Here are the cheapest heaters to run this winter

When temperatures drop, a warm and cosy room can take away the winter chill and cheer the spirits, but there’s a cost. Which heater won’t break your budget to run? We find out.

9 June 2023
5 minute read
Child switching on a heater

When temperatures drop, a warm and cosy room can take away the winter chill and cheer the spirits, but there’s a cost. We crunched the numbers and worked out how much it will cost you to run electric, paraffin and gas heaters this winter.

Electric heaters

If you’ve got electricity, and Eskom isn’t loadshedding, electric heaters are one of the easiest ways to heat your home. You buy a heater, plug it in and the room warms up. It’s also a safe option as long as the heaters are used correctly. There are two costs you need to be prepared for when buying and using an electric heater – the cost of the heater and the cost of electricity.

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How to work out what you pay for electricity

Electricity is charged by the number of kilowatts (kW) used per hour. One kilowatt is 1,000 watts. On the packaging and labelling on your heater you will find the watts the heater uses, for example 1,500W.

Top tip: If your appliance has only volts (V) or amps (A) listed on it, ask the manufacturer or retailer how many watts the heater uses.

When you know the wattage your heater uses, multiply it by the cost of electricity and the time you use the heater for.

We used 250.46 cents per kilowatt, which is Eskom’s Homepower Block 1 rate, including VAT. Here are Eskom tariffs, or ask your municipality for their rates.

Here is an example of how we worked out the cost of the wall heater, working out the watts first and then the cost for three hours a day for 30 days:

Kilowatts used: Divide watts by 1,000

425 ÷ 1,000 = 0.425

Cost for three hours a day for 30 days: Multiply kW x cost per kW x hours x days

0.425 x 250.46 x 3 x 30 = 9,580c or R95.80

It is important to note:

  • The more watts your heater uses, the higher the electricity cost.
  • Higher or warmer settings on heaters usually use more watts. Turning your heater up may give you more warmth but it could double your costs.
  • The more hours your heater is on the more watts it uses, and the more you will pay for electricity.
  • Low wattage heaters cost less to run, but may not warm the room as much as you would like.
  • Remember, warm winter blankets and hot water bottles do a good job of keeping you warm. Use these more and heaters less to save electricity.


Heater type Cost Watts used Cost to run for three hours a day for 30 days
Wall panel heaters
These can be wall mounted and some models can be painted to match the wall.
450 425W R95.80
Nanotech plug in heater
These are small heating units that plug into your wall socket.
400 500W R112.70
Under carpet heating mats (1.75m x 2.5m)
These mats are plugged into a wall and lie under your floor rugs. They warm the rug, similar to how an electric blanket warms your bed. Various sizes are available.
3195 700W R157.79
Underfloor heating
This is a heating system installed under your floors, carpets, tiles, wood and laminate floors. Unlike heating mats, the system is a permanent installation operated at the thermostat unit.
R3 297 for 5.6 - 9m2 of tiled floor. R875+ for a thermostat. 760W R171.31
Seven-fin oil heater
These run on electricity that heats the oil in the fins.
900 1,500W R338.12
Infrared heater
These heaters use electromagnetic radiation to transfer heat from their unit to objects in the room – much like the sun heats the earth.
2000 1,500W R338.12
Three-bar electric heater 500 1,800W R405.75
Fan heater 260 2,000W) R450.83

Based on the above, wall panel heaters should have the lowest running costs. These heaters are suitable for heating rooms of 10-12m2. They are easy to install, you mount them on a wall. However, they use a low wattage so the heat they provide will be less than a gas heater or fin heater, for example. And they aren’t portable.

Gas heaters

The most common gas heaters used in South Africa are the 3 panel heaters that use a 9kg canister of LPG, liquid petroleum gas. A gas heater costs around R1,300 and a 9kg gas cylinder R1,250 (with gas).

The price of gas is set by the Department of Energy and just like petrol, the price changes each month. You can find the latest prices on the department’s website. You can also get quotes from gas suppliers. We priced a refill of a 9kg gas cylinder at R301.05 on 9 June 2023. You may also need to take your gas cylinder to be refilled so there may be some transport costs and time involved.

According to Bruce Wilson of Midgas, a 9kg canister of gas lasts around 30 hours. To run a gas heater at full power for 3 hours a day for 30 days could cost around R900. However, gas heaters are very efficient at heating rooms, and because they give a lot of heat, you may not need to run them at full power all the time. Bruce says you can save gas by turning the setting down to the lowest heat when the room has warmed up. This will lower your cost considerably.

Paraffin heaters

Paraffin heaters can heat rooms very effectively. We found paraffin heaters starting at R1,050.

Like gas, the cost of illuminating paraffin is set by the Department of Energy every month. Five litres of paraffin will cost (at 9 June 2023) around R70.

Running a paraffin heater is cheap, but there are safety risks. Never leave a paraffin heater on if you are not in the room. Place the heater far away from any flammables and have a fire extinguisher or blanket nearby to extinguish any flames should the heater topple over.

Gas and wood fireplaces

These are great at heating a room, and fireplaces using wood can be cheap to run as firewood is fairly inexpensive (R410 for 100kg of firewood). The initial price of the unit, however, can be quite expensive. We priced open wood fireplaces from R5,000+.– and then there is a fairly substantial cost to have them installed.

Gas and wood fireplaces need to be installed by an expert, for safety reasons, and as with any fireplace, follow precautions that include not leaving children alone in front of the fire. Fireplaces are also not portable, so will only heat the room and adjacent rooms where they have been installed.

The bottom line

Comparing gas and electric heaters, a wall panel heater using electricity is the cheapest heater to run.

Consider your needs, your room, your budget and your energy costs when deciding which heater to buy. The right choice will mean you’re warm and cosy and safe – without blowing your budget.

Posted May 28, 2020
Updated April 12, 2021
Updated April 25, 2022
Updated June 9, 2023

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