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The best space heaters can quickly heat you and an average sized room for as little as $40. Electric heaters such as those we test include an array of safety features that reduce the risk of fire. But that doesn't mean all of them are risk-free. Many we tested got hot enough to cause the equivalent of a bad sunburn within a second of contact.
All of the space heaters in Consumer Reports tests will comfortably warm a chilly room. But remember, the only way to potentially save money is to use a heater in one room and leave the rest of the house chillier.
When you shop for an electric space heater, look for a label from a recognized testing laboratory such as UL (Underwriters Laboratory), ETL (Intertek), or CSA (Canadian Standards Association) verifying that the heater's construction and performance meet voluntary U.S. safety standards.
Also, fuel-burning space heaters are more dangerous than electrics. We suggest that you consider them only for emergency use, say, during a winter power outage.
Our experts and the National Fire Protection Association offer the following safety advice:
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.
Space heaters that burn fuel are dangerous, and even electric space heaters pose significant risks of fire and electrical shocks if you don't use them safely. Here are the types of space heaters to consider.
Convection models are best for heating an entire room because they spread their heat over a wide area. Those with a fan spread warmed air quicker, but they also add noise. Radiant versions, which use an electric-ribbon element or a quartz tube, are ideal for spot heating, but their heat dissipates quickly when they're turned off.
These produce prodigious heat. But because of their open flame, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and the hazards associated with handling the fuel, we recommend against their use indoors except during emergencies, and then only in areas with good ventilation.
Safety is vital when using a space heater. Look for features that make the units easier and safer to use. Here are the important safety-related space heater features to consider.
If you'll be moving the heater from room to room, look for a lightweight model with a handle that provides a safe grip. Most electric models are lighter than fuel-operated ones.
For fuel-fired models, this feature shuts off the heater's fuel flow when it senses a reduction in the amount of oxygen in the air due to the buildup of carbon dioxide.
Those on the electric models we tested were at least 70 inches long, providing more placement options. If you have to use an extension cord, choose a 12- or 14-gauge model. Overloaded, undersized, or frayed power cords are a major cause of fires, injuries, and deaths associated with space heaters. Inspect electric space heater cords for damage regularly.
A thermostat maintains the temperature you set, saving you the hassle of turning the heater off and on as the room temperature varies. Heaters with multiple output settings conserve energy by letting you choose the lowest setting that keeps a room comfortable.
As their names imply, these features automatically turn off the heater if it's knocked over, if the grille is touched, or if the unit overheats.
There are a few familiar brands in the space-heater market. While one company has about 40 percent of the market, others will be familiar to consumers. Use these profiles to compare space heaters by brand.
DeLonghi sells mostly convection heaters within the ceramic category, with models covering most types but primarily oil-filled and micathermic. The products are sold at Sears, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and many other online retailers. Prices range from $30 to $200.
The parent company of Holmes, Jarden, also owns Sunbeam, Patton, Coleman, and Bionaire, giving it about 40 percent of the U.S. space-heater market. Jarden manufactures convection and radiant products, and its main types are quartz and ceramic. The products are widely available at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and regional appliance dealers. Prices range from $20 to $70.
Honeywell is part of the Helen of Troy group of products. HOT makes many different small appliance products including hair dryers. Honeywell brand space heaters are primarily ceramic type with fan. Honeywell products are sold at Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. Prices range from $25 to $80.
Lasko's primary type of space heater is ceramic with fan. The heaters are available in many configurations, such as tower and pedestal. You'll find Lasko heaters at Home Depot, Target, Lowe's, and Walmart. Prices range from $20 to $100.
This brand is part of Midea Group, a global appliance manufacturer. Pelonis offers all types of heaters. You'll find the heaters at hardware stores such as True Value and Ace, through online retailers, and at specialty stores and regional appliance dealers. Price range from $15 to $100.