Bunnings cheap electric 'halogen' heater: to buy or not to buy?

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

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.

Key Energy Efficiency Tips - What You Can Do

  1. Draught proof and insulate your dwelling as your first priority.
  2. Try use heaters that heat you - not the entire room or building.
  3. Use a plug-in thermostat to accurately control room temperature, thereby reducing the power consumption of any electric heater.
  4. Consider other energy saving options such as this foot mat heater and this heated throw rug.
By Ryan McCarthy |

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