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Everything You Wanted to Know About Space Heaters

Space heaters offer an affordable way to provide zone heating in your house or warm up a garage that isn’t hooked up to your home’s HVAC system. If you’re planning to buy a space heater, these frequently asked questions will help you choose the heater that best suits your needs, dispel some common safety myths and give you care instructions. Use the table of content on the right side to navigate the page quickly.

What Types of Space Heaters Can I Buy?

You probably know that space heaters come in two varieties – fuel and electric. Although there is only one type of fuel-based space heater, there are multiple kinds of electric heaters, including ceramic, convection, fan-forced, halogen, and infrared.

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A radiant is a space heater that uses oil to produce warmth. Since the oil in this space heater stays within a leak-proof system, you never need to add oil yourself. To get the oil hot, an internal heating element sends heat to the oil. Then, the hot oil runs through the heater’s pipes, putting out heat into the surrounding air.

While the time it takes to emit heat is longer than many electric space heater types, radiant space heaters offer several benefits. They lack a fan, which means they are quiet, and these space heaters usually have a stay-cool housing.


Inside of a ceramic heater, there are ceramic plates that act as the heat generator. To heat these plates, manufacturers attach them to metal coils. When the heater’s fan blows air over the coils, the coils get hot. In turn, the ceramic plates push the heat into the air.

The only caveat to a ceramic space heater is its tendency to drop the relative humidity of the ambient air. Regardless, ceramic space heaters boast a rapid heat time, and they are overall more efficient than most other electric models.


Similar to ceramic space heaters, convection heaters contain metal coils and a fan, which blows air on said coils. At the same time, electricity is supplied to the coils to heat them. The fan also pushes out the warm air into the room.

As far as benefits are concerned, convection heaters offer two. They are easily able to heat the air quickly, and the heat they generate lasts much longer than the heat produced by other types of electric heaters.


Several styles of electric space heaters contain a fan that blows hot air into the air that surrounds them. Due to the presence of a fan, these heaters make more noise than other heater types. However, fan-forced space heaters offer a bevy of benefits, including even heat throughout the room.

Plus, they are quick to put out heat. These space heaters also work for small and average-size rooms. Unfortunately, fan-forced space heaters don’t have enough power to warm up large, open areas.


Also referred to as reflective heaters, halogen space heaters use a halogen light bulb for zone heating. The heat produced by the light bulb happens super-fast. However, halogen space heaters are only suitable for providing heat to immediate spaces.

If you choose to buy a halogen heater, put it on your nightstand while you sleep or desk when you work. Certain halogen space heaters are hot to the touch. Therefore, use caution when there are children or animals nearby.


Infrared space heaters are equipped with a heating element. Often, the element is placed in a tube made of quartz. As the element becomes hot, the tube expands. Then, the tube releases the heat, and a fan sends the heat into the air.

The objects and people close to the infrared heater absorb the heat. Therefore, hardly any heat is left in the air. In general, infrared space heaters, particularly those with a quartz tube, are energy-efficient. They are also extremely safe.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Space Heater?

Obviously, the main benefit of using a space heater is to warm the air in a room. However, there are other benefits that come from running a space heater.


Space heaters aren’t designed to heat big rooms; therefore, they are usually small in size and weight. This means it’s easy to move a space heater to any room that needs extra heat. For example, you can use the same space heater in the living room during the day while you watch television and move the heater to your bedroom at night while you sleep.

Low Noise

Most space heaters are quiet, including those that contain a fan. This means you can operate a space heater on the highest speed and be able to work or relax without being distracted by the heater’s noise.

Quick Heat

Unlike a fireplace, a space heater warms a room fast, especially a fan-forced unit. Within minutes of turning on a space heater, the warmth it produces spreads throughout the maximum square footage the heater is able to cover.


When your furnace conks out in the middle of winter on a Saturday night, you’ll be hard pressed to find an HVAC technician to make a service call. With a space heater, you can stay warm in a localized area until you can get your furnace repaired.

Saves Money

The majority of space heaters don’t consume many watts, which equates to low power bills. In comparison to a whole-house heater, a space heater costs a lot less money. You can use one of these heaters for zone warmth by closing off the vents in the rooms you aren’t occupying and running a space heater in the room you’re using.

Can a Space Heater Become a Primary Heat Source?

Although you can use a space heater to heat a single room fully, this type of heater can’t take the place of your home’s primary heat source. Between their low wattage and small size, space heaters cannot cover the same amount of square footage than your home’s furnace. However, space heaters are a perfect solution for zone heating and supplemental heating.

How Do I Measure the Electricity Draw and Heat Output of a Space Heater?

There is one unit of measurement you’ll see on a space heater’s list of specs – watts. A common misconception is that a space heater’s wattage is the measurement of its heat output. However, the number of watts indicates how much electricity the unit draws in order to produce heat. Many space heaters are variable-wattage units, which means they offer different heat output settings.

British thermal units, or BTUs, are the measurement of a space heater’s output. Depending on the model, the BTUs may not be included along with watts on the specs. If not, it’s easy to calculate the heater’s BTUs if you have its wattage. To do so, simply multiply the number 3.14 by the watts. For example, 3.14 multiplied by 750 watts equals 2,355 BTUs.

What Size Space Heater Do I Need?

Buying the correct size space heater for your room is important. If you undersize the heater, it won’t warm all the air, and it will overwork itself in an attempt to reach the entire area. A general guideline is to use a space heater that puts out 1,000 BTUs per 25 square feet of space in the room. Keep in mind there are certain factors that can skew this guideline.

What Factors Impact the Efficiency of a Space Heater?

Outdoors and indoors, there are several factors that impact how well your space heater will work. If the outdoor temperature is particularly frigid and your HVAC system isn’t working, the space heater may not work at its peak efficiency.

The number of windows and exterior doors in the room also play a role. The more windows and doors, the draftier the room may be. Drafts can cause a space heater to underperform. On a similar note, inadequate or missing insulation can result in the same problem. If the room’s ceiling is vaulted or higher than the residential standard of 8 feet, the space heater may not deliver the heat output it normally would with a lower ceiling.

Which Kind of Heater is More Energy Efficient – A Space Heater or an HVAC System?

You aren’t alone. Millions of Americans are on a quest to reduce their electricity bill. Energy-friendly appliances can help you achieve this goal. When comparing the energy efficiency of space heaters to HVAC systems, you can’t examine them in generalities.

First, you must choose the right size space heater for the room, keeping in mind that the lower the space heater’s wattage, the less electricity it consumes. Once you do this, you can accurately compare its energy efficiency to your home’s HVAC system.

If your HVAC system has to work overtime to maintain a comfortable room temperature, your electricity bill will probably benefit from running a space heater. Likewise, if you decide to try zone heating, you’ll also save money on your monthly energy costs.

What’s the Hourly Cost of Running a Space Heater?

A simple calculation can give you a rough estimate of how much a space heater will add to your electricity bill. To find this figure, you must first locate the heater’s wattage, which should be listed in its specs. Then, divide 1,000 by the wattage.

Once you get that result, just multiply the answer times the cents per kilowatt-hour to get the amount you’ll probably spend for every hour you operate the space heater. Take a 750-watt space heater for example. Divide 750 by 1,000, which equals 0.75. Then, multiply 0.75 times 15 cents, which is the typical per-hour cost for a standard space heater.

To note, the fewer watts a heater draws, the less electricity it consumes, meaning the lower the cost to run it. Also, you can keep the heat output under control with features like a thermostat and a timer.

Is It Safe to Use a Space Heater in My Bathroom?

Rooms such as bathrooms where water is used frequently are not the ideal place for a space heater as the water can cause an electrical shock. However, you can run a space heater in a bathroom with relative safety if the heater is UL listed. Of course, you should be careful to keep the heater away from all water sources.

Can I Safely Use a Space Heater Around Pets and Children?

Space heaters are not like the propane heaters of yesteryear – Today’s space heaters are safe thanks to built-in safety mechanisms, which means you can use them around your children or pets with little worry.

One safety feature that’s commonly found in space heaters is called a thermal cutoff switch. This switch immediately turns off the heater in the event its internal components reach a too-high temperature. The thermal cutoff switch is sometimes referred to as an overheating protection mechanism.

Another regularly used safety feature is called a tip-over switch. This switch activates if the space heater falls over, shutting down its power. Space heaters with a tip-over switch are unlikely to become fire hazards.

Often the housing of the heater is made of material that won’t burn your hand when you touch it. This feature is invaluable if you have kids or animals running around your house. Regardless of the safety features your space heater possesses, it’s crucial that you keep the heater out of your children and pets’ reach.

What Safety Precautions Should I Take When Using My Space Heater?

Owners of electric space heaters as well as those of fuel-based heaters should take certain precautions when using their heating units.

Electric and Fuel-Based Space Heaters

Whether you have an electric or a fuel-based space heater, you should always make sure the 2-foot around the heater is clear of obstructions, children and animals. Take particular care to keep flammable objects away from the space heater, such as paper, curtains and blankets. When you set up the heater, put it on a flat surface, so it won’t topple.

Always make sure someone is in the home when the space heater is running. To prevent accidental fires, turn off the heater before you leave the house to go to work or run errands. Overheating and fires can also be caused by extension cords when used on a long-term basis. Therefore, only connect the space heater directly to an electrical outlet.

Related Post: Electric vs. Gas Space Heaters

Fuel-Based Space Heaters

While the above-mentioned safety tips are geared toward electric and fuel-based space heaters, the following guidelines are given specifically with fuel-based in mind.

Ventilation is a must. Since the fuel used in these space heaters is combustible, it may release toxins like carbon monoxide. This means you should crack a window when you use the heater and only refill it outside. If you smell a gas odor, turn off the heater, open a window and call the fire department.

Take extra care when you spark the pilot light. If the light goes out, wait about 10 minutes before you try to light it, so any gas in the air can clear. Remember, first spark the lighter or the match. Then, turn on the heater’s gas.

Finally, stick with the type of fuel listed in the manufacturer’s instructions. Never replace the space heater’s fuel with a different grade, and don’t mix two types of fuel.

Should I Run My Space Heater Throughout the Night?

The answer to this question depends on two factors – the space heater and your home’s wiring. Newer space heaters must meet strict safety standards. Therefore, they are equipped with multiple features to prevent incidents of overheating and fires.

Inside of every space heater, there is a heating element. To keep the element from working overtime, a lot of space heaters have a thermostat. When the temperature reaches a predetermined level, the thermostat kicks in and turns off the flow of heat, restarting the heat output when the temperature drops. These heaters are the safest to use all night.

If your home’s electrical wiring is up-to-date, you should be good to go during the night as long as your space heater is equipped with the necessary safety features. However, if you live in an older home that needs its electrical wiring updated, it may be best to turn off the heater before you go to sleep.

What Is That Burning Hair Smell Coming From My Space Heater?

There are two reasons that a space heater gives off a burning hair smell, neither of which will present danger to you or your home. If you’re powering on the space heater for the first time, it’s common to smell an odor akin to burning hair. This smell comes from the random particles that find their way onto the heating element during the manufacturing process. After using the space heater a few times, the smell will disappear.

The other reason you detect this odor is because of dust. After sitting in storage during the off-season, space heaters often accumulate particles of dust. As when it was brand new, the burning hair smell will go away in a couple of days.

Do Space Heaters Put Out Harmful Radiation?

Absolutely not. Although this is a common myth, space heaters do not give off any radiation that is harmful to your health. The only type of space heater that emits radiation is an infrared space heater. However, when we say radiation, we mean the transmission of heat energy, not dangerous nuclear radiation.

Do Space Heaters Release Carbon Monoxide?

As far as electric space heaters are concerned, the only time you are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is the heater catches on fire. Again, electric space heaters have many fail-safe mechanisms to prevent the occurrence of a fire.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a greater risk with fuel-based space heaters. However, these heaters often have safety features like oxygen sensors. Ensuring that the gas is properly vented outside will ensure you won’t be at risk of being exposed to carbon monoxide.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gaseous substance. It has no smell or color, which means you can’t detect it with your senses. This gas is created when fuel such as gasoline, coal and wood are burned. When carbon monoxide is in the air, it reduces the surrounding oxygen level unless there is adequate ventilation. It’s the lack of oxygen that leads to organ failure and even death.

Is My Heater Supposed to Turn On and Off at Random?

If your space heater has a thermostat, there’s no need to worry about it turning on and off by itself. When the thermostat is set to a certain temperature or heat output wattage, the thermostat’s job is to maintain that temperature. When the ambient temperature is too low, the thermostat starts up the heater. If the temperature is too high, the thermostat turns off the heater. This off-on powering is also known as cycling.

How Do I Clean and Maintain My Space Heater?

Like any other appliances, you should routinely clean your space heater to keep it at its best. Before you begin cleaning it, unplug the space heater from the electrical outlet and make sure the housing is completely cool.

Dampen a cloth with water and soap. Steer clear of any solvents or harsh chemicals. Use the cloth to wipe down the exterior of the space heater, taking care not to get the plug wet. Once you’re finished, dry the exterior with a towel. Don’t restart the space heater until you’re sure it’s totally dry.

How Should I Store My Space Heater?

Whether you choose to keep your space heater in a hall closet or an attached garage during the summer, the storage space needs to be cool and dry. If possible, put the heater in an enclosed box while in storage. Doing so will prevent dust from building up inside of the space heater.

Our Recommended Space Heaters

Staying warm shouldn’t be difficult. To help you pick out the best space heater for your room, we’ve compiled this list of five warmth-generating, won’t-let-you-down models.

2 Mr. Heater MH12B Hunting Buddy Portable Space Heater

Take this 9-pound camo-covered space heater from Mr. Heater on your next camping trip and get 300 square feet of warmth. Its top-situated tote handle helps you carry it through the woods and around your campsite, and it has several safety features, including a low-oxygen shutoff mechanism.

The 12,000 BTU heater has a quick-start pilot, and its swivel regulator allows you to interchange propane cylinders for a permanent gas supply.

1 Dr Infrared Heater Portable Space Heater

At 24 pounds, the Dr Ingrared is one of the heaviest space heaters on our list, but its dual casters make it easy to move the heater from room to room.

Generating 1,500 watts when on high heat, the infrared quartz unit also offers an energy-saving mode and a low-heat feature. The 12-hour timer lets you set it and forget it from the remote or the heater itself, and the sound made by the heater never climbs above 39 decibels.

A Quick Buyer’s Guide to Space Heaters

Can’t decide between two of the space heaters on our list? Let these tips guide your decision.

Safety Features

Above all else, you need a safe space heater. Look for features that turn off the heater if it falls or becomes too hot. If the space heater takes propane, it should also have a sensor that detects carbon monoxide. Locking casters and non-slip feet are also important for stability.


How big is the space heater? This question is important if you don’t have a lot of room to put it. Its weight is also worth examining, especially if you plan to move it a lot. Caster wheels and handles help make that job easier.

Coverage Area

You don’t want the room you’re in to have a huge cold spot. Therefore, pay attention to the coverage area listed in the specs. Sure, you could save a few bucks by going with a unit that covers a smaller area, but you won’t get the performance you need.

Infrared Fireplace vs. Electric Fireplace: What to Look For?

If you have any questions or comments, please add them below in the comment section. Similarly, please let us know if you spot any mistakes or omissions. Thanks!

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About the author

Hi I’m Alex, founder of HouseholdMe.com and I’d like to say thank you for dropping by. Like most of you, the first thing I look at before buying something online is reviews or buying guides. By reading what other people say will help me gauge whether or not a product is good or not.  I am trying to help people find answers, solve problems, and get inspired.

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