What every best 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 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). Small infrared heaters are best for quick heat for a small area. Larger infrared heaters include a fan so they can cover a bigger space. However we 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.
  • Quiet operation: The fans that help heaters circulate warm air can often be noisy, yet top models these days -- even forced air heaters with powerful fans -- do a good job of keeping noise down. to acceptable levels, even in quiet spaces.

Know before you go

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, instead, 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 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.

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.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Space Heaters: If you need a little extra warmth for a cold winter's day or night, one of these top-performing space heaters will fill the bill.

Space Heater Safety: Don't become a statistic. Follow these tips and guidelines for safe, effective use of your electric space heater.

Best Ceramic Space Heaters: Ceramic space heaters are popular for indoor use. These are the top choices, along with some good alternatives that are worth considering.

Best Oil-filled Radiator Space Heaters: Oil-filled radiators heat up slowly, but stay warm longer. That makes them a great option for some uses, and a not-so-hot one for others. We discuss the particulars and name the top performers.

Best Forced Air Space Heaters: These combine a powerful fan and a heater in one package. They are great choices for warming up large spaces quickly, but the best models can get costly.

Best Infrared Space Heaters: The benefits and drawbacks of infrared space heaters generates some heated debate. We look at these and other radiant heaters and tell you which ones are worth considering.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to find the best space heaters. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.

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