Smart bargain hunters can save some money on energy bills this winter with a little help from a strategically placed electric heater. A cheap space heater is just the right size to keep a room toasty, letting you comfortably lower the central heating, and your energy costs along with it. The market is full of effective, portable space heaters — from traditional ceramic and fan space heaters to infrared space heaters and more — that won't put your budget on ice.
Top brands include Lasko, Vornado, DeLonghi, Honeywell, and Holmes, all of which make a range of space heaters that are designed to warm up rooms of many sizes. While our report is focused on fairly basic, low-priced models that are made for small spaces, if you need to heat a space like a garage, basement, or living room, a medium or large space heater that uses propane or kerosene, or an oil-filled radiator, is probably a better option. Prices for a large or medium space heater such as these range from about $100 to $300.
To determine our picks, we considered both expert and consumer feedback. We looked closely at the outcomes of testing by Consumer Reports and Wirecutter, as well as space heater roundups by product reviewers at Popular Mechanics and Digital Trends, among others. At the same time, we found that the best space heater reviews often come from consumers posting on retail sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, and Walmart. This input from users offers valuable insight into how these products actually fare when it comes to real-world performance.
Reviewers place high value on effectiveness, user-friendliness, and durability. First and foremost, consumers are looking for a personal space heater that generates heat quickly and spreads it throughout the room, maintaining a comfortable temperature. Portable heaters are especially in demand because most users want the option of easily moving a space heater from room to room at home or transporting it to a workspace. Pricier heaters often come with fancy features such as digital displays, programmable settings, and even air filters. But, with cheap space heaters, even simple features like adjustable thermostats or, more rarely, the convenience of a remote control are appreciated.
Look at any best space heater review and you’ll frequently see noise level brought up as a factor in overall satisfaction. The fans in convection models, in particular, can be bothersome. And while maintenance is easy with most of these products, consumers often comment on durability, because once a part breaks, generally the entire heater must be replaced.
Convection Space Heaters
These models force the surrounding air across a heating element in order to warm it. The heat builds slowly and lasts a long time. Some models oscillate to circulate heated air around the room, while others have high-powered blowers to warm a space more quickly on cold days. Although some models house metal heating coils, a great many rely on a ceramic heating element, which is why these types of portable space heaters are often referred to as ceramic space heaters.
Although generally effective and cheap, convection heaters are recommended only for enclosed, small rooms. They use a good deal of energy and can potentially run up the electric bill if you're not careful. But, if you use one for supplemental or spot heating — while also turning down your home thermostat — you may realize some overall savings.
Radiant Space Heaters
A radiant heater spreads heat like a campfire, warming nearby objects and people rather than moving air. Radiant heat units can be put to good use in very small spaces, such as warming feet under a desk, but the heat doesn’t last long or spread out around a room very well, because there’s no circulation component.
Infrared space heaters emit infrared radiation that is then absorbed by the objects that the light rays touch. This sort of directed heating cuts down on wasted energy spent heating unoccupied portions of a room.
Micathermic Space Heaters
Alternatively, an electric mica panel heater (or a micathermic heater) is another attractive and efficient option, particularly for warming a larger room size. They work almost like a combination of a convection and a radiant heater, and, thanks to the mica at their core, emit electromagnetic waves that transfer heat out to the surrounding area.
Since they don’t include fans, micathermic heaters are completely silent. They also heat rooms faster than other space heaters, and their thin, flat profiles make them increasingly popular choices for consumers who wish to wall mount them in the interest of saving space or reducing safety/tipping risks in homes with children or pets. Better models sell for around $75 and up. (Although we don’t review it here, the DeLonghi HMP1500EX1 makes it onto the top lists of many industry enthusiasts and claims its share of positive endorsements from users.)