Electric Wall Heater: What to Know Before You Buy

Heater mounted to wall
Katherine Fawssett / Getty Images

Heating can be one of the toughest problems confronting homeowners building a room addition, refinishing a basement, or updating a bathroom or bedroom.

Routing the existing HVAC ductwork is possible. It's expensive and requires a system large enough to handle the increased load. Plus, it means breaking into walls and ceilings. But there is a solution which costs $100 to $200, is do-it-yourself-friendly, and might require no wall demolition—and it can heat that room, toasty-warm. This solution is an electric wall heater.

Electric wall heaters are a convenient way to bring heat into the most far-flung room. But make no mistake: these devices do have some drawbacks when compared to other types of heating.

Pros
  • Easy to install

  • Heats only the needed space

  • Inexpensive

Cons
  • Noisy

  • Buffer required

  • Electricity: expensive energy

Electric Wall Heaters vs. Space Heaters

Electric wall heaters are similar to portable space heaters that you plug in to heat up a chilly office or bedroom. The difference is that wall heaters are permanent—recessed inside a wall. 

The other difference is that electric wall heaters do not plug in; they are hard-wired into an electrical branch circuit (the wire that runs through your walls). Powered by either 120V or 240V electricity, wall heaters usually have thermostats on the devices. However, some models do have detached thermostats to allow for one thermostat to control multiple heaters within a single space.

Devices rated for 240V can be connected to either 240V or 120V power. If 120V is chosen, though, the heat output will be halved. Note that the reverse will not work: a 120V device connected to 240V power will blow out and be ruined. Some wall heaters can be internally adjusted to run on a wide variety of different wattages.

Placement

Wall heaters can quickly heat up an entire room. These heaters are perfect for single rooms. They are not for entire floors or for multiple areas. 

If you have several rooms on a floor, you'll need one heater per room, plus one or more for each hallway or common area.

Electric wall heaters work best on interior walls rather than exterior walls.

Pros

  • Easy Installation: Installing an electric wall heater is little more than cutting a square hole in the wall, running 120V or 240V wiring into the device, securing the device to the wall, and turning it on. If you have ready wire access, you can have a heater installed and running in just an hour or two.
  • Spot Heating: Wall heaters are point-of-service heating at its best. You can target a cold area with one of these devices. You can heat up that area without heating up the rest of the house.
  • No Ducting: These heaters are entirely self-contained. Cold air is drawn into the heater through the front, and then hot air is blown out without ever leaving the heater. 
  • Inexpensive: Quality wall heaters cost far less than extending HVAC ductwork or even installing electric hydronic baseboard heaters. Installing a complete modulating 97.5% furnace may cost $7,000 or more, not including ductwork. For that price, you can have an electrician install wall heaters in every room of your house. You'll even have money left over to pay for drywall technicians to patch up any holes in the wall created to access the power.
  • Energy-Smart: While electricity is not the most efficient way to heat a house, wall heaters do use energy wisely in the sense that they are designed to heat specific spaces.

Cons

  • Not Energy-Smart: Again, electricity is not the most efficient way to produce heat. Plus, when these heaters turn off, they radiate very little heat. By contrast, steam or water radiators or hydronic baseboard heaters are far more efficient because after the heating element turns off, internal fluids continue to emanate heat.
  • Noisy: Wall heaters push hot air by means of so-called paddle or squirrel cage fans. These can be noisy, especially in smaller spaces.
  • May Brown Out Your Lights: Should you run a separate circuit just for a single 1000 W bathroom heater? Or do you patch it into an existing circuit with lights? While it's recommended that you run a separate circuit for every heater, this is often not practical. Plus, it defeats the easy-installation intent of these devices. Homeowners often patch into lighting or outlet circuits. This can brown out the lights or worse. When the circuit overloads, it will flip off.
  • Considered Lower Quality: Buyers of your home may appreciate that the basement bathroom has some form of heat. But likely they will value other forms of heating more: HVAC, for example.
  • Maintaining Spacing: Wall heaters contain orange-hot metal heating elements. Though they tend to be recessed a few inches back in the metal wall can, they are still close enough to the surface that they can ignite nearby flammable items. You should always keep the manufacturer-recommended buffer zone between the heater and the floor, other walls, towels, toilet paper, and anything else.