Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

Product Reviews

Picking the right space heater

Various models can deliver warmth, but not necessarily savings

iStockphoto.com

The best space heaters can quickly heat you and an average size room for as little as $40. Electric heaters tested by Consumer Reports include an array of safety features that reduce the risk of fire.

But that doesn’t mean all heaters are risk-free.

Continue reading below

Many of the models tested got hot enough to cause the equivalent of a bad sunburn within a second of contact.

Almost all the hot spots are small and relatively hard to reach, though the one on the Sunbeam SQH310, $50, covers 112 square inches. There’s also a hot metal bar at the top that’s tempting to grab as a handle. The Sunbeam didn’t get hot enough to pose a fire risk, but it singed one of the terry-cloth lab towels used in the magazine’s fire-safety tests.

Consumer Reports tested 18 space heaters. Here are the details:

Dyson wins, but not in value. The fastest space heaters brought Consumer Reports’ 200-square-foot test chamber from a chilly 63° F to a comfy 70° F in 15 minutes or less. Consumer Reports also used a test dummy with heat sensors to see how quickly models would heat you and others if you were directly in front of them. Speedier spot heating helped Dyson’s AM04, $400, edge out the other top performers. But the Holmes HFH436, $40, did virtually as well and includes a start-up timer for preheating cold rooms.

Larger models offer mostly style. Paying more for the top-scoring larger space heaters buys a fancier wood casing. The $400 Heat Surge HT-XL has a fake-flame display and a cabinet the company touts as Amish-built. But like most heaters tested, its working parts hail from China. The Duraflame 10HM4126-0107, $230, performed similarly and trades the fake flames and Amish cachet for friendlier controls and a much lower price. But neither of those heaters performed better than the best smaller models.

Three were slow to heat. Larger heaters can also be slower at heating. Leisurely room and spot heating dinged the Soleus Air HM2-15R-32, $80, Consumer Reports tested and put the DeLonghi RD0715, $75, and wall-mounted Eco-Heater NA40045, $95, at the bottom of the ratings.

How to choose

Here’s what else to consider while shopping:

Choose the right type. Look for fast spot heating if you care more about quickly heating one or two people than a roomful of guests. Consider larger heaters if you like the look of wood and an electronic flame display. And consider propane or kerosene heaters strictly for screened-in porches and other well-vented outdoor areas. Both types pose carbon monoxide hazards indoors and typically get hot enough to ignite fabrics.

Look for safety features. All heaters tested include a sensor that shuts them off if they overheat. A switch that does the same if they tip over is a welcome plus for taller models, especially with kids and pets nearby. Instructions for all the models tested also warn consumers to keep them away from water.

Insist on a fan. It helps distribute heat more quickly, and it shows: The three slowest heaters in tests are the only ones without one. Some models can oscillate for more-even heating.

Don’t expect savings. More than 60 percent of homeowners polled in the Consumer Reports’ Energy IQ Quiz thought that space heaters could trim their energy bills. Yet the only way you can save is if you lower heat in other rooms, since electricity is the priciest way to heat. So consider a space heater strictly for comfort. And think about adding insulation to attics, basements, crawl spaces, and other areas for savings.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week