We think all manufacturers should keep hot surfaces completely out of reach. Models that scored very good or higher in our hot-surface tests make even minor burns unlikely, if not impossible. Here's what else to consider while shopping.
Choose the right type. Look for fast spot heating if you care more about quickly heating one or two people than heating a roomful of guests. Consider larger heaters if you like the look of wood and an electronic flame display. And consider propane or kerosene heaters strictly for screened-in porches and other well-vented outdoor areas. Both types pose a carbon monoxide hazard indoors and typically get hot enough to ignite fabrics.
Look for safety features. All of the heaters we tested include a sensor that shuts them off if they overheat. A switch that does the same if they tip over is a welcome plus for taller models, especially with kids and pets nearby. Instructions for all the models we tested also warn consumers to keep them away from water. One model has a plug that's ground-fault protected, though kitchens, bathrooms, and other moist areas should already have protected outlets.
Insist on a fan. It helps distribute heat more quickly, and it shows: The three slowest heaters in our tests are the only ones without fans. Some models can oscillate for more even heating. Don't expect savings. More than 60 percent of homeowners we polled recently thought that space heaters could trim their energy bills. Yet the only way you can save is if you lower heat in other rooms, since electricity is the most expensive way to heat. So consider a space heater strictly for comfort. And think about adding insulation to attics, basements, crawl spaces, and other key areas for savings.