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Some of the best space heaters cost $100 or on sale

Portables from Holmes, Lasko, and Bionaire are among bargains

Published: November 15, 2013 01:00 PM

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Bionaire BCH9212 space heater

Space heaters today come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall and thin, others short and squat, and some wood-paneled heaters resemble a piece of furniture. But no matter what a space heater looks like, you want to make sure it’s designed to keep you warm and safe and that it’s not too noisy. In Consumer Reports’ space heater tests, we found a dozen space heaters that cost $100 or less but some did a better job at chasing the chills than others.

Space heaters differ in their ability to heat a room or bathe a person in the room in warmth, called spot heating. In our tests, the Ambia ACH-120, $60, was the best at warming up a room in 15 minutes and a good choice for a family room. It was also very good at directing heat to a person in the room but got mediocre scores for noise, something to keep in mind if you plan to use it when watching television. The two CR Best Buys in our tests, the Holmes HFH436, $40, and the Bionaire BCH9212, $55, were both very good at heating a room and okay at spot heating but the Bionaire was much quieter.

If you want a heater that looks less like a space heater, spending $230 will get you the wood-paneled Duraflame 10HM4126-0107. In our tests, the Duraflame was very good at heating a room and has safety features that make it a good choice for families. It was also very quiet and made our list of top space heater picks. The heavily advertised EdenPURE GEN4, $397, while quiet and attractive, was mediocre at heating a room and worse at spot heating.

Space heater safety
When you shop for an electric space heater, look for a label from a recognized testing lab 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. And use it with care. Not all are risk-free: Many we tested got hot enough to cause the equivalent of a bad sunburn within a second of contact. Here are some helpful safety tips from our experts.

  • With any heater, keep it on a level, flat surface where children and pets can't reach it and never in a child's room.
  • Use a heater on a tabletop only when specified by the manufacturer.
  • Use it only in dry areas, away from paint, gas cans, or matches, and keep combustible materials such as furniture, bedding, and curtains at least three feet from the front of the heater, and away from its sides and rear.
  • Never leave the heater unattended while it’s plugged in.
  • Position the cord so it isn’t a tripping hazard.
  • And be careful what other electrical devices are running on the same circuit. This includes the same extension cord, the same outlet, or even the same group of outlets on one circuit.

Before viewing our space heater Ratings, be sure to check out our buying guide. You'll also find Ratings with buying guides for thermostats, gas furnaces, and pellet and wood stoves.

—Ed Perratore

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