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Convection vs. radiant heaters: What’s the difference?

How to choose between a convection and radiant heater

Whether it’s a chilly fall day or a frigid winter night, it’s important to keep your home comfortably warm. Thankfully, that’s easy with convection and radiant heaters. These two types of portable or wall-mounted heaters work equally well, depending on what you want out of a heater. Here are the key differences between the two, including cost and energy efficiency.

Person with feet in pink slippers on ottoman near fireplace

Convection heater vs. radiant heater: Main differences

A convection heater warms up the air inside a room. It does this by sucking in air from the area, heating it up inside the appliance, and blowing it back out. These are great if you want a constant temperature throughout a very chilly room. It’s recommended for closed rooms without existing central heating systems.

By contrast, a radiant heater warms people and things in a room, says The Spruce. This is best for small spaces or if you’ll be hanging out by an armchair or in your bed for a couple of hours. Through a concentrated infrared radiation system, radiant heaters are great if you need to warm up quickly. Heat transfers directly to you without raising the whole room’s temperature.

Charming boho bedroom

Are convection heaters energy efficient?

Convection heaters are energy efficient if you use them for longer periods of time. Although they warm up more slowly than radiant heaters, they warm up a larger area over time.

Some convection heaters are also connected to smart thermostats that detect the room temperature. You can set it to your desired temperature, such as a sensible 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heater will turn off automatically, saving you electricity use.

Cozy couch with texture

Do convection heaters work?

Generally, convection heaters work best if you want to heat up the entire room for longer periods of time. They’re also best for slightly larger spaces, but they’re not ideal for the whole house. Convection heaters take advantage of the air’s natural movement. When warm air from the top flows down as it cools off, the heater grabs this cooler air and warms it up, keeping the room cozy and warm.

Keep in mind that there are different types of convection heaters. A wall-mounted heater is great for rooms that get a lot of traffic, such as the living room or bedroom. Additionally, some convection heaters double as fans for warmer months. More traditional models are central heaters that work through ducts and vents.

Are radiant heaters energy efficient?

For shorter use periods, like an hour or so, radiant heaters are energy efficient. They’re not sustainable for long-term use, like overnight, or for large spaces since they generally have a limited reach. Radiant heaters also don’t lose any energy as some convection heaters do. They’re about 25% more efficient than other types since they work almost immediately.

Cozy bed with feet in snuggly socks

Is a convection heater cheap to run?

The cost of a convection heater’s energy usage depends on its wattage. On average, an electric heater runs on 1,500 watts, but heavy-duty models naturally use more. In the state of California, energy usage costs 15.2 cents in kilowatts per hour, according to NPR. So if we use a 1,500-watt heater for 10 hours a day, the bill is close to $15, which amounts to about $70 per month. To calculate your personal energy usage, there are handy energy-use calculators that you can find online.

Which type of heater is the cheapest to run?

At this point, you might realize that the cheapest heater to run really depends on what you’re using it for. If you find yourself asking, “Are convection heaters good?” then the answer is “Yes,” if you’re using them to heat up larger rooms for longer periods of time. They are generally very energy efficient, and it will cost you no more than $100 on average per month to use one for over 12 hours a day, every day.

Apartment Therapy recommends radiant heaters if you want an infrared heater for a small personal space like your reading nook for just a few hours a day. You won’t be wasting any energy warming up an entire room, and you’ll get warm very quickly.

So, there you have it. The convection versus radiant heater debate can be solved by asking yourself where you’re using the appliance, what you’re trying to heat, and how long you’ll be using it. Convection heaters warm up the air in a room slowly, while radiant heaters warm up people and objects quickly. Whichever model you choose, you’ll be glad to know that both convection and radiant heaters are equally energy-efficient for their respective use.

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Deb Goncalves
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Deb's work has appeared on Moms, Babygaga, and WorldAtlas. When she's not working (that's hard to say about a Capricorn), she…
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