They all cost similarly but work differently.
Most space heaters cost between $30 and $200 and cost between $1 and $3 per 24 hours to run. Where they are different is in how they heat, how soon they heat up the room, and how portable and silent they are.
Here are a few questions a home owner should ask themselves to figure out the best type of heater for their home:
Do you need to heat up the room, or do you need to warm up? Infrared heaters are incredibly effective in heating up one person who’s sitting still. If there are more than one person and/or these people are going to be moving around, you’ll need to explore space heater options.
Are you going to be moving the heater from room to room often Oil space heaters are heavy and clumsy to move. Small ceramic space heaters can achieve similar heating but they’re effortless to pick up and carry to another room.
Do you care about how fast the room heats up? Oil fueled heaters take 20 minutes just to heat up, and then some to heat up the room. It can be discomforting to have to wait after the room heats up after coming home. Infrared and mica panel heaters offer almost instantaneous heat.
Do you care about the fan noise? Ceramic heaters are equipped with small fans that can be annoying. Infrared heaters emit a buzzing noise. Oil heaters, with all their disadvantages, are dead silent, and so are mica panel heaters.
Do you care about the looks? Infrared heaters are usually disguised as mini-furnaces. They look like a piece of furniture. Oil and mica panel heaters look like—well, like space heaters. And you wouldn’t call them small, exactly.
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Our top pick: Dr Infrared Heater
Much like infrared saunas, infrared heaters radiate infrared light, which warms everything that blocks its way. Technically speaking, infrared heaters are 100% efficient, as they use all of the heat they produce and there’s no wasted energy. What does it actually feel, though, to have one in your room?
While an infrared heater will heat up objects (and subjects) within a 3-feet radius, it will only do so in a narrow cone it’s pointed at. The simplest way to imagine how an infrared heater feels is this: if you’re sitting in front of it, you’ll warm up quickly; if you’re sitting behind it, you’ll feel like the heater is off. Ironically, an infrared heater’s 100% efficiency means it doesn’t “radiate” heat—instead, it warms the objects it’s pointed at.
In the context of day-to-day use, infrared heaters work best when you need to warm yourself—and only yourself—up and when you’re locked in a fixed position—for example, when working or watching a movie. If there are multiple people in the room, the infrared rays may be blocked by one of the people or they may be outside the cone of radiation. If you’ll be actively moving around the room, you will not absorb enough infrared rays to warm up.
While infrared space heaters may not be the most versatile heating option out there, they are damn good at heating bodies when used properly. A field experiment showed that the average infrared heater achieves a 2-3 higher temperature change in objects heated within the first 15 minutes, compared to the average fuel or fan heater.
When it comes to the looks, infrared heaters leave the competition far behind. They’re often designed as a piece of furniture. Sometimes, they’re even disguised as a mini-furnace. Oil heaters, for example, usually look dull and archaic.
The same experiment measured that infrared heaters use up about 1kWh, which costs around $0.11 per hour. For full 24-hour round-the-clock heating, an infrared heater will cost about $2.64 per day. Brand new infrared heaters can cost as low as $29 and as high as $149.
Oil Filled Heaters
Our top pick: Insignia HTRFBK6
Oil heaters are the granddaddies of all space heaters. Much like traditional radiators, oil heaters are riddled with cavities filled with oil. Unlike water, oil can be heated to larger temperatures with relatively less energy. It also releases heat more slowly, so it can heat the room even hours after you’ve turned it off. Since it has no moving parts, an oil heater is completely silent. It’s also safe to the touch—so you can dry your clothes on an oil heater without having to stay alert.
One of the biggest practical drawbacks of an oil heater is that it takes about 20 minutes just to heat up. This may not sound like a lot, but coming home to a cold apartment only to wait for an hour for the room to start heating up is not exactly a pleasant experience. And, due to electricity costs, you’ll probably want to switch it off once you leave the house.
It’s difficult to set the right temperature with an oil heater. Most of them only have analog buttons—no digital thermostat—which means that you’ll have to guess what’s the right setting for your home. It’s quite annoying to overheat a room after waiting for hours for it to heat up in the first place.
Another thing to consider is that oil heaters are quite heavy and clumsy to replace. An average oil heater weighs about 17 pounds, and the small wheels attached to its bottom aren’t of much help—unless your floors are completely flat and you have no carpets. If you’re looking to move your heater from one room to another every day, an oil heater may not be the optimal choice for you.
In addition to being heavy, oil heaters can easily be tipped. So if you have small children in the house, this is definitely something to consider.
Assuming the kWh cost of $0.15, it costs around $0.15 to leave the average oil heater on for an hour, or $3.60 to have it on for an entire 24 hours. The average cost of a brand new oil space heater is $75.
Ceramic Space Heaters
Our top pick: Comfort Zone
Ceramic space heaters use electricity to heat up a ceramic plate, which then radiates the heat in all directions with the help of a fan. In a way, the ceramic heater is a hair dryer designed to heat a room, instead of drying hair.
Probably the best thing about ceramic heaters is that they don’t occupy much more space than a hair dryer would. They come in all shapes and sizes, and most of them are designed as little boxes that can be grasped with a palm. Big ceramic heaters can weigh upwards of 10 pounds, but most of them weigh 5-7 pounds.
Since they are equipped with a fan, ceramic heaters do make some noise. Of course, some models will be noisier than others, but the reader should expect at least a slight humming background noise when the ceramic heater is turned on.
Due to their lower electricity usage, ceramic heaters cost about $0.07 per hour to run or $1.68 per 24 hour period. Ceramic heaters are usually cheaper to buy, too, with prices spanning between $30 and $60.
Mica Panel Space Heaters
Our top pick: De’Longhi Mica Thermic Panel Heater
They work very similarly to ceramic space heaters—only instead of a ceramic plate, electricity is used to heat up thin sheets of mica, mineral dust.
Mica heaters are light and thin. The average mica panel heater weighs just 9.2 pounds and is considerably thinner than an oil heater. So it’s easy to move this type of heater from room to room.
A big advantage of mica panel heaters is that they heat up really quickly due to the physical qualities of mica. Within moments of turning it on, a mica panel heater will start radiating heat across the room. A field test comparing different types of space heaters has shown that mica panel heaters achieved the highest room temperature in the shortest amount of time.
While they’re effective at heating, mica heaters do not come with effective looks. The panels are usually covered with black or silver grating. Difficult to imagine an interior that could benefit from this style. Like oil heaters, mica heaters don’t come with digital thermostats—so you’ll have to play the guessing game each time you turn it on.
Due to their higher Watt usage, mica panel space heaters cost around $0.11 per hour to run, or $2.64 per day if you leave them on. Mica heaters are a little more expensive than the other types, with cheaper models starting at $59 and high-end ones costing as much as $199.
Don’t know which one to choose? Share this article with your spouse or housemate and let them help you decide!