Space Heater Buying Guide

A popular heating appliance for people who live in cold-weather climates, a space heater is an effective way to keep rooms warm without breaking the bank. For many people, heating costs can run very high, taking up almost 50 percent of their overall electrical bill. Even in warmer climates like the southwestern United States, there can be significant drops in nighttime temperatures, so a reliable, portable heating system can be important. Space heaters help save the user money by taking the strain off their main heating system while providing a comfortable living environment.

The Different Types of Space Heaters

Convection Heaters

One of the most common types of space heaters, convection heaters work by heating the air around them and blowing the heated air into the room. The device uses electrically heated coils, wires, or ceramic elements inside the unit to heat the air in and around the system. These devices are an excellent option for heating a single room or heating a small area in a room. Convection heaters provide heat over several hours and take very little time to reach their peak temperature. If you shut off a convection heater, the warm air will linger for some time, and the internal elements will remain hot until they are given adequate time to cool off.

Convection heaters that don’t come with a fan or some form of circulation system can take a long time to heat the room because they rely on natural air currents instead of a mechanical system. One of the main reason people purchase convection heaters without a circulation system is because they’re much quieter to run and require less electricity to operate. Convection heaters with fans can circulate the air faster, but they’re much noisier and often come at a higher price. Some models oscillate to direct the heat all around the room, but many models of convection heaters simply blow air in a single direction. Convection heaters come in a range of sizes, but are typically used for heating individual rooms.

Radiant Heaters

Using infrared technology to produce heat, radiant heaters are great at warming people and small spaces. Differing from convection heaters, radiant heaters run electricity through a quartz tube or a ribbon filament, which projects heat directly to the people and objects surrounding the heater. Due to its design, a radiant heater heats up quickly, but the heat dissipates almost immediately after the system is turned off.

The heat from the average radiant heater won’t fill a room, but some high-end models come with fans to help distribute the warmth. As a general rule, the radiant heater’s size directly affects its output. Tall tower models have long heating elements, so they can reach large areas and heat large rooms effectively. Smaller box units might be placed under a desk to warm someone’s feet or in a small bedroom on a cold night. Quiet and energy efficient, radiant heaters are an excellent choice for small-range and short-term use.

Non-Electric Space Heaters

While the majority of space heaters run off electricity, there are several other types of heaters that use fuels, such as propane, natural gas, kerosene, and oil. While there are some oil-filled heaters that are designed for home use, the majority of heaters are not safe to use indoors. Many non-electric heaters require ventilation, or the user runs the risk of starting a fire or causing carbon monoxide to build up in the room. Many models of non-electric space heater have an open flame, so that’s also important to consider. The majority of non-electric space heaters are designed for outdoor use or for use in semi-closed spaces, like garages or sheds.

Non-electric space heaters are measured and sized according to their BTU rating instead of in watts. A mid-range space heater would typically offer between 10,000 and 40,000 BTUs, but larger and smaller units can still be purchased.

Space Heater Features to Look For

Space heaters offer a variety of functions that can work to increase the device’s heat output, or to make the user interface easier to use. When researching and purchasing a space heater, there are a few things that you should keep an eye on and fully understand, so you can purchase the optimal heater to suit your needs.

Wattage

In general, the wattage of the heater directly affects its output and higher wattages typically produce more heat. The rating for a mid-range space heater can range from 900 watts to 1,500 watts, and many units come with high and low switches that offer multiple power settings. Some models that are meant for heating large spaces can use 4,000 to 5,000 watts or more.

Safety Inspection Labeling

When purchasing a space heater, make sure the device comes with UL labels from Underwrites Laboratory to verify that it meets United States Safety standards. Other safety labels might come from Intertek or the Canadian Standards Association. It’s recommended that the space heater come with at least one of these safety certificates.

Automatic Shut-Off Switch

Even though an automatic shut-off switch has become standard among space heaters, it’s still important to check that your unit has one. If the unit tips over or overheats, it’s important that the unit have some way to automatically disengage the power and reset the internal functions. Some units will also switch off if something comes in contact with the protective grill. This is an excellent option for anyone who lives in a house with pets or small children.

Power Cord Length

A device with an adequately long cord helps make the device more convenient and helps with placement. A long cord will also mean that you don’t need to use an extension cord to bring the heat source to where you need it.

Handle

Both a safety feature and a necessity, a handle makes carrying the heater convenient to carry from room to room. A sturdily built handle is a must for any type of space heater.

Capacity Rating

Many units prominently display the amount of space a unit can adequately heat. Properly researching the capacity of the room you want to heat will help avoid having too little heat in one room. The capacity is typically measured in square feet and correlated directly to the size of the room.

Thermostats

Convenient and practical, thermostats are an essential part of any space heater. Most thermostats allow the user to set their desired temperature, and the device then self regulates, which means user doesn’t have to turn the device on and off again when it’s too warm or too cold. Thermostats also help to save energy because the user won’t have to leave the device running continuously. Many space heater thermostats also come with multiple wattage settings, so the thermostat can work effectively with the increased or decreased power.

Timers

Another feature on most space heaters is a time, which allows automatic shutoff after a set period of time. This can be useful if you want to set the device to shut off while you’re asleep, or run for a certain amount of time while you’re out of the house. Some devices come with remote controls, but in many cases, the remote control only has basic functions. A space heater with an advanced controller that includes timers and other functions usually comes with high-end devices.

Space Heater Safety

One of the main concerns of anyone who owns and operates an electric heater is keeping the device in good condition and safe for regular use. If the internal vents become blocked or the heating element comes in contact with flammable materials, then there’s a chance that an accident might occur. Improper use might also lead to the device overheating or tipping over. Here are a few simple ways to enjoy the benefits of a space heater while lowering the risk of your device having an accident.

One of the simplest ways to keep your space heater safe is to set it up away from flammable items such as clothing, curtains, and furniture. The optimal range is at least three feet away from something flammable on all sides of the heater. Make sure to keep the device away from flammable liquids such as kerosene, paint, alcohol, and nail polish. Also, keep the device away from aerosol spray cans and matches.

When setting up the space heater, try to keep it on a flat, level surface, and try to keep the heater off of tabletops unless it’s been designed for that purpose. If the heater is placed on an uneven surface or a tabletop, the device is much more likely to fall over and break. If a device is left unattended on an uneven surface there’s a chance that a child or pet will accidentally knock it over and cause an accident.

When possible, plug the heating unit directly into the wall instead of into an extension cord. If the extension cord you’re using isn’t a high enough gauge it can overload the plug and damage the space heater. Don’t use a frayed power cord, and try to avoid plugging into power strips with other appliances. Be aware that if the cord gets warm, there may be a problem with the circuitry, or the device is being overloaded.

Having a heating system is one thing, but using it in a safe way is another! Keep it safe and enjoy the warm temperature in your home.

For more tips for safe use of portable heaters, watch this youtube movie: