A Comprehensive Guide To Buying A Space Heater
Space heaters are easy to find in any big department store. I don’t pretend to think that they are tough to find. Most people don’t give any thought to the buying process and for good reason – it’s hard to understand.
Most home space heaters or portable space heaters no matter the style cost between $25 and $100 with only a few fancy models going higher than that. When the options are so abundant and the pricing scale so tight it’s hard not to just buy whatever is easiest.
Having done a ton of research on the topic however I can tell you there are significant differences between these different types of heaters – hopefully I can explain the differences enough to help you figure out what will be best for you and your home.
The Main Types of Space Heaters
What Main Type Of Space Heater Should You Buy?
If you have never bought a space heater before – or maybe you have but you didn’t know what you were doing or how to compare them other than by price – then this guide is for you.
It’s hard to see it from the eye of a novice but there really only are two main kinds of space heaters and a third combination type. The first type is the convection style space heater and the second is the radiant style space heater. A combination heater is naturally a heater that attempts to accomplish both radiant and convection heat.
With all things being equal there is no type of heater that is better than the other. Radiant heaters direct heat at someone or in the direction of a location. They heat specific places or objects up quickly but don’t really provide steady heat for a room or enclosed space.
Convection heaters on the other hand do the opposite. They direct heat upwards into a room slowly raising the temperature of an entire room. You will not warm up quickly running a convection heater but if you leave it to run continuously it will heat a space more comfortably and evenly and much more efficiently too.
To select the right space heater for your needs you should read the following sections below.
Convection Space Heaters
As previously described a convection space heater’s goal in life is to fully heat up a room or enclosed space to a comfortable temperature and keep it there. Once that temperature is achieved the convection heater should maintain a stable room temperature based on either a thermostat or by way of the amount of heat the unit is producing in relation to the room’s size.
For instance a convection space heater with a 1500 watt setting will put out 1500 watts worth of heat and no more. If you don’t lower the wattage or turn the unit off there will come a point where the room will simply not get any warmer no matter how long you run the unit.
How Convection Space Heaters Work
Generally speaking a convection space heater heats a room by efficiently producing warm air and pumping it up and into the room. The most efficient convection heaters don’t even pump the air up but rather allow the air to drift upwards naturally – hot air rises, remember?
As the hot air slowly gathers in the upper areas of the room the colder air falls and is then heated only to be sent back up to the ceiling. This slow process causes a circular effect of hot air rising and being replaced on the bottom with colder air. Eventually all the cold air has been warmed and the temperature begins stabilizing in the entire room at a comfortable temperature.
Because the convection heating system relies on enough time passing to heat all the air of the room as well as constant use throughout the day these heaters are designed to run more efficiently than radiant heaters which aim to heat objects and people up quickly as opposed to entire rooms or areas.
Event within this category however there are different types of convection heaters and each type has different positives and minuses and some are more energy efficient than others. Down below I will address these different types of convection heating systems individually.
Convection Space Heaters with Temperature Control
Regardless of the type of convection space heater you have or are looking to buy most good convection space heaters come with a built in thermostat where you can program the unit to bring the room to a predetermined temperature. Once that temperature is reached the unit either shuts off heat production or lowers the wattage and heat output to a lower level. Eventually as the room temperature settles the high heat will kick back in bringing the room back into zone.
This is a much more efficient way of keeping a room warm than running the heater at full blast all the time. And when you consider convection heaters tend to be more energy efficient in comparison to radiant heaters the cost savings in keeping a room warm with a convection heater far outweighs that of radiant heaters.
So why wouldn’t you want one of these? Simple, they take a good deal of time to warm a space up and you have to keep them running for a long time to get much significant benefit out of them. Simply put you can’t expect this type of heater to keep you warm if you are only going to be using it for 1-3 short blocks of time throughout the day or night. You have to run it for hours continuously to attain and maintain a desirable temperature in the room.
If, on the other hand, you simply want a space heater in a garage or storage shed or even an entry way to warm you up for the short period of time you use those areas every day (or every now and then) then you would be far better off owning a radiant space heater appropriate for the space. Radiant heaters are excellent for these types of places because you typically don’t stay in them very long at a time.
Radiant Space Heaters
A radiant space heater is designed to heat up a small space within a room, an individual subject, person, or object. In some instances these types of heaters are sued to keep certain items a bit warmer than other areas of the house. In other instances they are used as a primary heat source for certain areas that are not heated routinely or very often.
Another common use for radiant heating is in places that are typically cold or those places that have a constant source of new cold air (i.e. drafts or doorways). These heaters are also used to heat up cold people who would rather be warmed up quickly rather than just waiting to slowly adjust to a comfortable room temperature.
Optimus H-4110 9-Inch Dish HeaterOptimus H-5511 Infrared Quartz Radiant HeaterMr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant HeaterLasko 754200 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat
How Radiant Space Heaters Work
The reason these heaters are great from cold drafty areas or for people who need to warm up quickly is that the heat is immediate (or nearly immediate) and it is directed in a specific direction. Some radiant heaters use fans, some simply emit heat in one single direction, some provide slight heat in one local area in small doses, but all are designed to provide quick directed heat on a small localized area.
Unless you are a doorman who hangs out in an entry way all evening or a mechanic who spends hours every day in the garage you probably don’t need supplemental heat in these areas for more than 10-30 minutes at a time. Radiant heaters spaced appropriately from the target heat zone should heat the subject up very quickly.
If for instance you needed to spend 30 minutes in a cold garage folding laundry you could turn on a radiant space heater directed at the clothes folding table and you would almost immediately be warmed up until you are ready to leave the room. A convection heater would take a long time before you ever started feeling warm but with a radiant heater you can run it for short busts just for the short amount of time you need them.
Radiant Heater Efficiency
Larger radiant heaters are less energy efficient than smaller heaters but they do heat larger spaces up quickly. One of the less desirable sides of radiant heaters is that even the smaller one’s are less efficient than most convection heaters so it’s always best to narrow down the type of radiant heater you buy by type and size before making a only slightly informed decision.
To illustrate this imagine running a radiant heater under a desk at the office. You don’t want to heat the entire room so you choose a radiant heater but you are only heating a small space – your legs. For something as small as this you can use a very small radiant heater and still accomplish your goal. If however you need to direct heat towards a group of people near an open door at say a party you would need a much larger (and much less efficient) radiant heater.
The long and the short of it is that a thermostat is not usually as big of a deal with a radiant heater but you do tend to care more about the size of heat output in relation to the area you need to heat.
There are many different types of radiant heaters as well as different heating elements and features to choose from. Further below I will cover these individually but for now I will address the concept of saving energy and money in the home by using space heaters wisely.
Can You Save Money On Electricity By Using A Space Heater?
There are a number of good reasons to use a space heater other than for energy savings. A particularly cold room could always use a space heater. You might be able to lift the temperature by increasing your thermostat but then the whole rest of the house would be too warm. Another reason may be an entry way that is always cold and drafty due to the door constantly being opened – or a garage that doesn’t need heat except for the occasional time someone is working in there.
Even so energy savings is probably the number one reason why everyone at least contemplates the cost savings at some point. Are they really cheaper? Can you actually save some money by using one?
The answer is yes – and no – it depends really on how you use it.
How to Save Money on Your Heating Bill with Space Heaters
In short there are two ways to save money on your electricity bill and both require you shutting off or greatly reducing the temperature on your home’s thermostat as well as learning to only heat portions of your house.
The first way involves the use of a convection heater. If your home is easily cordoned off and you’re fine keeping interior doors closed throughout the winter then this is the best option for you.
Convection heaters with programmable thermostats are the ticket here. You can set them up in the main areas of the home – namely the living room (and the bedroom if you don’t like sleeping under lots of blankets).
To really maximize savings you would just use one in the most common area of your home and only use that room when you are lounging around the house. The bedroom is a close second in my book but with blankets and pajamas you can usually stay warm even without a dedicated heater in there to keep you toasty.
The key to this technique is to program the thermostat to go on only for the hours you are in the home and using the living room. For the average family that would be generally between the hours of 5pm and 11pm and 6am and 9am. That means the unit would be working for only 9 hours a day and only when needed as it would also be programmed to shut off when the room temperature gets high enough.
Convection heaters are great at being cost efficient on energy. They don’t have blowers and those that run on propane or oil are even more energy efficient albeit a bit more complex.
If you do indeed try this out you have to be diligent about keeping the heat confined to the living room by keeping doors closed. If you don’t it won’t feel worthwhile as even the living room will feel cold in your house.
Why does this work? It’s because the entire house takes far more energy to heat than a single room. By saving money on heating the entire house and adding in the energy required to run a one room convection space heater you will almost assuredly be realizing a cost savings on your electric bill.
As for the second way of saving money you have to again opt to keep your whole home cool via the home’s thermostat but you will also have to use a radiant heater anytime you need a bit of warmth. In the living room you might put the space heater up near a chair or the couch and direct it at you for warmth – almost like using a blanket to stay warm.
You couldn’t rely on this to work for everybody in the room but you would have more freedom to tote the heater around the house which might make you feel less confined to certain warm areas of the house. Most radiant heaters are very portable so you could even bring them into the bedroom, kitchen, garage, or any other place you wish.
The bottom line however is the main thermostat in your home needs to be turned down low for you to ever see a reduction in costs.
What Are The Main Types Of Convection Space Heaters?
Convection space heaters are going to be much better at heating larger spaces and multiple people but they are not all made the same. There are a few different categories of convection heaters out there which are all going to be slightly different and better suited for certain purposes and sized rooms.
Ceramic Convection Space Heaters
With some exceptions these are going to be the best space heaters for small areas. They will work quicker than some of the more expensive temperature control heaters but they are a bit better at dealing with larger spaces than similar sized radiant heaters.
The Way Ceramic Convection Heaters Work – Electricity passes into the unit and through a ceramic heating element. The electricity heats the element up and then a fan blows air across the hot element through a cool-touch plastic casing directing it into the room. In some respects this is a lot like a radiant heater in that the fan directs the hot air in a single direction but it doesn’t casually waft out in that direction either.
The ceramic element is far more efficient than old fashioned wire coil space heaters but generally the concept is the same only with the inclusion of the fan. Because the ceramic element is more efficient and the fan blows it out into the room these heaters are a bit better at warming up small rooms than simple and similar sized radiant heaters which are better suited for keeping warm on the couch, at a desk, or in an entry way.
These small convection fan heaters are not true convection heaters but they are a close hybrid and fall more in-line with convection heaters if they are used primarily in smaller rooms and spaces.
Of course not all ceramic fan style-heaters skirt the line so closely. There are some larger ceramic convection fan heaters which direct the hot air up into the room as opposed to out into the room. By simply directing it upward the natural circulation of air happens more freely – cold air is more likely to fall and the room will slowly begin to heat from the top down resulting in an eventual warm and comfortable room from top to bottom and all around.
Ceramic heaters by their definition rely on a fan which means they have an internal fan motor to run which typically makes some noise. One of the biggest drawbacks of these types of heaters is the noise they create and the fact that they aren’t as efficient as true convection heaters which make no noise and have no motors to run. Having said that, they are much more efficient at creating a lot of heat from a smaller unit with a smaller footprint. If you are tight on space then these generally are good options based on size of the unit alone.
Fan-less Convection Heaters
Space heaters with ceramic or coil heating elements tend to have fans. If not they are generally considered to be radiant heaters. Those convection style heaters that do not have fans to assist in air circulation are simpler and more old-fashioned by nature but they are the most efficient of them all if you give them time to get things going.
Oil Filled Convection Heaters
One of the most common portable space heaters seen in homes these days is the oil-filled convection space heater modeled after the old-fashioned radiators of years past. These typically are filled with oil that does not need to be replaced and the electricity heats the oil up which in turn heats the metal exterior causing heat to be slowly released into the room.
There are no moving parts on these units and they are stalwarts of the home space heating category. They are relatively cheap and they are handy to have around due to their portability. They are also probably the most energy efficient of them all and are completely capable of warming up even large rooms with relative ease. For their price they can’t be beat.
Propane Space Heaters
Space heaters that run on propane are excellent emergency use heaters to have around the house. I wouldn’t recommend many people use a propane heater for general use around the home but for the occasional use in a garage without electricity or for storage with the emergency supplies this can’t be beat.
Most propane space heaters fall into the utility heater definition. They are a bit bulky looking and look like they were designed for use in a garage or outdoors and that’s exactly what they are best for. Propane canisters have to be refilled periodically depending on how much you use them throughout the day but for power outages, camping trips, or hanging out in cold areas that have no electric hookups a good propane heater is worth its weight in gold.
Propane space heaters probably fall more into that hybrid category like the ceramic fan-assist space heaters previously mentioned but I wouldn’t exactly call them radiant heaters as they do not usually reflect heat out into a single spot but rather emit heat out into the room or space in general.
Natural Gas Space Heaters
Like the propane style heaters this is also not always a convection heater but most often is. It is also the least portable of all space heaters as it needs to be hooked up (often professionally) to a source of gas or a gas line.
Needless to say they are efficient and cost effective once they are up and running and the convection models do heat larger rooms nicely. If you have to inclination to minimize your dependency on electricity it may be worth getting a natural gas heater installed by a pro otherwise I would always recommend electricity based whole room heater such as the oil-filled radiator convection heaters or the electric fireplaces which are relatively new to market over the past few years.
Portable Electric Fireplace Space Heaters
These are easily the most elegant and beautiful of all space heaters and they do tend to cost quite a bit more than the others but if you want to heat your entire room efficiently and look good at the same time these are great options.
Electric fireplaces can usually be used as a decorative table in addition to being used to warm a room. This makes them a multitasking piece of furniture in whatever room they are in. They are available in many different sizes too meaning you can use them in just about any room you want. Most even have an LED fireplace graphic on the front making them look and feel more like a true fireplace although they only need a wall and a single (standard) electrical outlet to operate.
The Main Types of Radiant Space Heaters
Most old-fashioned space heaters are radiant heaters. The classic style is the dish with a hot metal coil in the middle. The disk reflects all heat from the glowing metal core back into a single spot in one direction. Historically these were effective at producing a lot of heat in a single spot but they were not as well made as they are these days. Nowadays you can get retro looking radiant heaters that perform much better and that even direct heat to a larger area so that one person doesn’t get scorched while everyone else freezes.
Quartz Radiant Heaters
Radiant heaters these days use quartz as the primary heating element most often. Other heaters may still use metallic coils however. The basic principal however hasn’t changed. There is either a dish shaped reflector in the back or some other type of metallic reflector that directs all the heat from the heating element in one direction.
These do not use fans to direct the heat but reflection only. This makes them a bit more efficient up close but it also makes them more laser targeted. If one item in your home needs heat this is the type of heater to use. If you want heat on you and only you then this is the style to get.
Some fancier modern radiant heater models have extra features like oscillating stands. This slight rotation can help spread some of the heat around the room but more often it is best used to heat up two or three people sitting in close lateral proximity to each other.
Space Heater Fans
Some people would argue with me but I typically consider most space heater fans to be radiant heaters at best. Unless you have a large heater fan that directs heat up into a room I find it hard to see one of these and not think radiant heat.
These fans typically use electricity to heat a metal coil just like a radiant dish heater – the difference being that they distribute heat in one direction not due to reflection but due to a fan. The fan usually spreads the heat out in either single direction or in an oscillating multi-direction but it rarely spreads the heat upwards where it is required to bring cold air down and bring an entire room temperature into a comfortable state.
These fans are usually quite cheap and although they have their place and their uses I find them to be the least interesting of them all. One perk of the heater fan however, is that most of them are designed to operate as a fan with the heating element deactivated. This gives them versatility and useful life during the warm season. That is actually pretty nice.
Even More Information To Digest
I know this page is extremely long butt there is a lot more to be said about space heaters and how to choose the best space heater.
First of all I’d like to invite you over to this page where I have featured top rated space heaters in various styles. I’d also suggest you check out http://ToastyMammal.com because they have expanded guides to space heater selection. Check out their article on the different types of space heaters. They compare and contrast different styles which is beyond the scope of Gift Worm. They also have lots of FAQ’s answered on the site which can be quite helpful in settling on heater.