Electric vs gas heaters – cost and safety comparison

Winter is coming. And even those who didn’t watch a single episode of Game of Thrones understand the foreboding that accompanies the drop in temperatures, the dry wind that howls through South Africa’s interior, and the never-ending rain in the Western Cape.

By now, you’ve probably pulled last year’s heater out of storage, or are shopping around for a solution to keep you warm and cosy indoors while it’s icy outside. You’re probably also doing the math around electricity consumption, solar- and inverter compatibility, the cost of gas alternatives, and how many heaters you need to keep your family toasty no matter where in the house they spend time.

There are also safely factors to consider, especially if you have young children and pets.

To help you out, Trevor Brewer, director of air treatment specialist Solenco, breaks down some of the safety and cost-related pros and cons of electric and gas heaters.

Some research shows that the most commonly used three-panel gas heaters typically cost from R1 200 and use a 9kg gas canister which, empty, is priced at around R900. Gas prices vary from month to month and, on 6 May 2024, 9kg of gas cost R320. A 9kg gas canister will last for about 30 hours if all three panels on the heater are used simultaneously, which means that using the heater for three hours a day over 30 days would cost approximately R960.

In terms of the initial cost, electric heaters start at around R1 000 and can go up significantly, but they cost less than gas heaters to run. Electricity is charged by the number of kilowatts (kW) used per hour. The kW used by a heater will be noted on the packaging, and then you need to multiply this figure by the cost of electricity, and the time for which you use the heater. Using Eskom’s Homepower Block 1 rate of R282.37 per kW, it will cost R101.65 to run a 1 500kW wall heater for three hours a day over 30 days.

While this is a significant saving, being able to run your electric heater depends on the loadshedding schedule, and this fact alone tips the scales in favour of gas for many South Africans. However, Brewer says that many newer model electric heaters, like those in Solenco’s Mill range, are compatible with alternative energy installations, and are designed to use less power, more intelligently, so that they don’t drain every last drop from your solar batteries or inverter, or add unnecessarily to your electricity bill.

Electric heaters don’t emit any potentially hazardous carbon monoxide, which is a real danger inherent to gas heaters.

Brewer recommends opting for an electric heater with either an eco-mode or an adjustable heat setting that meets your solar backup’s capacity. “Heaters with eco-modes can switch off when a room reaches a preset temperature and back on again if this temperature drops, while a range of heat settings will usually allow you to heat your space efficiently,” he says, adding that advanced safety features like a tip-over switch or overheat protection will keep the whole family safe and warm throughout winter.

Solenco products are stocked by South Africa’s largest retailers such as @Home, Hirsch’s, Makro, takealot.com, Clicks, Builders Warehouse and YuppieChef.

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