Heat just the space right around you, and save energy

It’s a cold day outside – and inside – but my personal space heater is helping me keep toasty warm as I write this page. I sit at a wide desk consisting of a custom-cut sheet of plywood supported on each side by filing cabinets, and I run the heater on the floor against the wall – far enough from my legs not to burn them, but close enough to keep them toasty warm!

Small space heaters are a great investment if you want to stay warm in your house or apartment and you stay in one part of the house for long periods. A personal space heater can keep a small enclosed room warm, or a smaller space within a room if that space is reasonably well enclosed. But be aware that there’s a fixed relationship between the wattage of a personal space heater and the amount of heat it gives off. Don’t be fooled by claims of energy efficiency: the lower the wattage, the lower the heat output. As I explain in my main Energy efficient electric heaters page, all electric heaters are 100% efficient at converting electricity to heat.

For this personal space heater review I am going to stick to lower-wattage heaters – ones that have at least one power setting below 1,000 watts. And I’ll start with the simplest and least expensive heater, one that also has the lowest wattage of any I’ve seen. You probably already have one at home and didn’t even know it: an incandescent lightbulb!

There’s a reason electric utilities are constantly urging their customers to switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent or LED house lights: almost all the electricity used by a typical incandescent light bulb is converted directly into heat. So while an incandescent light bulb is quite inefficient at producing light, it’s very efficient at producing heat! The cheapest, lowest-wattage personal space heater you can get is really just an incandescent lightbulb, mounted on a small lamp, tucked under your desk near your feet.

There are a couple of problems with this space heater though, which most heaters designed for use as a personal space heater are designed to avoid. First, it’s easy to kick a lamp over or accidentally step on or kick the lightbulb. Now instead of a personal space heater you have a mess of broken glass. Second, if you don’t surround the light bulb with some kind of guard, you can burn yourself if your leg or foot touches the bulb or gets too close to it. So while a light bulb as a personal space heater is a good option in the short term or if you’re short on cash, it’s not something I recommend for daily use.

Under 250 watts

One personal space heater that puts off just a small amount of heat – enough to keep a tiny enclosed space warm while the rest of the room is cool – is the Indus Tool Cozy Legs flat panel heater. This heater is just 150 watts, so don’t expect it to throw off a lot of heat, but if you’re sitting at a desk for hours at a time, and your desk has a fairly confined space for the legs, it will boost the temperature by a few degrees. 150 watts is hardly any heat at all – it would take 5 to 10 of these heaters to equal the heat output of one blow-dryer – but if you can partly enclose the area, for example by draping a blanket over your lap to shut off some of the opening below the desk – the heat will slowly build up. But if you’re shivering and getting chilblains now, I would go for something higher powered, at least 250-400 watts.

Japanese families have a neat way of keeping their heating costs down, by keeping rooms relatively cold in winter, but heating the space underneath a low wooden table covered by a heavy blanket. Family members and guests sit around the table to do homework, read, or eat a meal, with their legs underneath the blanket, kept warm by the heating source. These heated tables, or kotatsu, are also used (but known by different names) in parts of Central Asia and Spain, and you can easily build your own with the Cozy Legs heater, by mounting the heater on the underside of a table and draping blankets over it. The heater puts off just enough heat to keep the airspace under a small table warm – provided the room itself is at least partially heated. Of course, if the room is at a frigid 20F, this home-made kotatsu won’t do much to keep you warm.

The Fellowes Climate Control foot rest and personal space heater is probably a better investment, considering it produces 50% more heat, costs about the same, and is a more sturdily built, durable unit. It’s designed to sit below your desk or table (or armchair) and warm your bare or sock-covered feet. The Fellowes foot rest has small surface bumps that help passively massage your feet, and it is angled to ensure good posture as you sit. It will keep your feet and to some extent your legs warm (or cool in summer – it has a fan-only mode) as well as keep your feet comfortable. One of its better safety features is the fact that it shuts off after eight hours, so if you start it up, wander off, and forget it, you won’t be wasting that much energy – at most $0.20 to $0.50 for typical North American electricity rates – and remember that the heat it produces does add to the overall comfort level of your home, even if it’s not keeping your feet warm at the time.

Again, anything you can do to reduce airflow from the space under your table or desk and the main airspace of the room you place this personal space heater in will help keep more of that heat where you want it, around your legs.

This unit will do a modestly good job keeping your feet (and perhaps your legs) warm while costing very little to operate. But it definitely will not keep an entire room warm.

The last personal space heater I’ll cover that is under 250 watts is also the one most people wind up buying – the 200-watt Lasko MyHeat personal ceramic heater.

This personal space heater is not much bigger than a PC speaker, and again doesn’t put out much heat – at 200 watts it’s the same as two high-powered incandescent lightbulbs – but it’s definitely enough to keep your legs warm at a desk if you’re not working inside a walk-in refrigerator! The Lasko MyHeat ceramic heater provides a nice steady stream of warm air flowing against your legs, and as with other small space heaters it draws so little current that there’s no risk you’ll trip a circuit breaker while using it. It’s safe too, with a ceramic heating element that provides overheating protection, and its housing is cool to the touch.

Personal space heaters 600 watts and under

Once you get above 1,000 watts with a space heater, it’s debatable whether it should be called a personal space heater or a room heater, since you can actually keep a small room warm with a 1,000 watt heater, unless the room is very drafty, poorly insulated, or it’s freezing cold outside. There’s only one additional heater that squeezes in under 1,000 for both its settings, so instead I’ll consider personal space heaters where at least the low setting is under 1,000 watts.

The Vornado Personal Vortex heater is another great product from Vornado, built to last and designed to keep you warm without breaking the bank as far as electricity consumption goes. This unit uses either 375 or 750 watts, and is built with the usual durable Vornado quality, and comes with Vornado’s signature customer service (in the unlikely event you have problems with it). Vornado vortex heaters have a powerful fan that keeps the warm air circulating well, which means this heater can actually heat a small room uniformly (although not necessarily quickly). The heater is great placed at your feet or on your desk, gently blowing warm air your way. It also has a fan-only mode for use in warmer weather. This is one of a handful of small space heaters that provides some warmth while not drawing enough power to trip a typical office circuit breaker, so if you’ve been getting in trouble at work for causing power outages with a larger personal space heater, the Vornado personal vortex heater will get you out of trouble.

In terms of safety the Vornado personal space heater has a couple of good features: a button on the bottom that must be depressed for the heater to stay on – so that if you knock the heater over it shuts off – and the fact that while it throws off a decent amount of heat, you’ll never burn yourself when touching the unit, which keeps relatively cool.

Finally, the Vornado is generally a very quiet personal space heater, to the point where you can actually forget that it’s on. I think this is probably the best personal space heater under 1,000 watts – unless all you want to do is keep your feet warm, I would go with something capable of throwing its heat around a little more than a personal foot warmer.

Another decent personal space heater in the under-1000 watt range is the Soleus oscillating radiant heater. Most heaters simply heat the air near the heater, and then optionally blow that air around so it spreads more evenly. Radiant heaters, on the other hand, emit infrared radiation – in other words, light in the infrared spectrum – and this heat warms solid objects it strikes, but does not warm the air it travels through. (Think if the red light over the cafeteria French fries – that’s radiant heat.) Radiant heat is perfectly safe – and especially in a drafty room it can be great to have a parabolic or other radiant heater shining its infrared light straight at you, so you’re kept warm even if the room is cool.

The Soleus radiating heater warms up quickly and has adequate safety features. It’s ideal if you stay put in one place – whether at a desk or in an armchair. It’s also great if you’re in a large room or in an open-concept house and you don’t want to heat the whole space but you want to stay warm. It’s not ideal for sleeping, because it produces a certain amount of light, which can make it hard to sleep, and bcause if you’re in a bed it’s rather hard to aim the heater so that it shines on your bed and warms your covers. It’s also not great if you move about the house a great deal, since it will only warm you as you walk by it. The only caution is that some people find the light it emits to be too bright. Although it is really only about as bright as a 60 watt light bulb, if you’re trying to sleep or watch television you’ll find it distracting. I’d suggest it for daytime use – provided you’re mostly staying put. It’s easily moved from one spot to another, so if you spend some time working at a desk, then move to an armchair to read, it can still keep you warm in each place. But don’t expect it to keep an entire room warm – you’ll need to use a lot more wattage to accomplish that.

Another personal space heater near the low end of the heat output range is the Comfort Zone mini personal heater with fan, model CZ-25. This unit has two settings, 500 watt and 1000 watt, and is about the size of a clock radio, at 2.6″ high by x 5.9″ deep by 6.7″ high. It has a fan to improve circulation of the heated air, is built with a sturdy flame retardant plastic cabinet, and has an overload thermal protector to prevent it from overheating. I can’t offer any more information on this heater – I haven’t seen one myself and details about it are pretty sketchy. On the other hand, a number of visitors to my site have bought the Comfort Zone parabolic dish heater , which gets positive reviews. My guess is that this is a good quality fan for desktop or floor use, and it’s hard to go wrong at only $28, but you may want to hold out for a while and let others be the guinea pigs. As I learn more about it and get more feedback on it I’ll update this page with details.

The Sunpentown heater is the only tower heater I’ve found in the personal space heater category. Tower heaters typically provide an oscillating motion that pushes heat around to different parts of a room, which helps them spread heat more effectively. You would place most tower heaters on the floor, but the Sunpentown unit is a small tower heater designed for countertop use so that it can blow its heat directly on your upper body. (You could also put one on the floor under a table to warm your legs.) It comes with an auto-shutoff that helps if you forget to turn it off and leave the room, and a safety shutoff if it is tipped over. It is also cool enough to touch even when operating on high. It can run at 600 watts, 1200 watts, or in fan-only mode, which makes it useful in summer as well as winter. The Sunpentown mini tower heater is also a very well made personal space heater and is one of the quietest available – so quiet you may wonder if it’s even on. It comes with a 1-year warranty and gets very good customer reviews, although you really need to be aware of how small it is. Unlike other tower heaters that can be 32, 40, even 50 inches high, this little heater is just over a foot in height, at 6 by 4-1/2 by 13-3/4 inches. It can do a decent job of heating a small room – say under 10×10 feet – but don’t get this model if you want to heat a larger space, especially in a cold climate or in a room that is poorly insulated.

Personal space heaters 750-900 watts

The last category of personal space heater I will cover are those with a lower power setting of 750 or up, but below 1,000. These heaters all have a high rating of 1,500 watts, which is enough to warm a reasonably large room, but on their low power setting they are more suitable to warm a small space.

The Delonghi HVY1030 fan heater comes with an adjustable thermostat, and can operate in fan only mode, or at 750 or 1500 watts. It also offers an anti-freeze protection feature where you can ensure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 44F (or at least, where the heater will keep going as long as the temperature is below that range – since if you put the heater in too large, too cold a space, it may never get the temperature up to the target level!). It’s quieter than many older heaters and has the usual safety features of overheating protection and automatic shutoff if it tips over.

The Delonghi HVY1030 is about 10″ tall, 10″ wide, and 6 inches deep. It’s easily transportable and is a good personal space heater to carry around with you – put it on your desk, dining room table, a night stand when you sleep, the bathroom counter (away from the bath) while you bathe…. At its high power setting it draws enough power to trip some office circuit breakers, and also puts out too much heat at that wattage for under-desk use, so if you buy it to stay warm at work, keep it on low, it will definitely keep you toasty. Also note that it does not have an auto shut off feature; unless you unplug it, it will continue heating indefinitely at whatever temperature you set it.

This is one of the best bargains in the personal space heater market, you can often get it for under $25. It’s also one of the top selling small space heaters around.

This Holmes 750/1500 heater is compact and lightweight and features a 1-touch electronic thermostat that makes it easy to set your desired temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) quickly. It’s quiet and has overheat protection. It can be mounted on a wall permanently, or you can carry it around with you as a personal space heater. One drawback is that you have to cycle through all the controls to change the temperature by just 5 degrees, so if you’re planning to change your personal space heater settings frequently, this may not be the right model for you. On the other hand, it remembers your last temperature setting when you turn it off, so if you use it in a single room when you’re there, and then shut it off when you’re done, you’ll have no trouble turning it on and getting the temperature right. For a small (e.g. 10×10 or smaller) room it can bring the temperature up from chilly to toasty in a matter of minutes.

The unit has an ALCI plug which provides protection against electrocution should the unit fall into a bathtub while you’re bathing; however it’s not actually meant for bathroom use, perhaps because it can’t stand up to too much moisture. (After living in Costa Rica during their 6-month rainy season I can attest to how much damage moisture can do to electrical devices – we went through a toaster every two months!)

The Optimus 2-speed oscillating fan heater weighs just under 5 lbs and is about a foot tall, which makes it easy to carry around as a personal space heater. It runs at 750 or 1500 watts, and also comes with a fan-only mode, so you can use it both to stay wam in winter, and to cool down in hot weather. It has the usual safety features of overheating shutoff and tip-over shutoff, so you can set it under your office desk at your feet (in low-power mode) and not worry about knocking it over and setting your cables and power PC supplies ablaze!

This oscillating fan can turn itself 90 degrees to push heat out over a wide arc, helping heat a room more evenly. As a personal space heater it can keep your entire lower body warm from under your desk, or you can place it on your desk and stay warm up above as you work. There are two major issues with this personal space heater which might make you want to consider something else instead: it continues to oscillate even when the thermostat recognizes that the high temperature has been reached – so it oscillates without the fan – and it is a little noisier than most of the other heaters described on this page. Not bad value for the money but there’s better out there.

Vornado makes some of the best heaters and fans on the market, and this one is priced accordingly. For a personal space heater it is perhaps well above what one would want to pay; I wouldn’t recommend it for heating under your desk or table because you can get pretty much the same capabilities for far less money. But for heating a small – or even a large – room, this Vornado heater does have some appealing features, like many of its Vornado brethren. It has a very accurate digital control; its high-powered fan and industry-leading air distribution system help it get the warm air spread throughout a room very quickly; and it operates very quietly. The Vornado stays cool to the touch so is safe to operate around children and pets.

One of the greatest things about this digital heater is that, unlike some cheaper, more simply designed heaters with a thermostat, it doesn’t constantly go on and off – on when the temperature dips below the thermostat minimum, and on when it reaches the maximum a few degrees higher. Instead it continuously varies the amount of heat going to the element and the speed of the fan, so that you have a steady, even heat without constant changes in airflow or noise.

This is another surprisingly small heater, considering the heat it puts out – and it is one of the bestselling heaters in its class, which is surprising considering its price tag. But you get what you pay for – you can certainly get a lot more heat output for $115, but if you want a reliable, powerful personal space heater, the Vornado EH1 digital vortex heater does the trick.

The DeLonghi DCH5090ER ceramic heater has two heating modes – full-on 1500 watts, and a mode in which it alternates between full energy mode and low energy mode. It is a bit larger than some – 14″ tall, because of its pedestal – but that pedestal supports an oscillating mode which allows for better heat distribution, making it a great choice for a personal space heater. Like some of the other more inexpensive heaters reviewed here, it has a fan-only mode that means you can use it to keep cool in hot weather, and it also has a freeze-prevention mode that keeps the temperature above 44F to prevent pipes from freezing (or at least, to keep the heat going full blast should temperatures dip that low).

This is a digital heater – it provides accurate temperature control. While I think this is a great personal space heater, I caution against unrealistic expectations around energy savings. The marketing materials for this heater make it sound like the low-energy setting is an ‘eco’ or energy-saving setting. That’s true, but as with any electric space heater, if the unit is in a mode where it uses 20% (or 25%, or whatever percent) less energy, it produces exactly that much less heat.

This Lasko ceramic heater is near the top end of the wattage range for a personal space heater, at 900 or 1500 watts depending on the setting. It’s also at the top end in terms of customer satisfaction and sales – one of the most popular on the market today., not surprising given that it can sometimes be had for as little as $21.

A little heavier than some models, this personal space heater tips the scales at about 4 lbs. But it’s still surprisingly small, at only 10″ high by 7 1/2″ wide, considering its heat output. Note that it has a comfort level dial, not a true thermostat, as with many of the other cheaper models of personal space heater, so you can’t easily set it to stay at one constant temperature except after repeated experiments. As for noise level, it’s a reasonably quiet personal space heater but not whisper quiet like some.

Think globally, heat locally

Almost every personal space heater I’ve described above will save you money fairly quickly, compared to heating your entire home, if you use it to keep just a small area warm where you’re active. If you’re paying $60 a month for natural gas heating through the winter – and in Toronto where I live we sometimes hit $120 to $160 in January or February – you could probably save $30 or more a month even with the electricity these heaters use, if you turn your furnace thermostat down (reduce heat globally) and heat locally where you are in your house instead. You can carry any of these heaters from room to room, as they are compact and lightweight, and many of them can heat a cold room up quickly. For under-desk or counter-top use, your choice of whether to go for the low-end of the wattage range, or the high end, really depends on how quickly you want the area to warm up, and how cold is the room you’re in.

But regardless, a personal space heater will go a long way to making you comfortable in winter without breaking your household utility budget, and most of these units will literally pay for themselves within weeks of purchase.

3 replies
  1. Michael Cerkowski
    Michael Cerkowski says:

    It’s just incorrect to claim that heater effectiveness is directly proportional to wattage. Yes, all electric heaters are “100% efficient” but that’s only because the lost energy is still heat, and is just added back to the output to get 100% again. This, however, does not address *heating effectiveness* or how well it actually heats an area. Small units with appropriately-sized fans are usually best at this. I use the “My Heat” 200 watt units myself, because they put out a lot of heat for the power consumed. However, I also have a couple of “milk house” type heaters that I rarely use, because their too-hot heating elements, combined with undersized, inefficient fans, poorly heat even small spaces while consuming large amounts of power. How can a heater do this? Simply by heating the area immediately in front of the heater more than necessary (through low fan output, usually) while providing too little heat to areas farther away. When you see glowing heating elements, you are usually seeing poor heating effectiveness, because fan-forced units heat best when the elements are hot, but no so hot that they glow visibly. Ceramic heaters are generally the most effective heaters, although I also have a couple of coil-type heaters that provide plenty of heat from 750 watts (on Low) because the fans are well suited to the heat output, and heat a whole room fairly evenly.

    We also use several electric oil-filled radiators, and these are great for smaller areas (like bedrooms) with little air movement. Yes, they heat the air around them much more than the air 10 feet away, but by using them on their 600 watt settings we get a slow, quiet heat that is good for maintaining the temperature in a room, as opposed to warming it quickly. The type of heater you want depends on the exact heating situation, but never assume that the number of watts consumed will tell you how well the heater works.

  2. Robin
    Robin says:

    You’ll notice that nowhere in this article do I claim that all electric heaters are 100% effective. They are 100% energy efficient. I agree that different heaters are effective at spreading heat in different ways, and your choice of heater depends on whether you are trying to heat an entire space, a particular area of that space, or a person in that space. See my article on Energy Efficient Electric Heaters for more details on the difference between effective and efficient and for guidance on which kinds of heaters are most appropriate for which task.


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