People sometimes turn to portable space heaters for help warming rooms when their primary home heating system isn't quite up to the task. For others, space heats might be the primary heating source, preferred because they allow you to heat only the rooms you use. There are many different types of portable heaters, all of which use slightly different methods to warm the space. Which one will work best for you depends on the characteristics of the space you will be heating. You should also take into account how loud the heater is when running and consider safety issues, especially if you have children or pets.

Halogen  heater on wooden floor.
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Electric space heaters are safe and efficient when used properly.

Here are some common types of space heaters.

Radiant Heaters

Infrared

Halogen or infra heater in action against wooden floor
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Infrared heaters are quiet but emit an orange glow.

Infrared heaters work by warming objects directly adjacent to them. They provide heat quickly but do so in a straight line from heating element to object. Like the sun's rays, infrared heat warms only objects in its direct path and cannot work around obstacles. As a result, infrared heaters work best in open areas free of obstructions.

These heaters use very little energy but do emit a soft orange glow, which some people find bothersome in bedrooms. They are also hot to the touch and require caution when used around pets and children. Infrared heaters do run silently, however. If you are sitting in one spot for a length of time, an infrared heater aimed in your direction will be a good choice.

Oil-Filled Radiators

Oil-filled radiator.
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Oil-filled heaters are very energy efficient, but very hot to the touch.

Radiant heat is also created by portable oil-filled radiators. These radiant heaters consist of a series of tubes filled with oil. As this oil is warmed by electrical coils, the heat radiates off of the unit to the surrounding area. The oil in these heaters is never burned as fuel, so there is no need to refill them or perform other maintenance tasks.

Like infrared heaters, oil-filled radiators are very energy efficient and silent, but they are hot to the touch and so may not be suitable for rooms used by children. Unlike an infrared heater, oil-filled radiators continue to provide residual heat for a time when turned off after use.

Ceramic Heaters

Ceramic fan heater isolated on white background
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Ceramic heaters stay cool to the touch.

Because they stay cool to the touch, ceramic heaters are an excellent choice for use around pets and children. Ceramic heaters use a wire to warm a series of ceramic plates. The heat from the ceramic plates is transferred to aluminum baffles that then warm the room. Because these heaters warm the air in the room, they take a bit longer to make you comfortable. A benefit to this, however, is that a well-insulated room will stay warmer longer, even holding some heat after you turn the heater off.

Ceramic heaters come in different sizes to handle both small and large spaces, and many units have fans that help circulate the warm air. Although the heater itself is quiet, you may be able to hear the noise of the fan when it is operating. These heaters work well when you are moving around or in rooms where several people need to stay warm.

Micathermic Heater

A micathermic panel heater.
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Micathermic heaters are feature a heating panel that provides both radiant and convection heat.

Micathermic heaters combine multiple heating technologies to deliver heat in more than one way. The heating elements inside micathermic heaters are encased inside a mineral known as _mica—_a stone that conducts heat very well. When the stones are hot, they emit radiant heat to warm objects in the room, as well as convection heat that warms the air. Because nonflammable stones surround the heating element, the risk of overheating is extremely minimal with this type of heater. The units are also very thin and quiet.

Micathermic heaters are an excellent choice for allergy sufferers because they use the room's natural air flow to circulate heat rather than a fan, which can pick up dust and other allergens and then spread them. Micathermic heaters are hot to the touch, however, and may not work well in rooms used by children and pets.

Are They Safe?

Electric space heaters are very safe when used according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Most have safety features built in to protect against common dangers, such as overheating or tipping over. You can stay safe by turning the heater off when you leave home, plugging the heater directly into an outlet rather than into an extension cord. Using space heaters only in rooms with smoke detectors. Always look for a heater bearing a stamp of approval from an independent testing company, such as Underwriters Laboratories.