Design & DIY

What kind of electric space heater should I buy?

We’d like to invest in an electric space heater. What kind should we buy?
—Callan Hart, via e-mail

There are two basic types: convection and radiant. Convection heaters warm the air in a room, using heating elements. Radiant heaters warm the contents of the room, by sending heat through the air. Both are inexpensive (you can get a good one for about $100) and efficient, since they convert nearly 100 per cent of the energy they use into heat.

Convection heaters work well when you want to warm up an entire room, and keep it warm for a long time, but they can’t generate heat immediately. They have to raise the air temperature before you can feel a difference. Plus, they won’t work well in a drafty area (cold drafts can get caught up with the warm air and then circulated around the room). Radiant heaters, on the other hand, heat up quickly—they’re a great choice for when you need a direct blast of warmth for only a few hours. But unless you’re in the heater’s line of sight, you won’t benefit from the warmth. And, of course, you’ll need to place the unit in an open area, with nothing blocking it.

Consider what special features you might want before you buy anything: for example, wheels to roll the heater from room to room; a fan to help circulate the air (in a convection model); or a remote control so you never need to get up off the couch. 

Whichever heater you choose, make sure it’s properly sized for the job (figure out the number of square feet you want to heat, and compare it to the unit’s capacity); locate it somewhere away from pets, small children, and areas with lots of foot traffic; and follow all the safety requirements when you plug it in. Then bask in that precious, precious warmth.