How to choose a heater: a quick guide for the cold.

A buying guide for portable heaters including column heaters, radiant heaters, panel or convection heaters, fan heaters and electric blankets.
Which heater to buy? Buying an appliance is like buying a wedding dress. The one you think you want might turn out to be somehow not right, or definitely all wrong. Use this guide as a quick rundown of the different types of heaters you can get from our local experts at Bi-Rite, and if they’re right for you.

First, consider the space

Much like an air conditioner, the heater you need depends on the space you intend to use it in. Is it a large space like your living room? Or smaller like your bedroom? Heating in the morning when you’ve just sprung out of bed to face the day (lol)? Or in bed at night warming your little feeties? Keep these things in mind when choosing the heater that’s right for you.

Space heating

Column Heaters

Column heaters come in two varieties: oil-filled and oil-free.
Oil-filled column heaters don’t burn oil, they use electricity to heat the oil sealed inside the columns. Then the heat circulates around these columns (or “fins”).
Oil-free column heaters work in a similar way just without the oil. The fins are still heated up and heat circulates into the air around the heater. Column heaters provide efficient and cost effective heat compared to other types of heater. This makes them ideal for the budget conscious!
Column heaters don’t have exposed elements like radiant heaters do, and their surface area can be lower than other heating types. This makes them a safer option for places where the heater will be left on for long periods of time like a bedroom.
The downside is that they rely on natural convection, so they take a longer time to heat up a room. Quick tip: turn the ceiling fan on low speed to help distribute the heat evenly.
column heater in a room with a yellow couch and a yellow sidetable

Best for: Warming up a bedroom overnight, medium to large rooms needing constant temperature, or those on a budget.

What to look for:

  • Weight: oil-free column heaters are usually lighter than oil-filled, consider how often you’ll need to move it around.
  • Warranty. Simply for your peace of mind.

Radiant Heaters

Radiant heaters radiate heat from a red-hot heating element. You can find floor and wall-mountable models, and they’re relatively inexpensive compared to other heater types. Radiant heaters are ideal for personal heating your feet while you crochet toys for your nieces and nephews.
There are some downsides: the exposed heating element is a fire or burn hazard (particularly for curious little hands). They also won’t heat the air in the room very well.
Radiant Heaters heat small spaces quickly. Not recommended around small children.
 radiant heater on the floor with a beige couch and a beige rug

Best for: personal heating, homes without small children.

What to look for:

  • Free standing or wall mountable, consider the layout of your home and where you’re most likely to use it before purchasing.
  • Warranty. Simply for your peace of mind.

Panel Heaters/Convection Heaters

Convection heaters and panel heaters work by drawing air over an electric heating element. This heated air passes back into the room, heating up the space.
Usually they have a fan to heat the room up quickly and evenly, without the fan there’s a potential to create layers of temperature. Having a cold head but hot hands will really ruin your night spent sitting on the couch mindlessly playing games on your tablet in total silence.
Convection heaters provide fast heating ideal for medium to large sized rooms.
Panel heaters are a thin, flat heater which can be mounted to the wall as a permanent feature, ideal for keeping floors and walkways clear.
Most panel heaters use convective technology to heat the room, however some brands (like Delonghi) use Ceramic heating technology in their panel heaters as well. Panel heaters also have the advantage of being the more stylish option for those concerned about a bulky heater ruining their shabby chic or carefully curated scandi-industrial decor.

Best for: fast heating of medium to large rooms, rooms where floor space is limited and wall mounting is ideal.

What to look for

  • Features and settings: look for a timer, a digital display, eco settings and power settings.
  • Wall-mounting: if you don’t have space for a heater on the floor look for a wall-mountable option and make sure it comes with all the bits needed for installation.
  • Measure the wall. If you’re wall mounting a panel heater you need to make sure it’ll fit on your wall before you buy it.
  • Wattage: larger room = more watts
  • Fan: it needs to have a fan or you’ll get weird heat layers in the room, very much so not a vibe.
  • Warranty. Simply for your peace of mind.

Ceramic and Fan Heaters

Ceramic heaters work by heating a ceramic block built into the unit, which heats the air around it and warms the room. The advantage to using a ceramic block rather than a metallic heating element is that the ceramic cools down faster, reducing the burn risk.
Fan heaters use a fan to blow the heat created in the ceramic or metallic heating element in the direction the fan is facing. They’re quick to heat up, usually very quiet and portable.
There are no exposed heating elements on ceramic heaters.
a ceramic heater near a white couch and a green plant

Best for: families with young children because there is no exposed heating element. Workplaces where the air conditioning seems like it’s set to 12 degrees all the time. Small to medium rooms where short term or personal heat is required.

What to look for:

  • Wattage: more watts = bigger rooms.
  • Accessories: some models will come with a remote control for extra convenience.
  • Controls: some models will come with a timer and extra functions like an eco function to maximise energy efficiency.
  • Safety features: check for overheat protection or tip-over detection.
  • Warranty. For your peace of mind.


Personal Heating

Electric Blankets

Most of us will already be familiar with electric blankets. Basically they’re a sheet that’s heated using electricity to warm up your bed. You can get fitted electric blankets that look like a typical fitted sheet, or just a top section that’s held onto the bed using straps.
Now you can also get heated throw blankets so you can cuddle up on the couch and watch Gardening Australia in cosy comfort. Machine washable electric blankets allow you to keep it clean.
an image of a bed with a white blanket and pillow cases with a pink blanket thrown over one side

Best for: Warming up the bed or couch.

What to look for:

  • Machine washable. Check the care instructions on your electric blanket before purchase. You want to make sure you can easily keep it clean and hygienic before you buy it.
  • Safety features. Does it have overheat protection? Can you set it to turn off automatically?
  • Materials. Do you have a preference for synthetic or natural materials? This comes down to your personal preferences.
  • Warranty. Simply for your peace of mind.


    Part of being an almost insufferably paranoid person is that I’m very concerned with how to safely use a heater. Here’s some tips for staying safe whilst keeping warm:

    • Only put your space heater on the floor (if portable). Make sure it is installed securely and correctly according to the manufacturer’s specifications if wall mounted.
    • Only use your heaters according to the manufacturer’s instruction manual. Read the manual cover to cover to make sure you understand how and where to use your heater.
    • Keep flammable materials (clothes, curtains etc) well away from any space heater (at least a metre). Look up to make sure nothing can fall on your space heater.
    • Never leave a running space heater unattended, and never let small children attempt to touch or operate any space heater (running or not). I like to unplug appliances when not in use to prevent my toddler from trying to mess with them.

    So when it’s so cold you’ve got frost forming on the tip of your nose, come on down to Bi-Rite and we’ll fix you up with a heater that suits your needs. Put your feet up and defrost with the smug smile shared only by those with warm feet.