Which Type of Heater is Cheapest to Run?


While we have a lot of readers asking us to help them find the best type of heaters for their homes, many homeowners are also curious about the operating costs. If you’re wondering if the cheapest space heater is actually affordable to operate, we’re here to help answer that question.

In this guide, we are going to discuss the different options available for homes today. We are also going to tell you what to expect from different types of heaters and from additional operating costs tied to the most popular types of power.

Placement Matters

The type of heater you choose plays a large part in how cheap it is to run, but there are other factors that come into play as well. Placement is the first thing we want to discuss as the location where you intend to use your new heater can impact how long it needs to run.

Are you shopping for a garage heater or a small system for an outdoor workshop? Well, you will not be disappointed by the options available, but the draftier the space, the harder your heater will need to work to keep it warm.

This is also an area where most consumers think about the size of the heater they need. That typically boils down to the BTU or wattage rating along with the square footage of the room. Once you know where your heater will be placed and the conditions that may affect how efficient it is, it’s time to think about how often you will use the heater.

Do you need a seasonal system or a permanent heating solution?

If you’re wondering what type of heater is cheapest to run, you could be concerned about your budget or simply intend to use the heater for long periods of time. In either case, think about if the heater will only be used for a few months out of the year, as supplemental heat for an area, or if you require something more permanent.

Seasonal heaters are brought out of closets, attics, and toolsheds when winter rolls around and are boxed back up in the spring. You can find some of the cheapest electric space heaters in this class, which is ideal if you need something portable for small to medium-sized rooms in your home. Any heater we refer to as seasonal is usually affordable and electric in nature.

While these heaters are an excellent option for many homeowners, they won’t save you as much money in the long run as a more permanent heating system. These units are larger and cost more upfront, but can heat larger areas even if they often rely on propane or natural gas.

There are a number of highly efficient electric cabinet heaters as well, but a gas-based wall mounted heater is often the best option for areas that stay colder most of the year.

Heating Technologies

The element inside the heater can have a significant impact on how efficient it is, which affects how much it will cost to run over time. Each manufacturer can put their own twist on how a heater looks, operates, and heats the air as well, but most will generate heat through one of the methods below.

Infrared Heating

Any heater that produces infrared heat warms up objects and people in a room instead of heating the air itself. It’s comparable to how sunlight can warm you up on a summer day and one of the cheaper types of heaters to run. They are perfect for drafty areas considering open doors, and poorly insulated spaces won’t affect the heat. All infrared heaters are technically considered radiant systems as well.

infrared vs conventional

Infrared or radiant heaters can run off electricity, natural gas, or propane. Some have blower fans built-in to help circulate air through a room, but they aren’t the best choice for larger areas. These heaters are also more expensive than their convection-based counterparts.

Convection Heating

While infrared heating has grown in popularity, convection-based heaters are still the top sellers. These heaters warm the air inside of a room instead of heating objects in them. They are the best choice when you need to heat a large area for an extended period of time, but are noisier than other types of heaters and can dry the air out in a room.

Convection Heating

Heaters that use this type of technology can also be powered by gas or electricity. They can take longer to heat up a room compared to an infrared system, and finding a way to avoid cold spots can be challenging. Opening a door in a room heated by one of these types of systems will have a significant impact as well.

Micathermic Heating

While not exactly new, Micathermic heaters have become more popular as consumers look for different ways to heat their homes. These systems use thin layers of mica that cover a small heating element to produce heat. The electromagnetic rays produced by these heaters are very effective, and their design allows the heaters to remain slim and streamlined.

Micathermic Heaters

Having a system that produces convection and radiant heat can definitely be a bonus, but the heating range is limited on these systems. They rank behind both convection and infrared heaters in terms of coverage, and your options are limited from a design standpoint as well.

The Price of Power

To truly understand how much a heater cost to operate, you have to know how much the price of power is in your area. If you have a utility bill on hand, you can find the running cost of any heater within a few minutes. If you intend to use a kerosene heater, propane or plan on moving and want to know the cost of running a heater beforehand, we have that covered as well.

Operating Costs of Electric Heaters

For most homeowners that need supplemental heat for a room or portable heating, an electric heater is often the best option. While electric heaters can be far more efficient in turning electricity into heat than gas-based systems, they are often more expensive to run depending on your usage and where you live.

Electrical energy is listed by the kilowatt-hour, and the “average” rate across the United States as of August 2020 is $0.13 cents per kWh, according to Choose Energy. Based on those rates, it’s simple to see how much it would cost to operate a standard 1,500-watt electric space heater over the course of a day, month, or year.

If you run a 1,500-watt heater on high for 8 hours, it would cost $1.17 per day to operate the heater based on those rates. That’s roughly $35.50 per year, which may be far more than you initially thought for such a small heater. If you live in Oklahoma with a rate of $0.10 per kWh, it would be less than a dollar a day to run and $27.38 per month.

The good news is that electric heaters require little to no maintenance, so there is no additional cost down the line. You don’t need to deal with tanks or the gas company making trips to your residence, which may be worth the extra operating costs for some homeowners.

Operating Costs of Natural Gas Heaters

While not as efficient as an electric heater, heating systems that rely on gas are much cheaper to operate for many homeowners across the United States. That’s partly due to the cost of natural gas itself, although there are other factors to consider.

Natural gas is priced or billed in therms, which can make comparing costs challenging. Those prices also change considerably across the U.S., as you can see from the map below by the Energy Information Administration. It tends to be cheaper on the West Coast and in Northern parts of the country than in the Southeast, although that will change throughout the year as well.

US average annual residential natural gas prices

Once you know the price of natural gas in your area, calculating the operating cost is fairly straightforward, and you may be in for a shock when you compare the price to electric-based heaters. You should be able to find the rates on your power bill if you already have gas in your home; otherwise, you’ll need to contact the utility board in your area for current natural gas prices.

When properly installed and maintained, the upkeep on natural gas heaters is low. The price of the fuel can vary quite wildly depending on supply and demand, however, and can go up or down depending on the time of year.

Operating Costs of Propane Heaters

Propane heating is the best option for homeowners that need temporary gas heat in an area of their home or even outdoors. Like natural gas, it’s not as safe as using electricity but can be considerably cheaper to use depending on your needs.

The price of propane will also fluctuate throughout the year and is often more expensive in summer than winter. While that may seem odd, propane is a multipurpose fuel that powers millions of backyard grills each summer and fall. Refilling your propane tank at the right time can save you a lot of money, and it’s more efficient than natural gas.

There’s no good way to calculate the cost of propane in advance, considering how it’s priced and the wide variety of propane heaters available to consumers today. You do need to think about the cost of delivery trips to your property if you plan to use a large permanent system and realize that the tanks are only filled to 80% as well due to expansion.


We hope our guide helped you understand the running costs of different types of heaters and what to be aware of when you’re considering an alternative source of power like propane or natural gas. If you’re looking for cheaper electric heating, improving insulation and other things can help keep the operating costs low, but it’s hard to argue with natural gas from a pricing standpoint.

Written by

Rene has worked 10 years in the HVAC field and now is the Senior Comfort Specialist for PICKHVAC. He holds an HVAC associate degree and EPA & R-410A Certifications.

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