Winter doesn’t seem so long and dark when you’re comfortable at your desk, workbench, or on the couch. A portable heater can go a long way to ensuring that. However, heaters go about their work in different ways, and an appliance that’s suited to the living room may not serve you well in the garage.
We’ve done two things to help you find an appliance. First, we’ve tested heaters, and you’ll find reviews of those below after an explanation of how we evaluated them. But first, read our primer on how heaters work so you know what to look for and take into account when you’re navigating the buying process. The combination of this background and our reviews will not only help you find an appliance but select the right one.
Flip it on and heat your work area, indoors or out.
Small but mighty, it’s powerful enough to heat a small room.
Height and powerful air movement give the AW300 good distribution.
Take the heat anywhere.
How Space Heaters Heat
Heat is transmitted one of three ways, and almost all portable heaters make use of all of these or two out of the three. Knowing how they do it is more than an exercise in physics; it can help you select the right appliance to suit your needs.
Radiation: A ray in the infrared (electromagnetic) spectrum travels through space, creating heat energy when it passes through a solid, such as you, furnishings, objects and equipment, or a structure (such as your home).
Convection: Movement of heat energy through a fluid, either a gas such as air or a liquid such as oil or water.
Conduction: Movement of heat energy through a solid, by means of direct physical contact.
And most heaters make use of all of them, to one extent or another.
Electric-coil fan heaters: The simplest and least expensive space heaters blow air over an electrical heating element.
Ideal use: Good for quickly producing heat in a small area, such as a shed or office, so that occupants can move about in a small zone of warm air.
Ceramic heaters: Simple, inexpensive, and versatile, these use an electrical resistance element encased in a ceramic block or a ceramic element that is itself semi-electrically conductive and generates heat. The block stores heat and radiates it out as infrared energy. Most of these space heaters have a fan, but a few primitive ones do not.
Ideal use: A better and quieter alternative to an electric coil fan heater. These are great for shared offices or wherever quiet heat is needed
Oil-filled radiators: These wheeled appliances are filled with oil heated by a resistance element. They slowly and noiselessly raise the air temperature within the area.
Ideal use: Best for a central location, especially where noiseless (not necessarily quick) heating is the priority, such as a home office or library.
Gas and liquid-fuel heaters: These appliances burn propane or kerosene to warm an infrared emitter that projects the energy.
Ideal use: Construction sites, garages, or work areas are the best places to use these heaters, since you want to place one at a comfortable distance and keep the work area unobstructed.
How We Test
We began our test with a Fluke 345—a clamp-on amp meter and a power-quality test instrument—to check whether the appliances drew more than their rated amperage. And using the meter’s oscilloscope, we examined each space heater’s energy use on the high setting to see whether a heating element, switch, or fan motor is misbehaving. Next, we used a thermocouple on a Fluke 233 meter to measure temperature on the heater’s front to gauge whether it’s a burn hazard should you accidentally graze it. After that, we checked whether the appliance would shut off if it tipped over. Many are equipped with a switch on the bottom of their case that will cut the power if the space heater should fall. Finally, we shot a thermographic picture of each heater using a Flir C3 camera to search for unusually hot areas or any other anomaly that escaped our other tests. After all that, these heaters came out on top.
Heat Storm HS-1500-TT
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Carbon-filament infrared | Highest grill temperature: 323 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 12.2 | Weight: 11.6 lb
HS-1500-TT Infrared Heater HEAT STORM amazon.com $105.02 SHOP NOW
- Heats up quickly
- Cord is stiff and unwieldy
This no-frills space heater has precisely one control: the on/off switch. Flip it, and the 16-inch carbon-fiber heating element glows cherry red in seconds. Its parabolic reflector bounces the infrared ray quite effectively. Don’t stand too close; optimal distance is several feet and we could feel the warmth out to 12 feet. This Heat Storm is rated for outdoor and indoor use, for a construction site, a patio, and in a workshop. Its tripod allows you to adjust the height from three feet to a bit higher than six feet. It could use a cord wrap. The heavy 13-foot cord is fairly stiff and flops around without some means to keep it under control.
Vornado MVH Vortex
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Electrical resistance | Highest grill temperature: 163 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 11.4 | Weight: 4 lb
MVH Vortex Heater VORNADO amazon.com $69.99 SHOP NOW
- Heats a surprisingly large area
- Could use an air filter
The MVH is a simple space heater with a circular resistance coil and a three-blade fan that blows through a spiral grill. The result is surprisingly quiet and evenly-distributed heat output adjustable to three settings: low (750 watts), medium (1,125 watts), and high (1,500 watts). The grill temperature we recorded is high but not objectionable. The appliance’s case stays cool to the touch, and a hand hold is molded into the back so you can comfortably reposition it. Sitting at floor level, and moving as much air as it does, the MVH is bound to pull in dust. We think it needs an air filter, to avoid a fire hazard. Lacking that, vacuum the MVH regularly.
―BEST FOR LARGE ROOMS―
Lasko AW300 Tower
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Electrical ceramic | Highest grill temperature: 161 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 12.2 | Weight: 9.4 lb
AW300 Tower Heater LASKO amazon.com $190.24 SHOP NOW
- Heats a large area quickly
- Battery hatch on the remote is difficult to open
Lasko calls the AW300 “bladeless,” as if it lacked a fan. It uses a multi-vane impeller instead. This fanless design (to call it that) does contribute to the appliance’s quiet operation, as it pulls in air through its base and into its tower. It’s equipped with a cleanable air filter, right outside the impeller, which you can access through a tool-free hatch. We also like the sleek touch pad on the front for controlling the wattage setting for the heating element, tower oscillation, and the eight-hour timer. The large amount of air flow and the appliance’s even heat distribution helps it bring a room up to a comfortable temperature faster than other space heaters. One gripe: The battery hatch cover on the remote is difficult to remove.
―BEST BUDGET OPTION―
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Ceramic with fan | Highest grill temp: 302 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 11.92 | Weight: 2.4 lb
FH105A Space Heater ANDILY $29.99 SHOP NOW
- High grill temp
When we saw that this had more than 4,000 Amazon customer reviews to its credit, we had to test it. And we were pleasantly surprised by its performance. Its two ceramic elements bring up the heat quickly. On the low setting, it’s a 750-watt space heater; on the high setting, it’s 1,500 watts. It can also be used as a single-speed fan (without heat). A thermostat control knob on its left is dialed until the appliance shuts off. The thermostat turns the heater back on automatically when it senses that the surrounding air has fallen below the set temperature. Other than the fact that it’s a bit louder than other heaters, there’s not much more to say about it. It throws the heat—cheap. However, the Flir found that its heat pattern is oddly skewed to the left.
―BEST FOR SILENT HEAT―
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Electrical, oil-filled radiator | Highest surface temperature: 162 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 11.9 | Weight: 21.8 lb
TRSLS0715EL Space Heater DELONGHI lowes.com $79.99SHOP NOW
- Takes a long time to heat up
The DeLonghi has a thermostatic control, three heat settings, and a timer. But there’s no denying that it has a simple old-school look and feel. Nearly the entire surface of this grill-less appliance gets piping hot—the thermographic view through the Flir showed a large, bright yellow, box-shaped hunk of heat. Like a stove, it will set up a convection current, with hot air rising up from it to the ceiling, sinking back down along the walls, toward the heater, and up again. Like all space heaters of this type, it’s most effective when in the center of a room. If that doesn’t describe what you have in mind, look elsewhere.
―BEST FOR DESK TOPS―
Honeywell HCE100B Heat Bud
Watts: 250 | Type: Ceramic with fan | Highest grill temp: 250 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 2.1 | Weight: 1.4 lb
HCE100B Heat Bud HONEY WELL Amazon $19.99 SHOP NOW
- Decent heat output
- Not for larger areas
Honeywell named this appliance the Heat Bud; the name suits it. The little low-wattage heater is meant to sit on your desk (a safe distance from papers and your computer, naturally) and gently blow warm air across one or both of its ceramic heating elements. On its low setting (170 watts), you barely know that it’s on. On high, it projects a substantial amount of warmth, relative to its small size and modest wattage. The Heat Bud is a cute little thing, but keep in mind that its grill gets hot.
―BEST FOR A CABIN―
Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX
BTUs: 4,000 (low) or 9,000 (high) | Type: Propane-fueled | Highest grill temperature: 360 degrees | Highest recorded amps: N.A. | Weight (with propane cylinder): 9.4 lb
F232000 MH9BX Space Heater MR. HEATER Amazon $93.00 SHOP NOW
- Small but extremely effective
- Light and compact
- Slight breeze can blow it out
Twist on a propane cylinder and turn the ignition knob to light: that’s all there is to warming up a frosty space using this little gas-fired dynamo. It’s noiseless and, according to our Flir camera, produces a well-heated circle with a four-foot diameter. Mr. Heater estimates that, when placed in an enclosed space, the MH9BX’s infrared output can heat up to 225 square feet. That’s a lot of firepower in an appliance about the size of a toolbox. If you need a longer run time than its estimated three hours on high, you can buy a kit that enables you to hook it up to a 20-pound propane cylinder. As for its safety, it’s equipped with both an oxygen-depletion sensor, for operating in enclosed areas, and a tip-over switch that shuts it off. Be warned: It doesn’t take much of a breeze to blow it out.
Wattage: 1,500 watts | Type: Ceramic with fan | Highest grill temp: 178 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 12.21 | Weight: 3.8 lb
5409 Top Handle Heater LASKO amazon.com
$41.99 $36.99 (12% off) SHOP NOW
- Super portable
Look at it this way, for less than the cost of a bag of groceries, you get a pleasant little space heater with two settings, 12 thermostat set points, oscillation, and ceramic heating elements. High heat is the typical 1,500 watts, which (unless you happen to be heating an igloo) is more than enough for what this appliance is intended for on a desk top or countertop or at floor level. Really, for those applications, we’d recommend the low setting. The owner’s manual doesn’t say what that is but our clamp-on Fluke meter gave us a reading of 7.6 amps/912 watts. All of those features, and you get one of the better handles we’ve seen in this class of products. The fan has an unintended white noise quality to it; it could be a bit quieter.
―BEST AT FLOOR LEVEL―
Honeywell HCE840B HeatGenius
Watts: 1,500 | Type: Electrical ceramic | Highest grill temperature: 252 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 12.5 | Weight: 4.8 lb
HCE840B Heat Genius HONEY WELL amazon.com $79.99 SHOP NOW
- Small but very effective
- Could use a cord wrap
The aptly named HeatGenius employs two vertical heating elements, two fans, and a thermostat. You can set the fan speed and temperature to heat a room, or you can set it to heat just at floor level, mid-height, or in the head and chest area. It’s also equipped with a timer that adjusts the heat down over two hours, dropping its output every 30 minutes. After two hours, the heater turns off. One other feature that we really like is the appliance’s Quiet Mode. It shuts off the lower fan and runs the upper fan on low speed for almost noiseless heat. We wish Honeywell equipped this with a cord wrap for better storage. But that’s a design deficiency shared by most small space heaters.
―BEST FOR LIVING ROOMS―
Honeywell HCE 323V
Wattage: 1,500 | Type: Ceramic with fan | Highest grill temp: 217 degrees | Highest recorded amps: 12.67 | Weight: 4.4 lb
HCE 323V Space Heater HONEY WELL amazon.com $73.34 SHOP NOW
- Virtually noiseless, yet still moves a fair bit of heat
- Proximity sensor
This is a well-designed and well-made little space heater, a nearly flawless execution of what a small heater can be. First, it’s almost noiseless, yet it moves a fair amount of air and quickly heats up a large area around it. That’s also due to a very even heating pattern, based both on our perception of what the heater is putting out and confirmed with our Flir camera and the Fluke thermocouple. Its noiselessness, adjustability, output, and thermostatic control make it perfect for unobtrusive heating in a small home office or even a living room. And in terms of safety, its proximity sensor worked very well in shutting down the heater when something is positioned right in front of it.
―BEST FOR OUTDOORS―
DeWalt DXH 140KTHCF
BTUs: 140,000 | Type: Kerosene-fueled | Highest grill temperature: N.A. | Weight (without fuel): 47 lb
- Extremely powerful
- A bit loud
The DeWalt is a robust heater designed for drafty areas, like construction sites and buildings under renovation. If your garage qualifies as something close to that, so be it. We found that it requires a minimum of two gallons to fire reliably. Yet the fuel cap is in an inconvenient place below the combustion chamber barrel, mystifying on an otherwise well-engineered appliance. (We recommend you get a long-neck flexible spout to fill the tank.) But once it’s loaded, press the on switch, dial the thermostat to the desired temperature, and watch it fire right up. We were pleasantly surprised by several things: its copious heat output, how little current it draws, and how its outside surface doesn’t get hot. Even after a half hour of operation, the barrel surface was only warm, thanks to an insulating air chamber between the barrel’s cover and its inner surface.