Radiant heaters work by sending electricity through a ribbon element or quartz tube, quickly generating warmth directly in front of the unit. This makes them a good choice for warming a small space like the chilly corner of an office or workshop, and the U.S. Department of Energy says radiant heaters are the most efficient heating choice if you are going to be in a room for a short time. However, radiant heaters can't distribute heat very far from the heating element. If you buy a radiant heater expecting it to raise the temperature in the whole room, you'll be disappointed. Moreover, the heating element gives off a reddish glow that some users may find annoying or distracting.
We found few reviews (from either professionals or users) for this type of heater, and fewer still that were positive. ConsumerReports.org, the only publication to review radiant heaters, says that as a group, they "didn't shine" in testing. One model, the Soleus Air MS-09 , has no thermostat to control the temperature, while another, the Lakewood 205 , lacks key safety features such as overheat protection. Overall, users and experts prefer convection heaters with fans, which are covered below.
The Optimus H-5210 Infrared Quartz Heater (*Est. $30) is one exception -- it receives a great deal of popular support in more than 300 reviews at Amazon.com. Owners appreciate this product's efficiency -- the heater uses only 800 watts on high and 400 watts on low -- and low noise level. Users say it operates almost silently, even when cycling on or off. "It's totally silent, it doesn't smell, it doesn't use much electricity, and it does a great job of warming up a room," says one owner.
Most reviewers are happy with the heat output, although several owners say the Optimus H-5210 Infrared Quartz Heater isn't powerful enough to heat large rooms. We also read several complaints about the heater failing shortly after purchase. "It worked one day, and the next it simply wouldn't turn on," says one owner. Others wish that the Optimus H-5210 had a thermostat for more precise heating control; it also doesn't have a built-in fan, but most users consider it a good value.
Unlike the Optimus H-5210 Infrared Quartz Heater, the Soleus Air MS-09 Oscillating Radiant Heater has been subjected to comparison tests. It isn't a top performer, but most of the 100 reviews at Amazon.com are positive. Owners say it heats well and, unlike some radiant heaters, doesn't get too hot to touch. In addition, the Soleus Air MS-09 is nearly silent, which is a big selling point for some owners. However, it gives off a very bright glow -- so bright that many owners caution against looking at it while it's turned on. "Sometimes I forget and look directly at this thing and get blinded," says one reviewer. The heater also attracts a few durability complaints from owners who say it failed after a few months of use.
Like the Optimus H-5210, the Soleus Air MS-09 heater is more energy-efficient than most, with 800- and 400-watt settings. It does not have a fan, but the space heater oscillates to direct heat to different areas. It also includes a tip-over safety switch.
EdenPure is another option. Back in 2010, ConsumerReports.org tested the Gen 3 Model 1000 , which is EdenPure's most popular space heater. This is a quartz infrared heater, but it also utilizes a fan to circulate heat throughout a room. Other features include an electronic thermostat, remote control and a front control panel.
In a free report, editors at ConsumerReports.org say the EdenPure Gen 3 Model 1000 has good heat output, and the thermostat does a fine job of maintaining a consistent temperature. However, editors question EdenPure's claim that the space heater can reduce your heating bill, saying it's not feasible for most people to keep their home's heat at 50 degrees and move the space heater from room to room. In the end, ConsumerReports.org says the EdenPure Gen 3 Model 1000 is just too expensive for what it does. "Why drop about $400 on this portable heater when you can find several significantly less-expensive models that rated a very good overall score?" the editors write (the price has since dropped to $300 because a newer model has hit the market). Users at Amazon.com agree, giving the EdenPure Gen 3 Model 1000 a 2.5-star rating in more than 120 reviews.
EdenPure's latest model, the Gen 4 , is said to have a more efficient fan, improved thermostat and more consistent heat output. Users at Amazon.com, however, are not overly impressed, giving the EdenPure Gen 4 a 3-star rating. While some owners are happy with the heater and say it does a good job of heating a room, others say their electric bill went up after they started using the EdenPure heater. The high price is also an issue for consumers. "You can get the exact same result for around $30 at your local hardware store," says one reviewer.