How to Choose the Best Space Heater | Research Guide
Space heaters are a great way to heat rooms as the weather cools. You might not know where to start, so this guide is created to help you choose the best space heater for your needs. We’ll cover methods of heating, types of space heaters, features, appearance, size, safety, energy consumption and other helpful tips.
To start off, what do we mean by space heater?
The term “space heater” refers to any appliance that heats an enclosed space. Central heating, on the other hand, refers to a system that heats multiple connected spaces at the same time.
Space heaters offer extra warmth for a part of a building. Many believe that space heaters can reduce energy bills, but that only occurs when lowering heat other rooms. Compared to other sources, electricity can be an expensive way to heat a room, so be sure to take that into account.
Methods of Heating: Convection & Radiant
There are two primary methods of heating used by space heaters: Convection and Radiant. Both are reliable and safe, but you’ll likely find that one better addresses your heating needs.
Convection heaters circulate air across an appliance’s heating element. This causes the air to warm, rise, and move away from the heating element. To better facilitate air movement, most modern convection heaters have fans. These heaters are mostly used in medium to large rooms.
Radiant heaters transfer heat to the objects and people around them instead of heating air like convection heaters. Heat is transferred in a similar way to sunshine, heating elements of a room through windows, even in the winter. These heaters generally don’t use fans and are great for small rooms or parts of rooms.
Types of Heaters
The most common type of space heater nowadays is a ceramic heater. A type of convection heater, ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element inside the appliance to efficiently heat surrounding air and warm an enclosed area. This type of heater is usually small and portable (though sometimes comes in “tower heater” varieties), heats quickly, and self-regulates temperature, reducing danger of overheating.
Ceramic heaters often come with fans, multiple settings, and a timer, allowing maximum control over heat output. Because the heating elements are contained within the appliance, many are also safe to touch, which makes them a useful option for heating children’s rooms, as well.
Infrared space heaters, sometimes referred to as “heat lamps”, use radiant heating to warm areas. There are many different materials used in infrared heaters, but the most common are tungsten, carbon, quartz, and aluminum. Touting energy efficiency, infrared heaters are quieter than other heaters and easily warm small spaces and rooms with high ceilings. Another benefit to using these kind of heaters is that they don’t dry out the air (or your skin). Many infrared heaters are designed double as furniture pieces and blend in with other home decor.
These small convection heaters are highly useful for offices, dorm rooms, and home work spaces. Priced affordably, these heaters usually weigh between one and two pounds, making them extremely portable. They use very little electricity, and are a good alternative to wearing a fleece or snuggie at your desk. Fortunately, these heaters can be used all year round, as many office spaces can be uncomfortably cold, even in the summer.
With a combination of both convection and radiant heating, oil-filled heaters use heating elements to warm oil inside the appliance, which is then spread more evenly using designs with high surface areas. Also referred to as radiators, oil-filled heaters are often used as a low-noise solution, and despite the name, don’t involve actually burning any oil.
Though they can be costly to run if used in large rooms, moving oil-filled heaters to smaller spaces and using a thermostat to regulate temperature can vastly increase efficiency. These heaters also provide a potentially safer alternative to other types of heaters because of lower surface temperatures.
Electric Garage/Shop Heaters
Great for warming large rooms, garages, and industrial spaces, these heaters are high-powered electric heaters that allow work and hobbies to continue, even in cold conditions. These heaters mostly use convection heating and run a few hundred dollars. A built-in thermostat is highly recommended for maximum efficiency since they use quite a bit of electricity.
Electric garage/shop heaters serve as great alternatives to gas-burning heaters. They run much larger and heavier than other space heaters, aren’t as portable (or pleasant to look at) but work extremely well at heating large spaces, and some include ceiling and wall mounts.
Using both convection heat and radiant heat, micathermic heaters are noticeably thin and wide. They rapidly raise temperatures with a heating element covered in mica, an efficient heating mineral. Using metal coils inside of the mica to reach maximum temperature, micathermic heaters are cool to touch and low-noise, making them great low-profile solution for heating small and medium-sized rooms. Although they’re not as portable as other heaters, micathermic heaters can be used as furniture or décor, as some have wall mounts.
For heating outdoor spaces, patio heaters have become a popular and affordable option. Often used for commercial venues, most use gas and are very powerful, allowing outdoor space use in even cold months. Unlike fire pits, they give off constant heat without using wood or expelling smoke, which makes for a safer and more pleasant experience.
Patio Heaters work by amplifying and directing heat to particular areas, hence the traditional domed top. Be sure to consider size and power level of your heater before purchasing. There are large, more permanent unite, but other options include tabletop and wall-mounted version. Some are also portable, using wheels. Use patio heaters only in well-ventilated areas, and keep any flammable materials at least a few feet away to reduce the risk of a fire hazard.
Electric Fireplace Heaters
If you’re looking for a cozy vibe and don’t have or want a real fireplace, electric fireplace heaters offer a great solution. Mostly using convection heating, these heaters can be used as part of home or office’s décor (including some that serve as media consoles).
They’re more cost-efficient than most fireplaces and come in a variety of prices depending on materials used. As an added bonus, electric fireplace heaters often come with a glow-only setting that gives a cozy ambiance, even if heat isn’t needed.
Baseboard heaters efficiently warm air in rooms while staying (mostly) out of sight. They’re more permanent than other heaters but offer a low-cost solution that won’t get in your way. These convection-style heaters are often used to heat basements and storage rooms.
While hot water baseboard heaters can be more efficient than their electric counterparts, installing the required boiler and plumbing may be cost-prohibitive, especially for older houses, condos, or rented dwellings. Using hot water also means that spaces will take longer to heat.
Electric Wall Heaters
Heaters can take up a lot of space, but aside from baseboard heaters, electric wall heaters can be a great solution for indoor areas where space is valuable, especially in hallways or small rooms. They’re also easier to install than migrating central heating to an area (and even easier than ductless mini split systems).
Keep in mind that many of these units require wiring, so when installing your wall heater, consider getting help from a professional electrician. Also, be sure to follow safety instructions and leave enough spacing between the floor and flammable elements, as wall heaters can get pretty hot.
As the name implies, kerosene heaters are gas-fueled heaters that use kerosene heaters are used to heat very large areas, up to thousands of square feet. Often used to heat whole homes or construction worksites, these heaters pack a powerful punch and don’t require electricity to run. Also known as paraffin heaters, these appliances can be used during a power outage.
While less flammable and volatile than gasoline, kerosene is still a combustible fuel, and safety should be exercised when operating these heaters. Be sure to use in a well-ventilated house as fuel can vaporize, and kerosene heaters produce low levels of carbon monoxide. It’s helpful to fill heaters outside or in garages before moving inside.
Convection-type heaters warm air when it’s passed over the heating element. To facilitate this process, most convection-type heaters use a fan to efficiently spread heat throughout a space. For a more even distribution, you can opt for an oscillating one.
A couple of considerations affected by fans are noise and humidity. Most fans are reasonably quiet, though radiant heaters offer a fanless alternative. As for humidity – some heaters with fans can dry out a room, so those sensitive to dry air may use a humidifier, as well.
Thermostats, Timers, and Remotes
In order to regulate temperature and duration, many heaters come with thermostats, timers, and remotes. Space heaters with programmable and manual thermostats keep the temperature at a comfortable level without the risk of over or under-heating a space. If you’re comfortable with electronics, it’s also possible to fit a digital programmable thermostat on a space heater to control temperature even further.
Timers allow you to either preheat rooms or reliably shut off heaters after a period of time. It’s also possible to pair a space heater with an affordable, basic plug-in timer attached to a socket for a similar effect, especially if using the timer at the same time each day.
Space heaters with a remote control are a great option for those who can’t easily reach the heater. While not necessary to operate heaters, remote controls are a feature that can make for a more comfortable experience, especially in larger rooms.
Size and Appearance
Choosing the right sized heater depends on where it will be used. Luckily, many heaters have adjustable settings and can be comfortably used in different-sized spaces. If you’re going to frequently move around with the heater, be sure it’s portable enough for your needs. However, if you’re warming an area that has external openings, like a garage, be sure to account for the necessary extra power.
Most modern space heaters have well-design exteriors that blend in well with rooms. Some larger heaters even serve as functional furniture or look like fireplaces. Whether you’re looking for a rustic, sleek, utilitarian, or cozy feel, there’s no shortage of different designs and sizes.
Not surprisingly, fire is the most common safety risk associated with heaters. Look for space heaters that adhere to safety requirements and and use additional safety features to reduce the risk of fire. Purchase products with a UL (Underwriters Laboratory), CSA (Canadian Standards Association), or ETL (Intertek) marking, which verifies its adherence to safety standards.
Keep heaters away from furniture and flammable items. Be sure to use timers or turn off heaters before you leave a room. There is a risk with any electric device, but if basic precautions are taken, your home and family will stay safe.
Two of the most popular safety features of space heaters are tip-over and overheat triggers. Tip-over triggers kick in after a heater falls, shutting off power before becoming a safety hazard. Particularly useful in spaces with children or pets, tip-over triggers can offer peace of mind and added safety. These switches are located on the bottom of units work best when used on hard surfaces. Overheating triggers sense when a heater becomes too hot and turns off the appliance. In addition to saving energy and discomfort, it decreases the risk of fire.
Electric heaters are now very energy-efficient, so it’s certainly possible to heat rooms on a budget, and fans help to distribute heat more evenly and quickly. Using thermostats and timers give you even more control over how energy is consumed.
Keep electric bills low by only using heaters when necessary. When heating specific rooms, try to lower the temperature of all unused rooms to about 65°, then use your heater to warm active rooms to a comfortable temperature, taking it with you when switching rooms. Using this method, you should be able to keep energy bills low in cooler months without sacrificing comfort.
You may also see units with heat measured in BTUs, which stand for British Thermal Units. If you’re curious about the optimal BTUs for your own indoor space, try our heating BTU calculator.
For some additional tips on choosing the best space heater for your needs:
- Plug electric heaters directly into wall outlets, and don’t use extension cords.
- Place space heaters away from areas with high humidity.
- Remember noise level and humidity when shopping for a heater.
- Keep in mind that convection heaters should heat a space in about 10-20 minutes, with radiant heaters taking a bit longer.
- Calculate roughly 12 watts per square foot of heating space.
Good luck on your next purchase – review our guides for recommended space heaters.
Still have questions? Ask an HVAC expert directly via chat or phone.
Published on 2018-09-02 by Ben Travis
Last updated on 2020-12-28