When the weather outside is frightful, a fire certainly would be delightful -- though not always very practical. Instead, a space heater offers 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 heating costs, insulation, how often your heater is used and more.
While heaters can cost anywhere from about $30 to $400, the basic features are pretty consistent. The most common differentiator between the high and low end of the price spectrum is appearance, not performance. Less attractive heaters can work as well, but appearance may be important for some, which is why we've given designer space heaters their own category.
Looks aside, the two basic types of heaters are radiant and convection (prices are comparable). 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. (Some convection models don't have fans, but they're in the minority.)
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 a short time, they're more efficient than convection heaters. Radiant models are a bit more old-school than convection heaters and seem to be falling out of vogue due to safety concerns about extremely hot heating elements. We found no consensus of positive reviews to safely recommend a radiant unit as a top choice. They once offered the advantage of silent heating, but convection heaters have turned down the volume.
Despite their seemingly consistent design and performance, space heaters are professionally tested surprisingly often. Consumer Reports, Australia's Choice magazine and New Zealand's Consumer magazine all ran professional tests of space heaters. We found some older editorial reviews from The New York Times, Slate.com, Real Simple magazine and Good Housekeeping. Consumer reviews also offer insight into best uses and space heaters' longevity, and we found user reviews for many models at Amazon.com, Viewpoints.com, Buzzillions.com, Walmart.com and Target.com. To identify top models, we looked for units that effectively and quickly heat a space (or person, for radiant heaters), are easy and intuitive to use, don't create too much noise and don't pose a high risk of injury or fire.