Best Cheap Space Heaters
- Published on
- By Gina Martinez
Smart bargain hunters can save some money on energy bills this winter with a little help from a strategically placed electric heater. A cheap space heater is just the right size to keep a small room toasty, letting you comfortably lower the central heating -- and your energy costs along with it. The budget segment is full of portable, effective space heaters that can warm up the room you’re in without putting your budget on ice. Lasko, Vornado, DeLonghi, Honeywell, and Holmes dominate the low end of the market with a bevy of choices for less than $35.
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. We aren’t 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 you’re on a budget, you’ll 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 “ceramic heaters” 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 doesn’t last long or spread out around a room very well, because there’s 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 isn’t 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 “cool touch” housing that’s designed to be safe to handle even on the high heat setting.
Regardless, make sure to follow general safety guidelines:
- Read the owner’s 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 can’t reach it.
- Don’t use a space heater around water, paint, chemicals, gas cans, or matches.
- Unplug a space heater when it’s not in use and unattended.
- Keep the cord out of the way but visible, so you don’t 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, it’s 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 heater’s 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 you’re not occupying.
Space Heater Reviews
For the most part, online space heater reviews come from users posting on retail sites such as Amazon and Home Depot. When shopping for a low-cost space heater, consumers place high value on effectiveness, portability, quiet operation, and durability. They want a space heater that generates heat quickly and spreads it throughout the room, maintaining a comfortable temperature. Most users want the option of easily moving a space heater from room to room at home or transporting it to a workspace. Reviewers frequently bring up noise level as a factor in their overall satisfaction. The fans in convection models, in particular, can be bothersome. While maintenance is easy for this product category, consumers often comment on durability, because once a part breaks, the model must be replaced.
Effective Heating.Space heater ratings are no doubt influenced by users’ success in matching their heating needs with the right space heater. Inexpensive electric heaters are intended for targeted warmth in small, enclosed areas. Consumers who try to use even the best small space heater in a large, open space will wind up disappointed and cold. When used as intended, our top picks provide a much-appreciated temperature boost.
An overwhelming majority of users posting reviews on Amazon and the Home Depot website praise the heating ability of the Lasko 754200 (starting at $25), one of the best options we found. Reviewers say it heats entire rooms quickly and effectively, and many express pleasant surprise at the heat output given its size, although a few say the fan could be stronger.
Likewise, the Vornado VH101 (starting at $29) enjoys effusive praise from Amazon, Home Depot, and Best Buy customers who have posted reviews online. Users report that they can use this model on the lower heat setting (350 watts) and still get great heating results while saving on electricity costs. Although reviews of the Vornado VH101 are generally enthusiastic, some users warn it takes a little while to heat a full room. Our other top picks operate at higher wattages.
Portability.If your goal is to control utility costs by turning down the central heating and using a space heater where necessary to keep warm, it helps to have a portable space heater you can carry from room to room. Some expensive space heaters that give off a lot of heat are quite large and basically stationary. Our low-cost picks are small and designed to be portable. Features such as a handle and a long power cord increase convenience and ease of use. (The nonprofit advocacy group Electrical Safety Foundation International warns consumers not to use an extension cord with a space heater.)
All the heaters we researched have carrying handles, although some are no more than a notch at the back. Several consumers reviewing the DeLonghi HVY1030 (starting at $30) challenge Amazon’s product description, essentially asking, “What handle?” They find it frustrating that such a lightweight unit requires two hands to pick up and move. Users seem to have an easier time with the DeLonghi DCH1030 (starting at $35), which has nearly identical specs. This model was created for the international market and isn’t as widely available, but on Amazon it counts hundreds of satisfied customers in the U.S. The Vornado VH101 likewise has more of a handgrip than a handle but is described as highly portable in reviews on the Best Buy website; users have no trouble moving it from room to room. It’s one of the most compact models on our list and weighs less than 2 pounds.
Noise.The fans inside convection space heaters make them effective and versatile but can also up the noise level. These types of heaters may emit whirring or buzzing sounds and be disruptive in a home or office. Some users don’t mind white noise from their heaters, and some even enjoy it, but overly loud models draw criticism. Many customers praise the Vornado VH101 for particularly quiet operation. One reviewer writing on Amazon frets that it’s so quiet, you can forget it’s on and neglect to shut it off when leaving the room.
Durability.Cheap electric space heaters require little maintenance, save for a light dusting from time to time. However, they are not designed to be repaired. There really aren’t any disposable or replaceable parts, so when something breaks, you just have to buy a new heater. The models we researched do come with one- or three-year limited warranties. Reviews indicate that the best heaters provide consumers at least a couple of years of service -- four seems to be realistic with fairly heavy use -- although we did read scattered reports stating that some models have given out within weeks.
Relative to the number of reviews posted for each of the space heaters we researched, the most negative comments on durability pertain to the Impress IM-702 (starting at $24) and the Holmes Compact Heater Fan HFH131 (starting at $20). The former seems to lack staying power altogether and the latter has seen reports of the fan breaking after a few weeks or the auto-shutoff feature malfunctioning.
Reviewers were understandably wary if they noted the power cord heating up (which can indicate electrical problems). A warm power cord is considered normal, but if a power cord is hot to the touch or you detect a burning smell, you should discontinue use of the space heater immediately.