a convection, ceramic heater could suit you over the other so here are a few pointers:
Ceramic heaters are fast acting, safe and portable. They suit those of you who rely on the central heating or other main sources of heat such as pellet stoves, but would like this supplemental heat to use now and again.
They are not suitable for those who want to warm a room solely with the space heater for an extended duration of time as this would mean running the heater for a long duration, costing a lot of money in electricity.
Oil Filled Heaters
They are slow acting but long lasting, can be unsafe if in a household with youngsters and/or pets if left unsupervised but are very effective at warming a room. Due to having the oil staying warm after the heater has been switched off, their heat benefits can be enjoyed without using continual power to operate the device.
They are not suitable for those with limited space, as these heaters are somewhat bulky and difficult to move from room to room. Due to being quite large and being hot to touch and slow to cool down, if there is not enough room to move around the heater, it could result in accidental burns.
Additionally they are a great choice for allergy suffers as they do not employ a fan to move heated air around the room and so do not disperse allergens in the air.
About the Author
Dave Miller is a HVAC technician with over 10 years in the industry. Dave created HeatTalk with the ambition for it to become a resource for individuals looking for answers, whether they be a layman, student or a professional.