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Space Heaters: 2023 Buying Guide

By Tanner Sagouspe Rise Writer
Feb 6, 2023

Space heaters might not always be the most efficient way to heat a home, but they're a crucial addition to any home as a backup heat source or a convenient way to heat a chilly corner or small room. This article will discuss the different types of space heaters and how you can shop for the perfect model to fit your home, budget, and energy efficiency goals.

Table of Contents

  1. What are Space Heaters?
  2. What Types Of Space Heaters Are Available?
  3. How Are Space Heaters Powered?
  4. What Are Vented and Unvented Space Heaters?
  5. What To Look For When Buying a Space Heater?
  6. Are Space Heaters Environmentally Friendly?
  7. How Much Energy Do Space Heaters Use? And Which Are The Most Efficient?
  8. Are Space Heaters Safe?
  9. Can You Leave a Space Heater on All Night?
  10. How Long Do Space Heaters Last?
  11. How Do You Install Space Heaters?
  12. Do Smart Space Heaters Exist?
  13. What Are The Best Brands Of Space Heaters?
  14. What Are The Pros Of Space Heaters?
  15. What Are The Cons Of Space Heaters?

What are Space Heaters?

Space heaters are appliances that provide direct heating to a single room instead of multiple rooms, as with central heating.

Since central heating can be expensive to install or operate, space heaters can be a less expensive alternative to heat a single room without adequate heating. Because of their versatility, space heaters can function in various locations. Wall mounting is excellent for keeping these heaters up and out of the reach of animals and children. Tabletop space heaters are great for moving and carrying around. Freestanding heaters work in any room of the home. And portable space heaters are a must-have for the person on the go and can be suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Always find a space heater that will work specifically with your home and the conditions you plan to operate.

stiebel eltron wall heater
Photo Credit: Stiebel Eltron

What Types Of Space Heaters Are Available?

There are several types of space heaters on the market that vary in how they generate heat and warm the room. There are two primary ways space heaters heat a space: convection and radiative.

  • Convection space heaters work by warming the room's air and circulating it. These space heaters function best where heat has time to circulate and warm the space. Because convection space heaters take time to warm a room, they do not work well in areas with poor insulation, where heat is lost too quickly.
  • Radiative space heaters function by radiating heat in a specific direction, warming the objects and people within range. Radiative heaters are popular in locations with poor insulation. Instead of heating a location's air and losing it through the walls, these space heaters will heat you directly and quickly. Radiative heaters are usually small and easy to move, making them an excellent option for heating outdoor spaces.
  • Another available space heater is the filler space heater which uses electricity to heat a filler, like oil. This filler is heated up electrically, eventually warming enough to heat a small space. While these space heaters take a while to heat up, once they're warm, they offer uninterrupted heating.
Photo Credit: Lasko
Photo Credit: Lasko

How Are Space Heaters Powered?

Space heaters run on various fuel sources to produce heat and have capacities ranging between 10,000 and 40,000 BTU per hour. The fuel sources fall under two categories: electric and fuel burning.

  • Electric space heaters can cost more to run than the fuel-burning alternatives but come with the added benefit of operating in an unvented space within the home. While safer than combustion space heaters, electric heaters can still cause burns and pose a fire hazard.
  • Fuel-burning space heaters are excellent for providing a lot of heat to large spaces. Standard fuels in combustion space heaters include propane, natural gas, and kerosene. Burning fuel emits toxins, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor. Because of this, fuel-burning space heaters will require proper ventilation to prevent them from accumulating in the closed space. In addition to the climate concerns related to burning fossil fuels for space heating, increasing these toxins can be dangerous and even deadly. When using fuel-burning space heaters, take measures to vent them outdoors with a permanent flue.

What Are Vented and Unvented Space Heaters?

Vented space heaters are connected to a chimney or flue and release the by-products of combustion (carbon monoxide, ash, etc.) outside. Vent-free or "unvented" space heaters recirculate the by-product back into the room. For safety reasons, unvented space heaters are typically electric, and fuel-burning, unvented space heaters are often for outdoor use only.

If you have chosen a vented, fuel-burning space heater, install it next to an outside wall where the product's flue can be connected outdoors. Sealed combustion units are vented, fuel-burning space heaters and operate more efficiently than their unsealed counterpart. These space heaters use the outdoor air for the fuel-burning process instead of drawing and exhausting already conditioned home air.

What To Look For When Buying a Space Heater?

When installing a space heater, first make sure you purchase one appropriate to your room's size. Most heaters will have some form of sizing table to help guide you in this decision. Purchasing a product with a thermostat to monitor the room temperature or automated timers will shut off the space heater when it reaches a set temperature or time, conserving energy.

When buying a space heater, only purchase newer models and ensure plenty of safety features, such as automatic shutdown. Additional features, such as noise reduction, airflow louvers, and aesthetics, make great additions to a product. When purchasing a new space heater, a final step is to ensure that it carries the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) label to guarantee quality.

Are Space Heaters Environmentally Friendly?

A space heater's energy efficiency and environmental impact depend on its energy source, type of heat, and the size and draftiness of the space its heating.

People add space heaters to their homes to keep them warm. As a result, either electricity or fuel generates heat through convection or radiating energy. This process is not particularly efficient, but depending on your selected product, you can make more environmentally conscious choices. For example, if you're only going to be in the room for a few hours, choosing a radiative space heater over convection may be a better option. By selecting more energy-efficient products or making sure your space heater is the proper size for a room, you can save energy.

In addition, thermostatically controlled space heaters can reduce waste heat, maintaining a room's set temperature instead of overheating and, as such, reducing energy consumption. And, to ensure you're getting the most out of your space heaters, find out where your home is losing heat and work to eliminate air leakage and insulate it appropriately over time.

Photo Credit: Aniostudio
Photo Credit: Aniostudio

How Much Energy Do Space Heaters Use? And Which Are The Most Efficient?

Calculating the energy that space heaters use can be as easy as reading the product's watt rating in the product's details. You'll find that the higher the watt rating, the better the heating capacity. When looking at various space heaters, you'll notice they require, on average, 1,500 watts to heat a space. This can add up quickly depending on how often you use your space heater.

When calculating the energy use of a space heater, it is crucial to include the house's insulation. Homes with inadequate insulation will lose heat quickly and require more heating. Using a convective space heater in these situations would cost more money and would likely not heat the room appropriately.

Of the space heaters available, the most efficient heaters will be the ones tailored to your space. Some space heaters have two heating settings with higher and lower wattage meant for large or small rooms.

Are Space Heaters Safe?

When used appropriately, following the manufacturer's instructions for fueling, use, and maintenance, space heaters can be a safe addition to a home for those exceptionally chilly winter nights. But when misused, space heaters can be damaging and potentially deadly.

Fuel-burning space heaters, for example, that lack proper ventilation can emit gasses detrimental to a home's overall health. At the same time, improperly placed space heaters can be a fire hazard when not kept three feet away from drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that over 25,000 residences catch fire annually due to space heaters. More than 300 people die in these events, and roughly 6,000 require emergency room visits because of burns. These burns are often just from touching the hot surface and not fire. 

If you're currently searching for your next space heater, look for the ETL listing mark of the product. These provide peace of mind because this product underwent testing to guarantee the highest quality. It would be beneficial to purchase a space heater with a tip-over safety switch, which switches the heater off when it tips over.

Can You Leave a Space Heater on All Night?

Space heaters are meant to be temporary and should never be left on unattended or while you are asleep.

How Long Do Space Heaters Last?

The lifespan of a space heater can vary widely, depending on factors such as the quality of the manufacturer, how frequently it's used, and how well it's maintained. On average, a high-quality space heater can last anywhere from 5 to 20 years, although some can last even longer if they're well-cared for.

Investing in a high-quality space heater from a reputable manufacturer can often lead to a longer lifespan, as these products are typically designed and built to withstand regular use. However, if a space heater is used frequently or for prolonged periods, it may experience more wear and tear and need to be replaced sooner than a space heater that's used infrequently.

To help prolong the lifespan of a space heater, it's important to establish a regular maintenance routine. This should include regular cleaning of the filter and exterior of the heater to prevent dust and debris buildup, which can impede the unit's performance and lead to overheating or other malfunctions. Having a professional perform annual maintenance checks on the heater can also help to identify and address any potential issues before they become more serious problems.

Overall, taking care to purchase a quality space heater, using it responsibly and with care, and maintaining it properly can all help to prolong the lifespan of the product.

How Do You Install Space Heaters?

Installation of a vented space heater can be easy with the correct tools. Still, some cities may require professional installation of vented heaters, so always check with your local building codes before installation. The best place to start before installation instructions is to check your selected space heaters' specific installation requirements, as found in the manufacturer's instructions.

Electric space heaters will not need any unique installation, though be sure you plug them directly into an outlet. When an extension cord is required, ensure it is at least 14 gauge and has the shortest length possible.

Do Smart Space Heaters Exist?

Yes! A wide selection of WiFi-enabled "smart" space heaters is available, ranging from infrared heaters to electric fireplaces.

What Are The Best Brands Of Space Heaters?

There are numerous brands of space heaters on the market with plenty of variety and additions to consider. These products' prices can range from $40 to $650 and depend on the manufacturer's quality and features available. Some top brands include Lasko, Stiebel Eltron, Dyson, and Honeywell.

What Are The Pros Of Space Heaters?

Depending on the space heater purchased, you will have a mobile heating unit. These can be plugged into different rooms, heating the space you need when you need it. But note that not all space heaters are portable, needing a vent to the outside installed. The wall-mounted space heaters add plenty of heat to a single room with a low initial investment.

What Are The Cons Of Space Heaters?

Electric space heaters will add a decent amount to your monthly power bill depending on usage. In addition, fuel-burning space heaters require purchasing non-sustainable fuel sources that can reduce air quality, like carbon monoxide, when not adequately vented. Homes with poor insulation may not heat appropriately with space heaters, driving up your power bill with only minimal heating.

Photo Credit: Magraphics
Photo Credit: Magraphics

The pros and cons vary between products, but in the end, the best heater for your space will be the one that best fits your needs. Whether using space heaters to make up for a room without insulation or warm a patio space, there is definitely a space heater that is perfect for your needs.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2023-05-08T13:12:25+0000
Tanner Sagouspe

Article by:

Tanner Sagouspe

Tanner Sagouspe has a Masters in Environmental Management and is a Permaculture Designer who promotes tackling the climate crisis at home.