How to Choose a Type of Space Heater

Electric heater
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Space heaters are an excellent way to warm up an individual room without turning up the thermostat for your entire home. These small, portable heaters can be placed almost anywhere in the house that flammable materials are not present.

There are several different types of heaters to consider when choosing the right model for your need: convection, radiant, and combination heaters all offer different benefits to warm up your space. When used as supplemental heat sources, each option can reduce your home's overall heating bill. This doesn't mean that the electrical bill won't increase slightly (because it will), but the trade-off generally results in savings overall—and plenty more flexibility when choosing which areas you'd like to keep warm.

Here, learn what to consider before buying a new space heater for your home.

Before Buying a New Space Heater

Before you purchase a space heater, take a minute to consider where you will use the heater and which variety is the best for the cold spots in your home. Radiant heaters are best if you want to heat an area very quickly. On the other hand, if you want to warm an entire room in your home, a convection heater is the better choice. If you're looking for a heater that can stand up to everyday use and abuse, combination heaters are tough to beat. Choose the option that best suits your needs depending on the size of your rooms and expected frequency of use. Depending on the brand and heat output, most models tend to cost between around $40 and $200.

Buying Considerations for Space Heaters

Space

An important consideration before purchasing a space heater is the amount of heat you want it to put out. Most heaters use between 600 and 1,500 watts of power per hour. The larger the wattage, the more heat it produces (and the more power it uses). Determine your room's square footage, then consult the heater's specifications to ensure it can efficiently—and safely—heat your space.

Utility Costs

How does heater wattage translate into utility bill charges when using space heaters? The cost will differ between running your heater a few hours per week versus using it as a main source of warmth each day. If your space heater uses 1,500 watts of power per hour, you can calculate its cost on your electric bill. Multiply the wattage by the utility cost rate in your locality: For example, if your electric company charges 10 cents per kilowatt (kWh), running the heater will cost about 15 cents per hour on your bill.

Safety Features

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 25,000 household fires are associated with the use of space heaters each year. Many new models of space heaters include safety features that limit the risk of fires in your home.

The Department of Environmental Health and Safety at Princeton University notes the importance of choosing a heater that features a built-in thermostat and overheat protection. These heaters not only allow you to choose the preferred temperature of your room, but they ensure automatic shut-off if they begin to overheat internally. Many space heaters also include tip-over safety switches: If your household includes children or pets who may be prone to bumping into it throughout the day, this feature automatically turns the heater off if it accidentally tips over.

Warning

While browsing types of space heaters, pay special attention to their plugs and cords. Never plug a space heater into an extension cord, as doing so can create a fire hazard: Instead, use an open outlet.

Types of Space Heaters

Convection Heaters

Convection heaters have a unique design to warm the air in a room, not the people and objects inside. They produce hot air that rises to the ceiling and pushes cooler air to the floor, causing circulation of air in the room. These heaters are either baseboard heaters or water- or oil-filled heaters. Water- and oil-filled heaters are by far the most efficient, and they are generally warm to the touch.

Radiant Heaters

Radiant heaters are used to heat people and objects in a room, not the air specifically. This type of space heater provides warmth to someone sitting in front of it—promptly. If you want heat very quickly, this is a great choice for your home. However, be aware that there are certain dangers associated with radiant heaters. They can burn people and animals when touched, and they present fire hazards when placed too close to flammable or combustible materials. Always place any type of space heater at least three feet away from these objects on all sides.

Combination Heaters

Combination heaters provide the best of both options. They use a fan to help distribute heat throughout the space, but they are not as efficient as the other types of space heaters. They are a good choice for almost any room in your home.

Electric space heaters produce one unit of heat for every one unit of electricity. To help you understand the efficiency of these figures, that means the heaters are 100 percent energy-efficient. Geothermal heat pumps offer three units of heat for one unit of electricity. That translates into 300 percent efficiency.

Cost

Each type of space heater varies in cost depending on the brand and heat output you choose. Convection heaters typically range in price between around $40 to $200, while many models of radiant space heaters cost below $100. Combination heater options are often priced between $60 and $120—but like many common household appliances, different types of space heaters can have price tags upwards of $400-$500 when purchasing from high-end brands.

Since most shoppers tend to purchase space heaters in the late fall or early winter when the weather cools down, it's best to shop ahead of time: Look for the heater of your choice on sale during the spring or summer to prepare for colder temperatures later in the year. However, some heaters can be found at lower prices during Black Friday sales as retailers prepare for the annual increases in demand each winter.

How to Choose a Space Heater

Since each type of space heater uses a different method to warm up your home, it's important to determine your needs before choosing the variety that suits your household best. Some heaters are meant to increase the temperature throughout large rooms, while others are better used to heat smaller areas with higher efficiency. Consider these questions when you start shopping.

How Often Will You Use the Space Heater?

If you're planning to use your space heater to warm a room in your home throughout the day on a regular basis, a convection or combination heater might best suit your needs. These models heat up the air in the room. Convection heaters, in particular, offer circulation by pushing cooler air to the floor after creating hot air that rises to the ceiling.

How Quickly Do You Need Heat?

Radiant space heaters can warm up a smaller area in a hurry. For example, if you're looking for a heater that you can place in front of your favorite lounge chair or seat on the couch during winter evenings, a radiant heater can be placed at your feet to quickly warm up the people and objects in front of it.

Where to Shop

Since space heaters can easily be found in many retail and online stores year-round, the choice of where to purchase yours comes down to personal preference. In-store options provide fast purchases without the wait for shipping, while online stores can offer more brands and varieties.

Buying in-Store

Purchasing a space heater in-store allows you to consider the size and look of each heater in person. When shopping in-store, be sure to check the box to review wattage, specified room sizes, and relevant safety features before choosing the best model for your home.

Buying Online

Shopping online for a space heater offers a wide selection of wattage options, brands, and various features. Start by browsing the models on a trusted site that includes suitable shipping and return options. Once you've found the right retailer to purchase your heater from, consider different models with the safety features and correct room sizes for your household.

Where to Buy a Space Heater

There are plenty of places to buy a space heater. In-store and online retailers sell a large variety of heaters, so the most important consideration for your purchase is the type of space heater you need in addition to your personal preferences regarding room size, safety features, and trusted brands.

FAQ
  • Are space heaters safe to leave on all night?

    It's safe to leave most space heaters on overnight as long as they include features like automatic shut-off for overheating and tipping over. Many models also include thermostats to ensure a consistent temperature during extended hours of use.

  • Can you plug a space heater into a surge protector?

    Always plug your space heater directly into the wall. Avoid the use of surge protectors or extension cords with your heater, as it can overheat these electrical components and increase the risk of fire.

  • Can you get carbon monoxide poisoning from a space heater?

    Space heaters are the most common cause of household CO poisoning. If you're planning to heat your home with a model that uses kerosene or natural gas for fuel, it's important to choose a heater that includes automatic shut-off safety features that measure the level of oxygen in your room.

  • Can space heaters trip the breaker in your home?

    Yes. If your space heater is tripping your home's power breaker, it's an indicator that the heater overloading the circuit. Space heaters cause your circuits to overheat, which causes the breaker to turn off for safety. Always turn the heater off and unplug it when not in use.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Small Space Heaters. United States Department of Energy.

  2. Tips to Live By: Portable Electric Space Heaters. Princeton University Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

  3. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  4. Portable Space Heater Safety. U.S. Department of Energy ETA Safety.