Space Heaters – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews
Space Heaters – Buyer’s Guide and Reviews
When the weather outside is frightful, a fire certainly would be delightful — but not everyone is lucky enough to have a fireplace. Instead, a space heater can offer a supplemental heat source in your home or office. It’s important to note that space heaters aren’t recommended as your only heat source, but they can be a great way to increase a room’s temperature a few degrees or provide warmth in a drafty space without overheating the entire home. Some owners say they also use portable heaters to lower utility bills, but this depends on many factors, like your fuel costs, insulation, how often your space heater is used and more.
Space heaters are useful for warming individual rooms or small areas. While they aren’t a good replacement for central heating, they can help raise the temperature a few degrees in a cold or drafty room, and can even lower your heating bill by a few dollars in some situations.
Chosen wisely and used properly, space heaters are also safe. In this, report I present the best performing space heaters as identified by expert reviews and user feedback, as well as what you need to be aware of to find the perfect space heater for your not-so-perfectly warm space.
Note that this report covers electric space heaters intended for use inside the home.
You can also find space heaters fueled by kerosene, natural gas and other combustible fuels. However, those are generally not recommended for use inside the home unless some type of venting to the outside is provided, and many states have banned unvented kerosene heaters for indoor use.
Scroll down for full reviews on the 7 best space heaters
Things You Need to Know About Home Space Heaters
What Every Good Space Heater Has
- The right heat for the job. In most cases, the best heater will be one that heats up fast and distributes the heat quickly, using a fan — meaning a convection heater with fan such as a ceramic space heater or a forced air heater. Oil-filled radiators take a different approach; they are slow to warm and most lack a fan, but they retain their heat long after they are turned off making them a good choice for sleeping areas (where normally having an operating space heater is not advisable, experts say). Infrared heaters are best for quick heat, and many include a fan so they can cover a large space. However I recommend you ignore some manufacturer claims and keep expectations reasonable.
- Easy-to-use temperature settings. Nearly all owners agree they need some control over heat output; the best heaters give you the option to set either a specific temperature (i.e. in degrees Fahrenheit) or a relative temperature (i.e. high, medium, low), which helps save energy.
- Safety features: Most experts agree that the best space heaters include adequate safety features. Tip-over sensors are advisable, and an overheat cut-off is essential. Other things to look for in a space heater is a case that stays cool to the touch, heat exhausts that don’t become excessively hot, and nice, tight grills that keep the curious fingers of little ones away from heated elements.
Will a Space Heater Work For You?
In reading user reviews, one of the most-often cited disappointments is that one space heater or another failed to heat a space adequately. However, that’s often the result of unrealistic expectations — or inflated marketing claims — rather than a failure of the appliance.
Space heaters are designed for spot heating or supplemental heating for a small to standard-sized room. Seamus Bellamy at TheSweethome.com points out that the largest electric space heater you can buy for use in the U.S. tops out at 1,500 watts, which is sufficient to heat up no more than a room of 150 square feet (10 by 15 feet) or less.
A fan can help spread that heat out in that space faster and more completely, but can’t help a space heater cover a larger area. Performance can also be affected by external factors such as inadequate insulation or drafty windows or doors. Most of the heaters covered in this report are rated at 1,500 watts, though some also have lower-power settings for smaller rooms.
Does Noise Matter to You?
Reports indicate that most modern space heater are very good or excellent when it comes to keeping noise-levels reasonable, and that includes models with the most powerful fans. Still, if you will be using the space heater in an area where quiet is important, look for models that have the best feedback regarding noise.
Do You Need Consistent Heat?
Many owners rely on a space heater to deliver consistent heat, oftentimes while sleeping at night. However, experts from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) strongly recommend that you never go to sleep with a space heater still operating.
For bedrooms, that makes oil-filled radiator space heaters a better choice; they are slower to warm up than other types of space heaters, but they retain heat much longer — hours after they are turned off. Models with timers that turn the heater on and off at preset intervals (such as in the morning or at bedtime) provide added convenience.
Do You Care What the Heater Looks Like?
If a space heater is used only occasionally or in private areas of the home (or office), appearance might not matter much. For some, though, an unattractive heater isn’t ideal. For aesthetes, design may be worth a higher price.
Types of Space Heaters
There are two basic types of electric space heaters: radiant and convection. Convection heaters — like convection ovens — move hot air around to create warmth. A fan blows air across internal heating elements and out into the room. This makes convection units especially effective for warming entire rooms or many people.
Ceramic space heaters are the most popular type of convection space heater. Electricity flowing through wires heats a ceramic element, which in turn heats the air. Almost all ceramic heaters include a fan to distribute the warmed air most effectively.
Some forced air heaters use a non-ceramic heating element to warm the air, and then use a larger, more powerful fan to spread that warmed air over a large area. Their fans can also pull double-duty to help cool rooms in the warmer months.
Convection also comes into play when liquid moves across a heating element. That’s why, while it might seem counter-intuitive, oil-filled radiator style space heaters are considered to be convection heaters, even though they lack a fan.
Oil filled radiators are slow to warm up, but they keep giving off heat long after they are turned off, making them a good choice for sleeping areas. Some radiator-style heaters use mica panels instead of heated oil to produce heat. These warm up faster than oil-filled designs, are lighter, and are flat enough to mount on a wall. However, they also cool down quickly, losing one of the key advantages of oil-filled radiators.
Radiant heaters, on the other hand, warm people or objects, not the air around them. The heat from these heaters doesn’t circulate well and can’t be used to warm a whole room, but for fast heat for a short time, they’re more efficient than convection heaters. Traditional radiant space heaters are a bit more “old-school” than convection heaters and seem to be falling out of vogue. However, infrared space heaters with quartz elements still have a place where the primary goal is heating a person or a smaller area, and some can do a lot more.
Finding the Best Space Heaters
To find the best space heaters, this report considered professional tests, expert reviews and user feedback. ConsumerReports.org has the most comprehensive coverage. Though not completely up-to-date, most of the space heaters covered there remain either current or available at retail.
TheSweethome.com’s coverage is a little more limited, but it looks at popular and well-reviewed space heaters, then tests to find a couple of top choices. I also rely heavily on user reviews, looking at feedback posted at Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Walmart.com and elsewhere. These reviews provide an up-to-date snapshot of how space heaters perform, and touch on long-term factors, such as the reliability of a specific model, that are beyond the scope of most expert testing.
Using this feedback, I consider performance, safety and reliability to name the very best space heaters, along with some choices that could be worth considering for some buyers.
Important: Staying Safe With Space Heaters
Every winter, we hear of at least some space-heater related accidents, sometimes with tragic results. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and based on statistics compiled from 2007 to 2011, one-third of home heating fires and four-fifths of home heating fire deaths involve space heaters. However, when selected wisely and used correctly, space heaters can be quite safe to use.
This report only covers portable electric space heaters, which, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), are the only type of unvented heater that’s safe for use inside the home. Combustion space heaters work by burning fuel, be it kerosene, gas, wood, etc., which results in having the byproducts of combustion, including carbon monoxide, enter your home if they are not effectively vented to the outside. According to the DOE, most states have banned the use of kerosene heaters in the home, and some states have banned the use of unvented natural gas heaters. Vented combustion heaters are safer, but since those are designed to be used in a permanent location next to an exterior wall (to allow for a vent to the outside), they are not exactly portable.
However, while there’s no carbon monoxide risk, electric space heaters still can be a safety hazard if used improperly. The best space heaters are designed to minimize those risks.
Things to look for include a tip-over sensor and switch that will turn the heater off if it is accidentally knocked over. Many heaters have tight grates to keep small fingers from reaching the heating element. Some have sensors that will turn the heater off if it detects an “object” (such as an infant or pet) sitting too close to it for too long. Many also have cabinets that stay cool to the touch. Only buy a space heater that carries UL (Underwriters Laboratory) or similar certification, indicating that it meets current safety standards.
Buying a safe space heater is only half the battle, using it safely is the other half. I found a number of solid, easy-to-follow recommendations from a number of authorities. Those include the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), the NFPA, the DOE and others.
Finding the right place to put your space heater is the first step:
Space heaters should be located on a level, hard and nonflammable surface — a ceramic tile floor is ideal. Don’t put a space heater on a piece of furniture. Keep it well away from the normal paths of foot traffic in your home to prevent it from being accidentally knocked over. Keep combustible materials at least three feet away in all directions. Typical combustibles found in your home include draperies, rugs and bedding. Except in cases where a space heater is designed for bathroom or outdoor use, do not use it in damp areas.
Space heaters should only be used under the direct supervision of a responsible adult. Children and pets should be kept away. Turn off the space heater every time you leave the area. Don’t go to bed with the space heater on, and don’t use it if there’s a person sleeping in the room.
There are electrical considerations as well: Avoid the use of an extension cord if at all possible. If an extension cord is absolutely needed, use the shortest length that works and choose a cord designed for high current draw (14-gauge or heavier wire). That said, “Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords,” the DOE advises.
Check the condition of the space heater’s cord on a regular basis. Look for tell-tale signs of a hazardous cord, including fraying or burnt or otherwise damaged insulation. If the cord doesn’t check out 100 percent, do not use the space heater.
The 7 Best Space Heaters
Best Ceramic Space Heater
The diminutive Lasko 754200 delivers big-time performance, warming up a small room or office in no time flat. Value is appreciated by owners and experts, and helps the Lasko 754200 edge out other, pricier and more feature-rich ceramic space heaters in reviews. The lack of a tip-over sensor is a concern, but this space heater has other crucial safety features including an overheat cut-off and a case that stays cool to the touch.
- Heats well
- Good value
- Lacks a tip-over sensor
- Some say it is loud
For a small, inexpensive space heater, the Lasko 754200 often exceeds the expectations of experts and users. It heats quickly and effectively, and its 1,500 watt rating puts it at the top in terms of heat output among all electric space heaters — though its small size makes it better for a bedroom or an office rather than a large family room. Some owners say it’s a bit loud, but experts and other owners say it’s no louder than any other space heater equipped with an effective fan — a plus for better heat distribution. The lack of a tip-over sensor is a major omission, but that’s offset by other effective safety features.
Packs heat for a petite unit. For a heater of this size and price, the Lasko 754200 ceramic space heater is very effective, according to reviewers. The heater puts out a good deal of heat, and its powerful fan circulates the warm air quickly. Testing at TheSweethome.com put it in first place among tested space heaters of all types in heating an 11- by 13-foot room in the least amount of time. We see some durability complaints, but these are in line with what we see with almost all space heaters of all types.
Ease of Use
Not advanced, but straightforward controls. Though the Lasko 754200 has an effective thermostat, it doesn’t offer the digital display, remote control, or timer of some pricier models — which may be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. Owners say they find the two knobs (one for temperature, one for fan) to be very intuitive and simple to use. The heater is also lightweight and easy to move. A long cord (six feet) makes placement without resorting to an extension cord easier.
No tip-over switch. A tip-over switch is often recommended for safer operation of space heaters, and the lack of one on the Lasko 754200 is a concern, but one that doesn’t bother experts and many owners it seems. There is an overheat sensor that will cut-off operation if the heater’s temperature exceeds a safe level. Reviews indicate that the case stays relatively cool during operation.
Noisy fan. We did see some complaints about fan noise, though not very many more than we see with other space heaters equipped with a reasonably powerful fan. TheSweethome.com tests the Lasko and says that its noise level is the equivalent of a refrigerator compressor running at a distance of six feet away. Seamus Bellamy adds that this is about in the middle of the pack among the space heaters the site has recently tested.
Best Oscillating Ceramic Space Heater
The Lasko 6462 is packed with features, including oscillation, which some experts hold is most effective in uniformly distributing heat. Controls are simple and intuitive, and a remote control lets you operate this space heater from your easy chair. The 6462 has a tower design, making tip-over a concern in light of the lack of a tip-over sensor, but other safety features, including overheat cut off, are present and accounted for.
- Effective heat distribution
- Oscillation to heat a space more uniformly
- Lots of features
- Not the best value
- Thermostat might be inaccurate
- No tip over sensor
The Lasko 6462 delivers ample features and ample performance, earning it respect from users and some expert reviewers. The oscillating unit covers a full 360 degrees, or can be set to swing over a smaller arc if it’s set against the wall or in a corner. This ceramic space heater is as feature packed as any, with digital controls and readouts and a remote control. Safety is good, but would be better if there were also a tip-over sensor.
A circle of heat. While a fan is important to spread out the heat in a room, oscillation distributes that heat out more evenly — and the Lasko 6462 has both. This ceramic space heater is billed as being able to swing its heat over a full 360 degree circle, and the sweep can also be adjusted for maximum effectiveness when placed near a wall (180 degrees) or in a corner (90 degrees). The 1,500 watt maximum heat setting is the highest you can get with an electric space heater, though some other space heaters are judged to be a little more effective in heating a whole room or a nearby person in expert tests. Users seem plenty pleased, however. Reliability and durability are factors that typically pull down user ratings, but we spotted fewer complaints on that regard with the Lasko 6462 than with some competing space heaters.
Ease of Use
No sweat. The Lasko 6462 has digital controls on the unit and comes with a functional remote control. Some users say that the touch controls could be a bit better, but with the remote, you don’t ever need to actually touch them. Others welcome the fact that the remote is not a must to set up and use the heater — especially since many remotes sometimes go missing at the most inconvenient times. Testing reveals that the digital thermostat might not be accurate — and we saw a handful of user reviews that say the same thing — but most owners either don’t see the same problem, or consider it to be too inconsequential to comment on it.
No tip-over sensor. This is a tower heater, a type more prone to accidental tip-over than other types. That’s why we consider the lack of a tip-over sensor to be disappointing. However, the Lasko 6462 is otherwise well covered on the safety front. There’s an overheat cut-off that will turn the heater off if it becomes dangerously hot. In one professional test the surface is found to be cool to the touch when the heater is operating.
Powerful, yet quiet. Users report that the fan on the Lasko 6462 is pretty powerful. That’s why it’s notable to see relatively few complaints when it comes to fan noise. One expert test rates the 6462 excellent when it comes to keeping noise highly in check.
Best Decorative Ceramic Space Heater
No one will confuse the Crane Mini Fireplace Heater with a real fireplace, not even if they squint real hard, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impart a nice aesthetic anyway. Users appreciate the warm glow that the mini ceramic fireplace gives off. Some like that you can use the fireplace effect without also bringing up the heat. Aesthetics aside, it’s an impressive performer heating-wise according to tests and user reviews.
Best Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heater
If you want heat that lasts, even hours after the space heater is turned off, the DeLonghi EW7507EB oil-filled radiator is your best bet. It’s a great choice for a bedroom, where experts recommend against having an operating space heater while you sleep. The dual-event 24-hour timer will let you warm things up well before bedtime and again before your alarm goes off in the morning. The design keeps the sides cool, and a remote control adds convenience.
- Programmable timer
- Long lasting heat
- Slow to heat
- No battery back up
The DeLonghi EW7507EB oil-filled radiator heats a room by electrically warming an internal supply of oil. The results closely mimic those of a traditional hot water radiator. That means that the DeLonghi doesn’t give off much heat at first, but given time, it can warm a large room with ease, according to experts and owners. Also, like a traditional radiator, the heat lasts a good long while after the electricity is turned-off, making it ideal for use in a bedroom, where experts suggest going to sleep with an operating space heater isn’t such a hot idea.
Slow starts, but exceptional staying power. Experts recommend oil-filled, radiator-style heaters for well-insulated rooms where the heater will be on for long periods. Like similar models, the DeLonghi EW7507EB oil-filled radiator takes quite a while to initially heat up, but it then provides steady, warm heat, even long after the power is turned off — and enough of it to earn at least one expert recommendation as a good space heater for larger spaces. Still, if you want spot heating or fast heating, a ceramic space heater like the Lasko 754200 is a better, more economical choice.
Ease of Use
Digital controls a plus … and a minus. The DeLonghi EW7507EB features an all-digital control system. Most reviewers find it easy to use, but some bypass the extra features and programming capabilities and just use the manual controls.
For others, the dual event 24-hour timer lets you raise and lower temperatures in up to two cycles of up to eight hours each over a day. That means, for example, you can set the radiator to turn on and get the room toasty before you awake, then turn off later in the morning, only to repeat the cycle before you turn in for the night.
There’s also a remote control for added convenience, but what’s not convenient is that the heater’s LCD display is judged hard to read by some. The timer also lacks a battery backup — unplug the heater or lose power and you’ll need to reprogram the timer. Like all oil-filled radiators, the DeLonghi EW7507EB takes a while to warm up a room — one reason that the timer is such a nice plus. There are three output levels (700, 800 and 1,500 watts) so you can scale the heat output to the size of the room.
Stays cool to the touch. Touching a standard radiator when it’s hot is not a pleasant experience. However, the DeLonghi EW7507EB oil-filled space heater features a design that directs heat upwards, out of reach of children and pets, keeping its sides cool to the touch. There’s no tip-over sensor — but toppling this weighty radiator is something that’s unlikely to happen by accident. There is an overheat cut-off for added safety, and the remote control means you never have to touch the radiator at all to set or adjust it.
Oil-filled radiators sometimes draw complaints over operating odors, but the majority of user reviews that comment on the EW7507EB’s odor either marvel that it’s not an issue, or say that smells that can be detected when new are banished forever after a few hours of use.
A silent operator. Unlike other types of space heaters, oil-filled radiators lack a fan so they are among the quietest whole-room space heaters you can buy. Professional testers and owners agree, the DeLonghi EW7507EB is very quiet. We did see a few comments that noted a clicking sound when the heater cycled on or off, but most did not find it objectionable.
Best Forced Air Space Heater
The Vornado AVH2 is a forced-air space heater that can warm large or small rooms, and it does a good job at spot warming — when you want to warm an individual person rather than a larger space. It lacks much in the way of extras, but it’s judged to be easy to use. It’s also relatively safe around kids and pets with a cool case and exhaust outlet during operation. It can double as a cool-air fan in warmer months.
Best Designer Space Heater
If style is more important than price, no space heater makes more of a statement than the Dyson AM09.
Reviews reveal that it’s also among the most effective space heaters for the cold months, and an outstanding fan for the cool ones. The bladeless design and cool case are pluses if young ones are around. But look elsewhere if value is a concern as you can find space heaters that are nearly as good for hundreds less.
Best Infrared Space Heater
Most space heaters work by heating up the air, but infrared space heaters like the Honeywell HZ-980 work by heating up people and objects in the room. Many infrared heaters are cheap, lower power affairs, but the HZ-980 is quite different.
With a rated power of 1,500 watts, and aided by a powerful fan, this Honeywell infrared heater is judged by reviewers to do a great job of heating up a person, and a very good job in heating up a standard room.
- Great spot heating
- Good safety features
- Plain aesthetics
Plain and unassuming in its black plastic case, the Honeywell HZ-980 quietly racks up some of the better reviews among larger infrared space heaters. It’s feature packed, including digital controls and readouts, an energy usage indicator, a limited but useful timer, and a remote control.
Have reasonable expectations. Some competing infrared space heaters are victims of their own marketing, promising better energy efficiency and heating performance than they can reasonably deliver under most circumstances.
The Honeywell HZ-980 (made under license by Kaz), largely avoids most of that. Instead, testing reveals it to be a competent space heater that does a great job in spot heating, and a very good one in heating up even a reasonably large room. The manufacturer claims that the HZ-980 saves 35 percent in energy costs compared to a standard 1,500-watt heater, but that has not been independently verified. However, there is a built-in energy use meter for owners to monitor consumption for themselves.
Ease of Use
Digital simplicity. The clean, digital controls on the Honeywell HZ-980 are judged to be very good when it comes to ease of use, and we saw no notable user complaints in that regard. There’s a top-mounted control panel with digital readouts as well as a remote control. There’s also a built-in 8-hour timer, but it is adjustable only in one-hour increments — adequate but certainly not very flexible.
Strong safety features. The Honeywell HZ-980 is equipped with most of the safety features experts recommend. Those include a four-way tip-over sensor and overheat protection. The case stays relatively cool to the touch, but one expert testing organization comments that the area right around the heat exhaust can get a little toasty. Mommy blogger Cindi Riley notes the same thing, but adds that things don’t get hot enough to cause serious worry of a child being burned.
In the ear of the beholder. One independent testing organization rates the Honeywell HZ-980‘s noise levels to be excellent. Most of the limited user reviews we spotted agree, or are silent themselves on the issue.
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