Guide

Why replacing your gas heater with a fan heater is not a good idea

Martin Jungfer
04.11.2022
Translation: Christine Duranza

Because gas has become more expensive, it’s only natural to ask if you’d be better off heating your home without it. Fan heaters, however, are usually not the best alternative, for several reasons.

Winter is coming. Heating with gas is expensive. And given the current circumstances, we should use electricity sparingly. But spending the winter shivering in our homes is not a particularly desirable option either. Maybe you’ve already asked yourself the most practical way of keeping your home warm.

If so, you’re not alone. Search terms like «heating with candles» or «gas heating alternative» are trending on Google. Our Category Management has also been giving thought to this subject and recently posted this ceramic fan heater as a deal of the day. And in so doing were met with heavy criticism by some. Rightly so?

How much electricity does a fan heater consume?

The real question is whether it’s more efficient to heat with a fan or gas heater. To figure this out, you need to know how much power is required to effectively heat one square metre of living space. There’s no clear answer as the amount depends on several variables, such as how well your apartment is insulated or how high your ceiling is. But the amount is roughly between 50 and 100 watts. So, if you want to heat a 25-square-metre living room, for example, your fan heater will need at least 1200 watts of power. (For this calculation, I’ve assumed a heating capacity of 50 watts per square metre.)

If you want to keep this same room warm for a three-hour-long movie night, the device will require 1200 watts per hour, so it’ll have consumed 3600 Wh or 3.6 kWh by the end of the night. This calculation is based on the assumption that you’re using the heater to raise the temperature from 16 to 20 degrees.

What is the cost of electricity compared to gas?

The price you’ll pay for the 3.6 kWh from the above example depends on your electric provider. The Federal Electricity Commission calculates a median price of 27 centimes per kilowatt-hour in Switzerland for 2023. In Germany, the price of electricity is already over 37 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2022, and at a very similar level in Austria. So in Switzerland you’d be paying 97 centimes for your comfy movie night while movie aficionados in neighboring countries would be spending 1.33 euros.

How much would it cost if you were to forgo the fan heater and run the gas heater as usual? For this calculation, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter whether you heat a room with an electric fan heater or a gas heater. You need the same amount of energy either way. Your gas bill is also calculated in kWh. Though the price of gas has been rising significantly for some time now, it’s still below that of electricity. In Switzerland, a kWh costs just under 15 centimes as of September 2022, in Germany it’s currently just over 20 cents although a few weeks ago it was just under 40 cents. The situation in Austria is similar.

Gas prices can also fluctuate widely depending on your municipality. For Switzerland, you can find out the prices in your community via the price monitor.

So you can easily calculate whether it’s better to keep running the gas heater or switch to an electric one. In most cases, gas heating is the smart choice. But cost isn’t the only reason why fan and radiant heaters aren’t usually the best option.

How does a fan heater work?

In principle, fan heaters (especially cheap ones) work like a hair dryer. They draw air from the room, push it through a metal or ceramic structure on the inside heated by electricity, and blow the now hot air back into the room with a fan. The process is quite effective for filling a room with warm air in a short amount of time. But compared to radiators and tiled stoves, fan heaters lack radiant heat, which is key for leaving you feeling thoroughly warmed. Fan heaters are instead notorious for quickly drying out the air, producing a humming noise (a result of their fan), and stirring up dust.

Are ceramic fan heaters better?

Ceramic fan heaters, in which the heating coils are enclosed in a ceramic shell, mimic the effect of radiant heat on a small scale. They take longer to heat than models with open heating coils, but they give off heat for longer. They’re also quieter because they come with a smaller fan or one that runs slower. Moreover, pet hair and dust won’t burn or cause a smell upon contact with a ceramic fan heater.

Are fan heaters particularly energy efficient?

That’s an easy one: no.

The long answer: cheap fan heaters and even cheaper small plug-in fan heaters are being touted as energy-saving wonders in sketchy ads, currently popping up all over the Internet. In one respect, the advertising rings true: electric fan heaters are more efficient than other heating devices. Up to 99 per cent of the electricity they draw from the socket is converted into heat. Radiators, convectors and infrared heaters simply can’t compete here. Nevertheless, being able to convert nearly all of its energy intake into heat does not necessarily mean the device is energy efficient. Or cost efficient. Just look at a modern oil-burning heating system, which achieves an energy-conversion efficiency of 95 per cent. Since the heat it generates comes from oil, which is cheaper than electricity, it’s much cheaper to operate.

When’s a good time to pull out that fan heater?

Despite all its disadvantages, and despite the fact that it most likely won’t save you any money, a fan heater can still be useful in certain situations. For example, if you want to spend a short time in a space that’s usually not heated, but you want it to be warm, a fan heater can come in handy. This might be in the basement hobby room, in an unfinished building of a construction site, or in the part of the garage where you work on the car. Just not in the living room, a space you want evenly heated.

What are some alternatives to fan heaters?

In its current issue, «Stiftung Warentest» examines not only fan heaters but also convectors and radiators, air conditioners with a heating function, infrared heaters, and electric blankets as alternatives to heating with gas. In terms of operating costs, convectors and radiators perform just as poorly as fan heaters. Infrared heaters are only about half as expensive to operate, but their purchase cost is significantly greater. In the end, it’s the permanently installed split air conditioners that have the lowest operating costs. But their purchase and installation costs are quite steep – they’ll put you back several thousand euros or francs.

Overall winner: The electric blanket

With both low operating and purchase costs, the unbeatable favourite for «Stiftung Warentest» is the electric blanket. It’s their recommendation for anyone who’s looking to stay warm and cosy in a chilly room. After all, you don’t need to heat an entire room to keep yourself warm, and electric blankets do just the trick of keeping anything underneath them toasty.

An unequivocal no-go: the tea-light heater

Not only are plug-in fan heaters being touted on the Internet, but so-called tea-light heaters are also booming, particularly on Tiktok and Youtube. These «heaters» consist of a clay flower pot and saucer which are screwed together on a rod. A few tea lights are then placed underneath the upside down pot. When the tea lights are burning, the warm air supposedly gets trapped between the pot and saucer and heat is gradually released into the room.

In some places, for example in Carinthia, Austria, there was so much hype that you couldn’t find tea lights or clay pots anywhere for a period of time. But I’d hazard a guess that in no time at all, useless flower pots will dot the Carinthian landscape. Because a tea-light heater can’t effectively heat a room. One burning tea light has a power of 40 watts. Think back to our aforementioned fan heater calculation – ideally at least 50 watts are needed per square metre to heat that room. So let’s take the 25-square-metre living room as an example again. To heat it using tea lights, you’d need 32 of them. So if you’ve four tea lights per tea-light heater, you’ll need eight of the contraptions. In one room.

You can build tea-light heaters like these yourself or buy any number of varieties on DIY platforms like Etsy.
You can build tea-light heaters like these yourself or buy any number of varieties on DIY platforms like Etsy.

For the sake of a temporary romantic endeavour, burning so many tea lights in a room might be okay, but doing so as a heating alternative is definitely not. Because tea lights aren’t completely environmentally friendly and with so many of them burning at once in a room, the air will be far from fresh. Not to mention the potential fire hazard.

But you’re certainly not one of the many to have fallen for the sham, right? I firmly believe in you, our readers. Because you’ve proven that your logic isn’t switched off so easily – not even amidst an enticing deal of the day fan heater discount. (At the end of the day, more than half of the units remained unsold.) And in this case, that’s a good thing!

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Journalist since 1997. Stopovers in Franconia (or the Franken region), Lake Constance, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Zurich. Father since 2014. Expert in editorial organisation and motivation. Focus on sustainability, home office tools, beautiful things for the home, creative toys and sports equipment. 


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