Take the chill off with a spiffy electric space heater

No, not a shot of a "Star Wars" casting call - these are the Honeywell My Energy Smart (left) and 360 Surround (right) room heaters, flanking the Dyson AM05 Hot   Cool Fan Heater.
No, not a shot of a "Star Wars" casting call - these are the Honeywell My Energy Smart (left) and 360 Surround (right) room heaters, flanking the Dyson AM05 Hot Cool Fan Heater.
Posted: January 24, 2014

SPACE heaters are a blessing. And a curse. On a bitterly cold day, they make a drafty backroom livable. And they might save your butt from frostbite if the furnace finks out.

But space heaters are not without their dangers. While putting out lots of heat, propane- and kerosene-fired models are tricky to refuel and risky to use in living spaces.

We say snub 'em.

Today's much-improved electric portable heaters no longer employ those scary, exposed-wire heating elements. Most also have eliminated dangerous, hot, metal grillwork (avoid at all cost).

Almost all now come with a handle and a fairly long (70- or 80-inch), heavy-duty connector cable for ease in transport and installation (don't ever add a standard-gauge extension cord). If accidentally tipped or overheated, almost all electric heaters shut off automatically.

One thing hasn't changed: Even models boasting the latest infrared, ceramic or quartz element-based heating engine (or sealed-oil radiating chamber) are energy hogs, expensive to run.

Virtually all electric heaters, no matter their size, consume the same 1,500 watts of power at maximum heat and fan level because that's what regulations based on the typical 15-amp circuit breaker allow. Not even California's demanding more of the makers.

Bargain priced ($20-$30), ultrasmall "zone" heaters meant to warm your cold feet under a desk may drop the power drain to 750 or 425 watts. That cuts costs, but also heating capability. Likewise, fan-free radiating heaters just aren't as good at room warming.

With an operating cost of about 25 cents an hour, you might want to turn down the house thermostat and just heat the space you're in with your portable heater.

But it takes discipline to turn down your home's central heating system. It's a shock to come out of that toasty warmed room into a house that's 10 degrees colder. And you need to plan ahead. Even larger electric heaters take at least 15 minutes to start making a difference.

THREE WE TRIED: Newest, biggest and best performing in our tests, the Honeywell My Energy Smart Infrared Heater can warm up a space of up to 1,000 square feet. It has a wireless remote control, programmable thermostat and three power output levels. Casters and a handle move it about easily and it runs quietly. The priciest ($249.99) HZ-980 model, dressed in black, boasts a few nonessential digital controls not found on the white HZ-960 spotted at Sears' website for $125.22.

By contrast, the football-sized Honeywell 360 Surround Heater ($29.99 at Target) struggled to maintain 68 degrees in a small office. And it's noisy! But you can hover and warm hands over the thing like it's a campfire, and turn down the power from 1,366 watts to a mere 715.

A thing of industrial-design beauty, the Dyson AM05 Hot + Cool Fan Heater ($399.99) uses a patented bladeless air amplification and oscillating mechanism to distribute the heated (or not) air around a room in uniquely even, powerful and nonbuffeting fashion.

It's super safe to use around kids and pets, though noisier than we'd like at the top five (of 10) fan settings, and not much of an energy saver even at the lowest - 1,325 watts versus 1,460. Has a wireless remote control (good) and bottom-located buttons (inconvenient).

Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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