Portable heaters are appliances that provide warmth in indoor areas. They are ideal for rooms that are cold due to inadequate heating or areas where central heat may not be installed, like garages. They are a good solution for people who are sensitive to cold, providing warmth in a specific room without overheating the entire home. In addition to making your home more comfortable, when used correctly, portable heaters can increase energy efficiency by allowing you to maintain a lower overall heat setting throughout your home. There are a wide range of electric and gas-powered heaters to choose from, each with their own particular benefits. This buying guide will explain the types of portable heaters available, so you can feel confident you’re selecting the one that best meets your individual needs.
Factors to Consider
• Fuel – Electric or gas
• Design – Baseboard, tower, radiator, panel, patio tabletop
• Power – Volts and amps, heater ratings
• Cost & Energy Savings – Fuel costs, climate, insulation, furnace
• Controls – Programmable thermostats and timers
• Safety Features – Cut-off devices, overheat protection switches, flame-resistant cases,ventilation requirements
There are two basic types of portable heaters to choose from—electric and gas.
• Electric heaters create warmth by converting electrical energy into heat.
• Gas heaters produce heat by burning fuel such as propane, natural gas or kerosene.
Consult the chart below to assess the unique benefits and tradeoffs of each.
There are two types of electric heaters –convection and radiant.
|Convection heaters are the most energy-efficient choice for heating large, frequently used living areas for short periods of time. Convection heaters use a permanently sealed heat transfer liquid, such as oil, and an electric heating element. The liquid, which is safe from leaks and never needs to be refilled, stores heat and distributes it using the natural circulation of air in a room. Some convection heaters include fans for greater air circulation. Convection heaters are most effective in rooms that are sealed off, with no open doors.|
|Fan-Forced Ceramic heaters provide warm air that can be easily directed for focused warmth where needed. Ceramic heating elements are self-regulating and will automatically cut the heat if the air intake or output is blocked. These heaters are designed in a variety of sizes with features to meet many needs. They’re commonly used in sunrooms, bedrooms and home offices.|
|Radiant heaters, also known as reflective heaters, generate immediate heat by directing infrared rays to warm up objects, much like the heat you feel when you stand in the sun. Radiant heaters are an efficient solution for one or two people seeking heat for a few hours. They offer several advantages over convection units, including no moving parts, silent operation, no dependency on air movement and lower energy costs.|
|Panel heaters combine the processes of convection and radiant heat. They reach full power within minutes, releasing 80% convection and 20% infrared heat evenly throughout a room, without fans.|
Portable gas heaters are typically best used for heating larger, well-ventilated areas such as a garage or areas outside the house. The two basic types of gas heaters are vented and unvented.
• Unvented gas heaters are often not for indoor use because they can introduce harmful gases like
carbon monoxide and reduce the amount of oxygen in the areas where they operate. For this reason,
some states have banned the use of unvented gas heaters indoors.
• Vented gas heaters are designed to be located next to a wall with a vent installed in the wall or ceiling that
directs exhaust gases to the outside. Look for vented heaters labeled as “100% outdoor air” units, which
are the safest.
Gas heaters use a variety of fuels.
|Propane heaters may require electricity for ignition while others light with a match. They can provide heat for hours with 20, 40 or 100 pounds of fuel and are available in a variety of sizes. Powerful propane heaters with fans are ideal for heating large area.|
|Natural gas heaters require a gas hookup but can be disconnected when not in use. Some units don’t need to be vented and they often contain sensors that automatically shut them off if air quality becomes poor.|
|Kerosene convection heaters use a wick to soak up and burn kerosene. They are ideal for heating large areas, like garages. They can be used indoors in most parts of the country in the event of power loss.|
|Kerosene forced air heaters require electricity to run and provide tens of thousands of BTUs of heat. They’re ideal for construction use or larger outdoor events. Some units can operate for up to 12 hours on a single full tank.|
Once you’ve selected the type of heater that best fits your need, the next step is to determine the design that will work best where it will be used.
Electric and gas heaters are available in a variety of designs to suit almost any environment:
|• Baseboard, or low-profile, electric heaters are placed along an outside wall in a room.
They provide steady heat, offer low-cost installation and quiet operation and are an ideal
heating solution for basements and rec rooms.
|• Tower heaters are electric heaters in a tall, thin case. They provide directional heat and are
ideal for living spaces, sunrooms and virtually any area that can be closed off.
|• Radiator electric heaters are ideal for heating for long periods of time and provide even,
steady and less drying heat than radiant and fan-forced heaters. An ideal choice for heating
bedrooms, they offer a retro look and some models include wheels for added mobility.
|• Panel heaters provide silent heat. They are very lightweight and most have the option to be
mounted on a wall. Panel heaters do not glow orange, and their modern design complements
room décor. They are a popular choice for large spaces and living rooms.
|• Patio heaters can be electric or gas. Electric models are typically wall mounted heat lamps
that provide directional warmth over outdoor baths or dining areas. Gas models produce
heat for a 20-foot diameter area using kerosene, propane or natural gas with umbrella-like
designs on poles in heights up to 7 feet or more.
| • Table top heaters look like table lamps and can be used indoors or outdoors. Available as
gas or electric units, they're a good choice for decks and patios.
Another important factor to consider is the amount of power your portable heater will need to provide to effectively heat the room it will be in.
Volts and Amps
• Electric portable heaters are available in 120- and 240-volt designs. Units with 240 volts will provide
significantly more heat but require a special receptacle and circuit.
• Heaters can be single wattage or dual wattage models. Dual wattage units have high and low heat
settings, typically 750 watts for the low setting and 1500 watts for the high setting.
• An electric portable heater can typically share a circuit with other appliances without tripping a breaker or
blowing a fuse. The high setting, however, can draw as much as 13 of 15 available amps, leaving only
2-3 amps for other appliances on the same circuit. As a result, you should turn off lights and other
appliances using the same circuit when using the heater’s high setting.
When making your selection, refer to the manufacturer’s packaging and select a heater rated to provide sufficient heat to the area in which it will be working.
• An electric heater too large for a space will consume a lot of energy, resulting in high utility bills.
• A gas heater too large for a space can exhaust too many dangerous pollutants.
• Both electric and gas heaters can overheat if they’re too small for the space they’re working in.
Cost & Energy Savings
While portable heaters can be an effective way to cut energy costs, a number of variables must be taken into account to determine if they are the best option for your individual needs. These include cost of fuel and the climate in your area, the size and amount of insulation in your home and the age and efficiency of the furnace. In addition, how much you save may be based on how much time you spend in the room with the portable heater. If you’re there for long periods, you can use the portable heater, turn down the thermostat 5 or 10 degrees and realize some energy savings.
You can determine the cost of running your portable heater using this formula:
(Wattage divided by 1000) X Average cost of electricity per kilowatt hour (kWh) X Hours used = Cost
Example: (1500 watts divided by 1000 = 1.5) X $0.12 kWh X 12 hrs. = $2.16 per day.
Portable heaters with automatic or programmable thermostats provide the most convenience and flexibility and avoid wasted energy from overheating a room. Thermostatically controlled units monitor room temperature and turn on and off accordingly, providing continuous comfort in a room. They allow you to control the amount of electricity or fuel the heater consumes, and helps you save on energy costs over time.
• Programmable thermostats allow you to set a program to turn the heater on and off to maintain the
desired temperature in a room. The program may be set with manual or digital controls. Be aware
that while digital controls can be set to precise settings, the digital thermostat on an electric heater
will not be exact at measuring room temperature.
• Programmable timers provide the highest degree of convenience and energy savings. Rather than
operating continuously based on temperature measurement, these units turn the heater on and off at
specific times you set it for over the course of the day. You can heat a bedroom before you wake up,
leave the unit off over the course of the day and have it turn back on after you’ve arrived home.
Regardless of which type of heater you purchase, it is important to observe certain precautions and to look for features that will enhance safety. Look for portable heaters certified to meet certain standards designated by a National Recognized Testing Laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories. This approval is often required by insurance companies. Always plug your heater directly into a 120V wall outlet. Never use an extension cord or other cord connected device, such as a power strip, surge protector, multiple outlet adapter, cord reel, or outlet-type air freshener.
Safety features to look for include:
• Tip-over switches automatically shut the unit off if it’s knocked over by accident
• Overheat protection shuts the heater off when a sensor detects a pre-determined temperature
• Flame-resistant cases and thermally protected motors provide further fire protection
Steps you can take to provide further protection:
• Liquid-filled heaters are generally safer than those with exposed heating elements
• Be sure to turn heaters off when you're not at home or in the room
• Do not use heaters in bathrooms or other moist areas unless they are approved for such use
• Keep the heater at least 3 ft. away from combustible surfaces
• Use gas, propane and kerosene units only in properly vented areas
• Select units with outer grill openings small enough to keep out hands and paws
• Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are operational
• Fans - Heaters with fans help to move air through a room.
• Oscillators - Oscillating heaters turn left to right to distribute heat horizontally. Some oscillating
models include fans.
• Air Conditioning - Some portable air conditioners can be used to provide heat in colder weather,
giving you a versatile unit that fulfills multiple needs.
• Timers - If your bedroom or kitchen is often chilly first thing in the morning, look for a portable heater with
a timer that allows you to program a time for the unit to turn on automatically.
• Halogen - Radiant heaters with halogen elements provide greater energy efficiency while producing
the same amount of heat as standard elements.