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Cheap Space Heater Buying Guide

Our frontrunners for best space heater in the budget price range are the Lasko 754200 (starting at $25) and Vornado VH101 (starting at $30). We also like two other models: the small but mighty DeLonghi HVY1030 (starting at $30) and the Honeywell HZ-0360 (starting at $30), with its 360-degree heat delivery.

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We arenít so hot for the Holmes HFH131 (starting at $20) or the Impress IM-702 (starting at $24). Reviews of both models report problems with heat output and durability.

The same brands offer showier, pricier, more powerful space heaters with fancy features such as digital displays, programmable settings, and remote controls. Some of the most expensive heaters boast ultra-efficient infrared quartz heating elements, air filters, and settings that can be customized to the size of the space. Generally, high-end space heaters are also powerful enough to heat large rooms and open interior spaces. Among the pricier models are oil-burning heaters built to look like radiators; some of these have worrisome safety reports. If youíre on a budget, youíll find that a no-frills model does a fine job of safely heating up a relatively small room or warming an office cubicle.

Electric space heaters come in two basic types -- convection and radiant -- based on how they deliver heat. Convection space heaters generate heat by forcing the surrounding air across a heating element and circulating the newly heated air. The heat builds slowly and lasts a long time. Products labeled ďceramic heatersĒ are usually convection models with ceramic heating elements. Cheap convection heaters are recommended for small, enclosed rooms. The second type, radiant space heaters, radiate heat around them like a campfire, warming nearby objects and people rather than moving air. They can be put to good use in very small spaces, such as warming feet under a desk, but the heat doesnít last long or spread out around a room very well, because thereís no circulation component. The cheap heaters recommended here are all convection heaters; radiant space heaters are less prevalent and we found few reviews of cheap models.

What We Looked for in the Specs

Fan.

A fan circulates the air warmed by a convection space heater, helping it disperse more quickly. Convection heaters designed without whirring fans may be quieter, but they take longer to make a room feel cozy and generally cost more. All of our top picks rely on fans for heat distribution. They also have fan-only settings for unheated air circulation. This adds value by letting consumers use the appliance as a portable fan during warm weather (and potentially lower cooling costs) or simply circulate the air in a stuffy room.

Temperature Control.

Most of our top picks have two knobs: one for the power and one for the thermostat. Users can choose a high or low heat setting (which draws more or less power, measured in watts) or set the dial to fan-only mode. Models with adjustable thermostats turn on and off automatically to maintain a relatively constant temperature. These heaters save energy by ceasing to run when the desired level has been reached. Although the Vornado VH101 does not have this type of heat regulation, it draws less energy than the others -- a maximum of 750 watts vs. 1,500 watts. At the same time, most reviewers find it plenty powerful even on the low setting. It heats air to 93 degrees on low and 115 degrees on high. The Lasko 5812 (starting at $40) has a thermostat but no manual control for the heat settings. Instead, it automatically adjusts the wattage to save energy when extra power isnít needed. The DeLonghi HVY1030 features an antifreeze function that automatically turns on the unit if the temperature falls below about 41 degrees.

Safety Features.

A space heater can be a safety hazard, so be sure to choose one that includes critical safety features, no matter which type you buy. The first thing to look for is a label certifying that the product meets voluntary safety standards set by the U.S. government. Perhaps the most common label is ETL, from an outfit called Interek. Others are UL (from the Underwriters Laboratory) and CSA (Canadian Standards Association), which likewise indicate that the product has been tested and meets accepted standards. A safe space heater should also have an automatic shutoff or overheat protection feature, which turns off the heating element if it gets too hot. Most electric space heaters, including all those on our list, have this capability. Another key safety feature -- especially for taller, more top-heavy models -- is a tilt switch that shuts off the unit if it tips over. The tower-shaped Honeywell HZ-0360 incorporates this safety measure, as does the squattier Vornado VH101. The Vornado model also has ďcool touchĒ housing thatís designed to be safe to handle even on the high heat setting.

Regardless, make sure to follow general safety guidelines:

  • Read the ownerís manual.
  • Never plug a space heater into an extension cord.
  • Keep a space heater 3 feet away from combustible materials such as drapes, bedding, and furniture.
  • Keep a space heater on a flat surface where children and pets canít reach it.
  • Donít use a space heater around water, paint, chemicals, gas cans, or matches.
  • Unplug a space heater when itís not in use and unattended.
  • Keep the cord out of the way but visible, so you donít trip and knock over the unit.
  • Discontinue use if you notice overheating or burning smells.

What We Ignored

Energy Efficiency.

The federal government does not include space heaters in the†Energy Star†labeling program, and the Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not plan to label them. Thus, itís difficult to declare any space heater more efficient than another. Convection space heaters generally use a lot of energy and can run up your electric bill, but if you use one for spot heating or supplemental heating -- while also turning down your home thermostat -- you may realize some overall savings. Using the space heaterís lowest heat setting and/or adjustable thermostat can help decrease energy use and reduce costs. Ultimately, the trick is to use the space heater only where and when you need it and keep the temperature down in the rooms youíre not occupying.

by Gina Martinez

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Filed in: Appliance, College, Furnaces,
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