Space heater

A space heater is a device used to heat a single, small- to medium-sized area.[1] This type of heater can be contrasted with central heating, which distributes heat to multiple areas.

Electric infrared space heater


Oil heaters transfer heat by convection

Electric space heaters fall into four main categories: fan heaters, ceramic, infrared, and oil-filled.[2]

  • Fan heaters are the cheapest, but are often the least efficient and versatile. Nonetheless, they can be useful for heating small spaces, such as a small room or office cubicle.[2]
  • Ceramic heaters push air across a piece of heated ceramic material. They can adequately heat a typical bedroom.[2]
  • Infrared heaters provide more heat than ceramic models, and are also smaller and quieter. They do not oscillate like ceramic heaters, but consist of a heating chamber deep within the unit that prevent accidental fires, and allows for greater accumulation of heat before it is emitted by the unit. By the mid-2010s, many were outfitted with touch-screen controls and energy-saving settings, and were styled in such a way to complement the user's furniture. They grew in popularity in the 2010s.[2]
  • Oil-filled heaters can silently heat larger rooms, but take longer to heat up. Like infrared models, they lack a fan, but circulate heat according to a room's air patterns, which is why it may take longer for a user to discern a difference in temperature. By the mid-2010s, some higher-end models included more precise controls.[2]

Without a fan

In convective heaters without a fan, the heating element is surrounded by oil or water. These heaters warm a room more slowly, because the liquid must be heated before the heat can reach the surrounding air. They produce more heat after being turned off, however, because of the hot liquid inside the heater. The risk of fire (and burns) is sometimes less with oil-filled heaters than those with fans,[3][4] but some fan-assisted heaters have a lower risk of fire (and burns) than other oil-filled heaters.[5]

Radiant heaters

Honeywell electric infrared radiant heater
Sunbeam quartz space heater uses quartz tubing for infrared heating

Halogen heaters have tungsten filaments in sealed quartz envelopes, mounted in front of a metal reflector in a plastic case. They operate at a higher temperature than nichrome-wire heaters but not as high as incandescent light bulbs, radiating primarily in the infrared spectrum. They convert up to 86 percent of their input power to radiant energy, losing the remainder to conductive and convective heat.[6]


Fire, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning are the main risks of space heaters. About 25,000 fires are caused by space heaters in the United States each year, resulting in about 300 deaths. Roughly 6,000 hospital emergency department visits annually in the US are caused by space heaters, mainly from burns.[7]


Improper use can increase the risk of fire and burns. Safe operation includes:[8][7][9]


No one type of heater is safer than any other type. The risk of fire and burns can vary, depending on model and manufacturer.[5]


In the United States, Underwriters Laboratories' UL 1278[10] (for portable electric space heaters) and UL 1042[11] standards (for portable and fixed baseboard electric heaters) certify heater safety. Although the General Services Administration had Specification W-H-193[12] for electric space heaters, it was replaced in 1995 by the UL standards. Additional information on portable-heater safety may be found at the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency website.[13]


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated a number of space heaters, but none have received its Energy Star label.[14]

See also


  1. "the definition of space heater". Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  2. Tedeschi, Bob (2015-02-25). "Space Heater Reviews". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on February 27, 2015. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  3. "Residential Energy Efficiency Space Heaters". Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Archived from the original on 2004-01-28. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
  4. New Fix-it-yourself Manual. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader's Digest Association. 2009. ISBN 978-0895778710.
  5. "Space Heater Ratings". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  6. 2008 ASHRAE Handbook – Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Systems and Equipment (I-P Edition) American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., 2008, Electronic ISBN 978-1-60119-795-5, table 2 page 15.3
  7. "Portable Heaters". United States Department of Energy. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  8. "Why Space Heaters Need Their Space". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  9. "Space heaters involved in 79 percent of fatal home heating fires". National Fire Protection Agency. 2019-02-11. Archived from the original on 2019-02-26. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  10. Underwriters Laboratories (2000-06-21). "UL 1278, Standard for Movable and Wall- or Ceiling-Hung Electric Room Heaters". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  11. Underwriters Laboratories (2009-08-31). "UL 1042, Electric Baseboard Heating Equipment". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  12. General Services Administration (1977-09-13). "W-H-193D, Heater, Space, Electric (Portable)". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  13. Department of Energy (2011-02-09). "Portable Heaters". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  14. Environmental Protection Agency. "Space Heaters". Retrieved 2011-10-29.
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