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:
- Convection heaters are known for their ability to heat entire rooms efficiently and for long periods of time. A convection heater circulates convection currents across a heating element (like electric coil, oil, or electric wire) to create an overall warmth in your space. Most models incorporate fans to circulate warm air across entire rooms, so these are popular heaters for rooms you spend a lot of time in.
- Ceramic heaters are convection heaters that feature a ceramic disc heating element and fan to distribute warm air evenly and efficiently. The heating discs are hidden inside their bodies, which makes them safer and cool to the touch. Ceramic heaters are popular for small spaces like children’s bedrooms and spaces with pets.
- Micathermic heaters use heating technology that combines the processes of convection and radiant heat. This fanless technology reduces the number of dry spots in your room and doesn’t re-circulate dust and other allergens throughout a room—a great benefit for allergy- and asthma-sufferers. They’re typically more lightweight and quieter than other heaters.
- Radiant space heaters are best for spot heating because they deliver focused warmth to areas directly in front of the heater. A radiant heater provides nearly instant warmth to a specific area, so they’re popular in offices, bedrooms, and other small rooms.
Space Heater Styles/Designs
Space heaters come in an array of styles to meet portable heating needs in the home and workplace:
Floor/tower heaters are portable, compact room heaters that often times feature a vertical, space-saving design. They can be placed on the floor and generally have some type of fan that spreads warmth across entire rooms.
Personal heaters deliver focused heat to keep you warm and comfortable. These compact portable heaters can rest on a nightstand, table, or floor and provide immediate warmth to tight spaces.
Wall heaters install on interior walls to provide supplemental heat in bathrooms, basements, and other cold spots in your home. We offer wall-mountable fireplaces, fan-forced electric models, and micathermic panel heaters.
Baseboard heaters heat your air from the floor to ceiling and offset drafts brought in from cold, outdoor air, particularly when placed under windows. Popular in basements, these models offer steady heat, low-cost installation, a low profile, and whisper-quiet operation.
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.
Features to Look For
Thermostats are generally considered the most important feature when buying a space heater. Space heaters tend to have either programmable thermostats or adjustable thermostats. A programmable thermostat lets you program your desired room temperature 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! Adjustable thermostats won't maintain a set temperature, but still regulate heat output based on your selection. Typical adjustable thermostats have either a knob or buttons that adjust the heat from low to high.
Other Features to Consider
- Programmable Timers: Set your heater to turn on and off at certain times to save energy and only use it when it’s needed. For example, you can program it to turn off when you’re at work and turn on right before you get home.
- Wheels/Easy-Grip Handles: Many models are lightweight enough to offer easy mobility, and features like wheels, handles, and round edges make transporting them a breeze.
- Automatic Oscillation: This lets your heater evenly distribute heat from left to right.
- Multiple Heat Settings: Many portable heaters have Low and High settings to give you more control. Multiple settings also let you heat different sized spaces.
- Energy-Saving Modes: Energy-efficient models often include operating modes that reduce energy usage and cost.
- AC and Fan-only modes: Many of our advanced heaters offer AC and fan-only modes for year-round use.
- Remote Control: Easily change modes or adjust settings from anywhere in your room.
- Tip-Over Protection Switch: Automatically shuts off the unit if it’s accidentally knocked over. This is an important feature regardless of the type of heater you purchase, particularly if you have children or pets.
- Cool-to-the-Touch: Portable heaters equipped with heat-resistant exteriors can eliminate the risk of burn injuries caused by touching the unit. These models feature non-flammable, cool-touch cabinets.
- Overheat Protection Switch: This switch acts as a sensor, detecting when the heater's internal components reach an unsafe temperature. When that pre-determined temperature is reached, the unit shuts off automatically.
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.
The price of a heater can range from around $40 for a basic personal heater to more than $2,000 for an elegant electric fireplace offered by Dimplex.
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.
Still Have Questions?
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.
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