As heating costs rise and portable heater technology advances, more Americans are looking for economical ways to heat their homes. Running a portable heater in the rooms you use most lets you keep your thermostat at a lower heat setting and can save you money on energy and utility costs.
Portable heaters are also ideal for rooms that are cold due to inadequate heating or spaces where central heat can’t be installed—like a garage. With various types, features, prices, and controls, finding the right one can be confusing. Use this guide to find a heater that suits your needs.
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Electric space heaters can be categorized into 4 groups based on how they heat your space. Here’s a brief description to help determine which technology is best for you:
Space heaters come in an array of styles to meet portable heating needs in the home and workplace:
Be sure to buy a portable heater that’s rated for the approximate square footage or dimensions of your space. An electric space heater that’s too large will consume a lot of energy and lead to higher utility bills. On the contrary, buying a portable gas or electric heater that’s too small won’t heat your space adequately and increases the chance of overheating.
Size Equation: You can determine how large of an area a portable heater is equipped for using its wattage output. As a rule of thumb, you'll need roughly 10 watts of heating power for every square foot of floor area in the room. This means that a 1,500-watt heater can be the primary heat source for an area measuring up to 150 square feet. If it’s used as a supplemental heating source, however, the heater will cover a much larger area.
Thermostats are generally considered the most important feature customers consider before buying a space heater. A programmable thermostat means hassle-free operation, because it programs your desired heat setting and automatically cycles the heater on and off to maintain it. Your room will stay at the set temperature without any additional work for you!
Other features to consider:
Manufacturers equip heaters with advanced safety features to greatly reduce the risk of fires and overheating. Keep your eye out for these:
Additionally, heaters that are certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NTRL) have been tested to ensure they don't contain faulty and hazardous electrical components. Before purchasing a heater, it's also a good idea to review your homeowner's or renter’s insurance policy to make sure it won’t be invalidated in the case of a fire accidentally sparked by one of these units.
As a general rule of thumb, fan-equipped portable heaters are noisier than fanless units. In fact, fanless heaters exhibit nearly silent operation. Most of today's advanced portable heaters—even those equipped with fans—are still much quieter than older models. Many Vornado heaters are whisper quiet even with internal fans circulating air throughout a room. Look for a decibel rating listed in the heater's specifications when comparing units. The higher the rating, the louder the heater operates. Check out our micathermic heaters for some of our quietest models.
Along with multiple heat settings, some portable electric heaters offer multiple power levels. These levels are generally measured in watts, amps, or BTUs. A BTU (or British Thermal Unit) rating is useful when comparing the energy output of portable heaters, because BTUs measure the heating capacity of various fuels, heating units, and cooling systems. If a heater's BTU rating isn't listed, you can easily calculate it using this equation:
Heater Wattage Rating X 3.413 (the number of BTUs that equal 1 watt) = BTU Output
For example, an 800-watt heater would deliver 2,730 BTUs and a 1,500-watt space heater would produce roughly 5,120 BTUs of heat. The higher a heater’s BTU rating, the better its heating performance.
It's a good idea to figure out the monthly cost of operating a portable heater before choosing a portable heater. Although operating costs will vary depending on the heater type and your room size, a simple math equation gives you an estimate of average operating costs for your space heater. To calculate the daily cost of operating a space heater, use this equation:
Kilowatts Per Hour x Electricity Rate x Operating Time = Daily Operational Cost
To determine your kilowatts used per hour, find the wattage listed on the heater and divide it by 1,000 (a 1,500-watt heater will use 1.5 kilowatts per hour). Your utility rate, or the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity, should be listed on your electric bill. Once you know the kilowatts used per hour and the cost of kilowatts per hour, plug in the number of hours you plan to use the heater each day.
For example, a 1,500-watt portable space heater that runs for 12 hours a day at a rate of $0.10 per kilowatt hour will cost $1.80 per day. Here’s how it looks: 1.5 Kilowatts Used Per Hour X $0.10 kWh X 12 hours = $1.80 a day.
When calculated over the length of a normal electric billing cycle, that's approximately $54 a month.
For more information on specific heaters and other indoor air treatment solutions, review our extensive product listings and other Knowledge Center articles. Not sure what's best for you? Contact our product experts toll free at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help you make your indoor environment healthy and comfortable.