Consumer Report: Space Heaters for Less

With chillier weather coming, this is the time of year when sales of space heaters really take off. Do you need a space heater? And if you do, do you have to spend a lot of money? Consumer Reports just tested more than a dozen to get some answers for you.

There are lots of choices. There are floor models and even one you can mount on the wall. And then there's the Heat Surge, which looks like a fireplace. The tested space heaters range from about $30 to more than $500. Most are 1,500 watts. Consumer Reports says heaters that use the same amount of watts produce the same amount of heat. But they differ on how well they can maintain a set temperature and the features they offer.

Testers use a special chamber to assess space heaters. Sensors measure the temperature in different parts of the room, checking how evenly heat is distributed.

The $550 Heat Surge wound up at the bottom of Consumer Reports' Ratings. It lacks a thermostat—that's what helped the best heaters tested stay within 3 degrees of the set temperature. The $35 SoleusAir heater didn't have a thermostat either, which is a key feature at any price.

In the end, top ratings went to the $70 Honeywell model HZ-817. It's excellent at controlling temperature, and it has a helpful temperature display. But Consumer Reports says don't count on it, or any space heater, to slice your heating bills on its own.

Unless you turn down the heat in the whole house and just use a space heater in one or two rooms, you won't see much of a savings. Adding insulation, especially in the attic, is a far better way to cut your energy costs.

Safety features on electric heaters have improved. Nevertheless, they're linked to thousands of fire-related injuries and deaths each year. Consumer Reports says to never leave one unattended. And before using a space heater, check the power cord to be sure it's in good condition. And never use an extension cord.


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