Shopping for a space heater this winter? Here's what to know

We break down different types of space heaters, how to shop for them and some of the best ones to get.
Find efficient and safe space heaters for staying warm, such as electric space heaters, portable, infrared heaters and more.
Find efficient and safe space heaters for staying warm, such as electric space heaters, portable, infrared heaters and more.Mr. Heater / Crane
By Danielle Wolf

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If you're one of those people who is always cold (whether the heat is on or not), a space heater might be a welcome investment. With chillier temperatures still on the horizon for some time, you should still get use out of it for quite some time before stowing it away for next winter.

To learn more about space heaters — and get recommendations for the best models for every home —we turned to Lou Manfredini, a contributor who works with our friends at TODAY and host of “HouseSmarts,” and Randy Light and Chad Hyland, portable heating merchants at Home Depot.

What is a space heater?

"A space heater is an appliance used for heating an enclosed place," Hyland says. "There are many styles and types of portable space heaters to choose from including floor heaters, personal space heaters, baseboard heaters and wall heaters."

The 7 best space heaters

These are the best space heaters we found with guidance from our experts.

  1. Lasko Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat
  2. Lasko Low Profile Silent Room Heater
  3. Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Propane Heater
  4. Lasko Air Logic Bladeless Electric Tower Space Heater with Remote
  5. Crane Fireplace Heater
  6. Pelonis Oil Filled Heater
  7. Hunter Oscillating Ceramic Tower Heater

What does a space heater do?

At a base level, all space heaters heat the space they are placed in. However, each type will help heat the space in a different way, Hyland explains. Here are the four main types of space heaters, and how each works.

  1. Ceramic space heaters: "A type of convection heater, ceramic space heaters warm the air as it blows over a hot ceramic plate or coils inside the unit," says Hyland. "The body of the heater stays cool to the touch, which makes it popular for homes with kids and pets."
  2. Forced-air heaters: "Also called fan-forced heaters, these convection heaters warm the air and circulate it around the room by fan. The fan allows the heat to be distributed quickly. Forced-air heaters are popular in offices or small workspaces" he explains.
  3. Radiant heaters: "Radiant heaters are directional and heat the objects near it or in its path," Hyland says. "These are ideal for a living room, bedroom or den and tend to retain heat for longer, even when the power is turned off."
  4. Infrared heaters: "A type of radiant heater, infrared space heaters are generally more effective in warming a person or a small area, rather than a larger space. You might see these in a bedroom or even under your desk, if you’re always cold in the office," says Hyland.

What are the benefits of a space heater?

Hyland shares that one significant benefit is that "a space heater can save you money and energy because it heats only the room or the space that is being used."

How do you choose a safe space heater?

Now that you know all about what space heaters are and what they do, how do you pick a safe yet powerful space heater? Manfredini, Light and Hyland outline a few of the most important things to look for when picking a space heater.

  1. Think about what type of room you're trying to heat. Light and Hyland explain that space heaters come in a variety of sizes for different spaces — including large room heaters, desk heaters and outdoor heaters. Narrow your options down for the space you're looking to heat to find a product specifically for your needs.
  2. Consider the amount of energy it uses. Look for a heater that uses 750 to 1,000 watts. “All heaters claim to be the most efficient, but most all use the same amount of energy,” Manfredini cautions.
  3. Settle on a style for your heater. Do you want the heater to fit in nicely with the room's decor, or are you buying it purely as a functional appliance? Light says style has become more important as a decision-making factor in the past few years and many heater brands have updated their looks.
  4. Choose which extra features you must have. Certain units come with remote controls, thermostats and the ability to oscillate, Hyland said.
  5. Keep fire safety in mind. If used incorrectly, heaters can pose a fire-safety risk. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advises to always keep heaters at least three feet away from flammable objects, such as curtains or bedding and to refrain from plugging portable heaters into an extension cord or power strip to reduce fire risks. Also, make sure units have either a safety rating from UL or ETL, Manfredini says.

Here are a few of the best indoor and outdoor space heaters, according to the experts.

1. Best small space heater

Lasko Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat

With self-regulating thermostat controls, three settings (high heat, low heat and fan) and safety features such as automatic overheat protection, Light and Hyland suggest this nine-inch-tall heater for small rooms or a desk area.

2. Best baseboard heater

Lasko Low Profile Silent Room Heater

Electric baseboard heaters are great supplemental units that can be placed under windows where the heat loss is the highest,” Manfredini says.

3. Best propane heater

Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Propane Heater

Although most propane heaters are made to be used outside, this is one of the only gas heaters that is safe to use indoors, Hyland and Light both say. It doesn't require electricity because it runs on a one-pound propane tank, so it's ideal for someone who has an indoor area to heat that doesn't have electricity. It can also serve as personal heating during outdoor fall and winter activities.

4. Best designed space heater

Lasko Bladeless Electric Tower Space Heater with Remote

“I actually have (this heater) in my master bedroom. I think it’s the best-looking heater that we carry,” Hyland says. Not only is this heater stylish, it also oscillates to evenly distribute heat throughout the room.

5. Best electric fireplace heater

Crane Fireplace Heater

Crane Fireplace Heater offers electric space heat but with the realistic look of a small fireplace," Manfredini notes. "The best of both worlds and can take the chill out of a living room, bedroom or family room.”

6. Best oil-filled space heater

Pelonis Basic Electric Oil-Filled Heater

Oil-filled space heaters offer residual heat and can actually cost less to run," Manfredini says. "They use the same wattage as most other heaters, but once the oil heats up and the temperature is reached, the unit shuts down but the heater oil in the unit continues to give off heat."

7. Best value heater

Hunter Oscillating Ceramic Tower Heater

This tower heater may not look as pretty as some others, but it easily heats medium-to-large rooms for a fraction of the cost, Light and Hyland said.

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