Top space heaters from Consumer Reports' tests

The best combine speedy heating with smart safety features

Published: September 22, 2014 12:30 PM
Illustration: Jason Lee

Simply heating a room isn’t enough for some people. You’ll find space heaters disguised as miniature fireplaces and radiators, and many with promises to trim your utility bill in the bargain. But speedy heating, safety, and even quietness are what matter most to shoppers, according to comments on Consumer Reports’ Facebook page and on Twitter. Models that topped Consumer Reports' space heater tests meet those needs for as little as $40.

High style, including ‘flames.’ We tested models from Crane and Heat Surge that combine quick room heating with a digital flame display. A slim Dyson blends a contemporary oval shape with a fan you can set to oscillate for quick, even heating. But it was the noisiest heater we tested, about as loud as a window air conditioner adjusted to its low setting. And Heat Surge says that the wooden cabinets for its Roll-n-Glow and a smaller model are Amish-made, but the workmanship looks more like something we remember from shop class.

Quick comfort—and some slowpokes. Suppose you value instant warmth for yourself more than you do for an entire room—or you use a space heater at your desk in a chilly office. Consumer Reports tests spot-heating speed using a test dummy laden with heat sensors. The small Dyson and a $150 model from Vornado along with a larger Honeywell and one from Heat Surge aced that test. But speedy spot heating was a challenge for certain models, including a small Honeywell and Crane, which took a glacial 15 minutes to raise the dummy’s 60° F temperature by just about 4 degrees. Most of the others we tested raised it about 11 degrees.

Radiator models leave us cold. Heaters that look like vintage steam radiators are also a style statement. Manufacturers say they’re best for room heating rather than spot heating. DeLonghi claims “fast and flexible heating” for two heaters in our tests. But both models were only a notch above a higher-rated Soleus Air at quickly heating our 200-square-foot test chamber. And both were dismally slow at spot heating objects directly in their path.

Keep warm—and stay safe

Some space heaters are marketed as bathroom-safe. Yet among the models we tested, only the Holmes HFH436 and DeLonghi TRN0812T had ground-fault circuit interrupter plugs intended to prevent electric shock, including in moist areas. Even with the GFCI plug, their manufacturers warn against using the heaters near water.

Every space heater we tested has a switch that shuts it off if it tips or overheats. Yet space heaters still account for roughly one-third of all home heating fires and more than 80 percent of associated deaths. And though many were less hot to the touch and have plastic grates rather than metal ones, burns to hands—particularly among kids—remain common. Here’s how to keep warm with less risk:

Keep heaters away from flammable items. Be sure that pillows, bedding, furniture, drapes, newspapers, and other flammables are at least 3 feet from any space heater.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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