How To Buy Portable Heaters

Stay warm anywhere in your home with the best space heater

Portable heaters, also called space heaters, provide supplemental warmth and can increase energy efficiency by allowing you to maintain a lower overall heat setting throughout your home. This guide will help you identify which type of heater is best for you.

Electric vs. Gas Space Heaters

There are two types of space heaters. Electric heaters convert electrical energy into heat, while gas heaters burn fuel such as propane, natural gas or kerosene.

Type Benefits Features to Consider


  • Offers high energy efficiency
  • Can be used in enclosed areas
  • Requires no venting
  • Safest option for portable heating
  • Typically costs more to operate than gas units
  • Requires an electrical outlet
  • Can take longer to warm up
  • Doesn't provide heat during power outages


  • May cost up to 50%, less to operate than electric
  • Offers greater portability
  • Can function during power outages
  • Heats up quickly
  • Typically requires higher initial investment 
  • Requires adequate ventilation 
  • Should only be used in open areas
  • Can create noise when fuel flows and ignites

Electric Heaters

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.

Oil-filled radiant

  • Transmits safe warmth with a heat-conserving oil that doesn’t need refilling
  • Safe, effective and inexpensive
  • Ideal for living room, bedroom or den


  • Air is warmed over coil elements and fanned into a room
  • Plastic housing remains cool to the touch
  • Provides quick and even heat
  • Ideal for office or workshop


  • Directs heat at specific locations or people
  • Ideal for bedroom or living room


  • Combines the processes of convection and radiant heat
  • Reaches full power within minutes
  • Evenly releases 80% convection and 20% infrared heat without fans


  • Air is warmed over coil ceramic and aluminum elements
  • Provides quick, powerful heat while fan housing stays cool
  • Ideal for small office, sunroom, kitchen or bedroom

Utility heaters

  • Air is fanned into room after being warmed over coil elements
  • Durable with quick, even heat
  • Best for basement, garage or workshop

Gas Heaters

Gas heaters are best 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.


  • Some require electricity for ignition while others light with a match
  • Provides heat for hours with 20, 40 or 100 pounds of fuel
  • Available in a variety of sizes

Natural gas

  • Requires a gas hookup but can be disconnected when not in use
  • Some units don’t require ventilation
  • Certain models contain sensors that automatically shut them off if air quality becomes poor


  • Utilizes a wick to soak up and burn kerosene
  • Forced-air heaters require electricity to run and provide tens of thousands of BTUs of heat
  • Ideal for construction use or large outdoor events
  • Some units can operate for up to 12 hours on a single full tank

Heater Styles

Electric and gas heaters are available in a variety of styles to suit almost any indoor or outdoor environment.


  • Baseboard electric heaters, also known as low-profile heaters, are placed along an outside wall in a room. They provide steady heat, 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 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 long periods of heating 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 are quiet, lightweight, and most can be mounted on a wall. Panel heaters do not glow orange, and their modern design complements room décor. They are typically used in large spaces such as 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 7 feet or higher.
  • Tabletop 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.

Safety Features & Tips

Portable heaters should be certified to meet safety standards designated by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. Home insurance companies often require this.

Tip: Always plug your heater directly into a 120-volt wall outlet. Never use an extension cord, power strip, surge protector, multiple outlet adapter, cord reel or outlet-type air freshener.

Look for these safety features:

  • Tip-over switches that automatically shut off the unit if it’s knocked over by accident
  • Overheat protection, which shuts off the heater when a sensor detects a pre-determined temperature
  • Flame-resistant cases and thermally protected motors that provide further fire protection

For additional safety, remember:

  • Liquid-filled heaters are generally safer than those with exposed heating elements.
  • 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 feet away from combustible surfaces.
  • Use gas, propane and kerosene units only in properly vented areas.
  • Choose units with outer grill openings small enough to keep hands and pet paws out.
  • Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are operating properly before using any space heaters.