Though some also have fans to spread out their heat, infrared space heaters are generally most effective in heating up a person or a small area rather than a whole room. The most basic type consists of a quartz or electric ribbon element and a rear reflector. This type of radiant space heater is fairly "old school;" it's rarely reviewed, and when it is, feedback is mixed at best.
We do see better feedback for larger infrared heaters, which include more heating elements and a fan system inside a somewhat bulky enclosure. The Honeywell HZ-980 (Est. $175) gets the best professional feedback in this category, earning a Recommended rating from one independent reviewer. As is the case with all infrared heaters, and despite the presence of a fan in this model, it's judged better at spot heating than in heating a whole room -- in fact, in a free article, ConsumerReports.org calls it one of the best spot heaters it has tested of late -- though it's still considered very good in handling the latter.
User reviews of the Honeywelll HZ-980 are tough to analyze because they vary so much by site. Amazon.com hosts around a hundred, and ratings are a concern largely because a significant minority of owners get heaters that are dead right out of the box. Those who receive working heaters rate the HZ-980 highly, as do users at other sites. For example, though there is less feedback, it earns a 4.3-star rating at BestBuy.com, with around 84 percent saying that they would recommend it to a friend, which is about typical user feedback for most space heaters. At Walmart.com, just over 20 users grant the HZ-980 a 4.7-star rating, with 96 percent offering it a recommendation.
Kaz, which makes this space heater under license from Honeywell, doesn't bother too much with aesthetics. Where many larger infrared space heaters in this class are housed in wood cabinets that more closely resemble a piece of furniture than a supplemental heating source, the HZ-980 comes in a basic black plastic cabinet. It is, however, relatively feature-rich. There are touch screen controls, LED readouts and an included remote control, and reviews indicate that the heater is easy to use. The maker claims that the HZ-980 saves 35 percent on energy bills compared to a standard 1,500 watt space heater. While those claims are not independently verified, there is an energy use indicator that displays current usage. There's also a timer to automatically shut off the heater after between one and eight hours.
The Honeywell HZ-980 is well equipped on the safety front as well. There's both overheat protection and a four-way tip-over detector. Most of the case is cool to the touch when running, but testing reports that the heat exhaust opening can get warm to the touch.
If you want an infrared heater with something nicer than a black plastic cabinet, the Dr. Heater DR968 (Est. $140) could be worth considering. We did not see any feedback from professional reviewers that we consider reliable, but there is extensive user feedback available, and this infrared heater rates fairly decently. At Amazon.com, more than 1,800 owners have left reviews and the DR968 earns a 4.3-star rating -- putting it toward the top end of all space heaters with lots of feedback. There's less feedback at Air-n-Water.com, but the infrared space heater earns a score of 4.7 stars after just over 50 reviews. We also saw over 15 reviews at HomeDepot.com, where it earns a 4.6-star score.
While most users seem happy with the Dr. Heater DR968, we did see the usual complaints of heaters that either arrived damaged or that stopped working all too soon. The DR968 is covered by a three-year warranty, but some encounter difficulties in having it honored. Others are disappointed about the heat output, something that some users -- even those that rate this heater highly -- say is the result of inflated marketing claims in that regard by the manufacturer. However, those negative comments are more than offset by those from users that are very pleased with the DR-968, claiming sufficient heating for their purposes and good customer support in addressing issues.
The DR968 is also relatively feature rich. It is housed in an attractive light-wood enclosure, with a black grill and control panel on the front. We saw no complaints regarding ease-of-use, and the heater has push-button controls, an LED readout and a remote control. It lacks a timer, however. Safety provisions include both a tip-over sensor and an overheat cut-off.
Elsewhere in this report: