These Are the 3 Safest Space Heaters, According to a Licensed Electrician

This time of year, space heater use goes way up—and so do fires. Know what you're buying and stay safe this winter with the safest space heaters.

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Space heaters bring warmth and comfort to frosty winters, however, they also bring fire risks. Incredibly, space heaters cause nine out of 10 deaths and four of five injuries from home heating fires, and nearly half of those fires happen during the winter. Yikes. Can you buy a safe space heater? Absolutely, But you’re not off the hook—you have to use them correctly.

As an electrician who’s seen my share of faulty electrical equipment, and a devoted space heater fanatic, I spend hours researching the best and safest options before hitting that “buy” button or walking out of the store with a new space heater. But you don’t have that kind of time—you just want to be warm. I personally tested each of these in my own drafty, chilly home to give you insight before you purchase.

I used a portable room thermometer to get granular, scientific (well, sort of) temperature data, and if I’m not convincing enough, Family Handyman also consulted heating expert Brad Roberson, president of AireServ Heating & Air Conditioning, to clear a few things up. If you’re thinking about buying a space heater, or maybe you’re curious about the safety of the one you already own, here’s what you need to know to make a safe choice.

What makes space heaters unsafe?

Unless there’s something wrong with the heater, it’s usually operator error, such as dirty clothes draped over the top, heaters plugged in and left unattended and too many things plugged into the same circuit. Of course, all appliances carry some risk. Your washing machine could flood the basement, the toaster could have an electrical short. But space heaters are in a category of their own, looking at the data.

Before we get into the specifics, Roberson says the first rule to staying safe is to always “purchase your space heater from a reputable retailer and use it according to factory directions.” Once you’ve got that part covered, keep these things in mind when operating your space heater:

Electrical Load

A 1,500-watt space heater draws 12.5 amps at 120 volts. That’s a lot—it’s the maximum continuous load allowed by the National Electric Code (NEC) on a 15-amp circuit. That means if you plug a space heater into a wall outlet in your bedroom, everything else, including your lights, TV and gaming platform, should go on a different circuit.

Overloaded circuits can wear down wiring and electrical connections and are a significant fire hazard. Every circuit in your home has a rating based on the circuit breaker protecting the circuit, and electricians (like me!) use specific load calculations to ensure their safe use. A single space heater can immediately exceed the circuit rating just by plugging it in and turning it on.

For safest operation, use a dedicated circuit for a space heater to avoid overloads, and plug it directly into the wall—never use a power bar or extension cord.

Ignition of Nearby Items

Space heater safety has come a long way, but some still use a coil heating element and fan to heat your space (garage space heaters often have this design). The coils, which get red-hot, are guarded but not always sealed inside. Flammable materials like curtains, bedding and paper that drift too close could catch fire. Even safer ceramic and oil-filled models can ignite combustible materials if you’re not careful.

Never pile clothes or stack boxes near a space heater, and don’t place one where it’s blowing hot air directly onto something flammable (within 3 feet). Keep space heaters away from kids and pets, especially if the heater gets hot to the touch.

So, what kind of space heater is right for you? Space heaters have different risks based on design, functionality and placement in your home, so it’s important to pick one based on your individual situation.

The Safest Space Heaters

Safest Space Heater for the Bedroom

Space-Heater on wooden floorAlly Childress for Family Handyman

DeLonghi Dragon Digital Full-Room Radiant Heater

Space heaters and bedrooms can be a dicey proposition. Clothing, curtains and bedding are flammable, and overnight heating fires cause a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries—people are less coherent and farther away from exits, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). That’s why Roberson says, “It’s generally not recommended to leave a space heater on overnight due to safety concerns.”

But many people use their bedrooms as living spaces, not just sleeping. If that’s you, you deserve to be warm, too! The DeLonghi Dragon digital heater is an oil-filled heater that emanates heat like a radiator instead of blowing hot air. It’s a great choice for bedrooms because the heating mechanism is fully contained. “Oil-filled space heaters are considered safer than others because they don’t have exposed heating elements,” Roberson says.

This heater is attractive and quiet, and it heated my bedroom like a champ. While testing the heater for myself, I noticed it’s a little slower to get going, but after an hour the temperature was up 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmth was gentle and consistent, and the shutoff timer worked—important if you accidentally fall asleep. When placed under my drafty bedroom window, the DeLonghi Dragon significantly reduced the chill of the breeze coming inside.

Side view of space heater on wooden floorAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Pros

  • Radiant heating retains room heat longer
  • Upward heat direction reduces drafts
  • Attractive, sleek design mimics a real radiator
  • Very quiet
  • Roller feet make it easy to move

Cons

  • Big and pricey
  • Gets hot to the touch (use caution around children and pets)

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Safest Space Heater for the Bathroom

Space- Heater on wooden floorAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Lasko Ceramic Bathroom Heater

Winter brings optimal sleeping temperatures, but that walk from the bed to the bathroom is no peach. Take the chill out of the air fast with the Lasko ceramic bathroom heater. This affordable little dynamo works!

My medium-sized bathroom went from 69 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in 30 minutes, and was up to 81.3 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour. Even if you don’t spend that much time in the bathroom, the air was nice and hot immediately, and the controls couldn’t be easier—one giant button, perfect for bleary, sleepy eyes.

Water and electricity don’t mix, so this heater has an added safety feature called an appliance leakage current interrupter (ALCI) on the plug. These devices, also found on hair dryers, monitor the electrical current coming and going to the appliance. If it detects an abnormality, the ALCI immediately shuts the heater off to prevent electrical shock.

Top view of heater with red light onAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Pros

  • Compact size
  • Easy operation with single, big-button control
  • Heats very quickly
  • Affordable

Cons

  • A little noisier than others on this list
  • Limited to small-space heating

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Safest Space Heater for Homes with Kids

Space-heater on wooden floorAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Vornadobaby Tempa Nursery Heater

Babies can’t regulate their own temperature as well as adults, and parents often boost the temperature of the nursery with a space heater. But using space heaters in a kid’s room requires extra safety vigilance, especially as babies grow. Curious, newly mobile crawlers and toddlers can easily burn themselves or knock over a traditional space heater. Always consult your pediatrician before using a space heater in a baby’s room. Additionally, it’s vital to ensure your baby doesn’t overheat while sleeping.

If you do need a space heater to maintain the warmth of your nursery, try the ultra-popular Vornadobaby Tempa nursery heater. Now, I can’t test this on a real baby, but I did lock this heater in my bedroom to monitor temperature consistency. (The last thing you need is a wildly fluctuating nursery heater that keeps you up all night worrying.) I also knocked it around a lot to test the safety features.

The results? After turning the Vornadobaby Tempa thermostat to medium (setting “4” on the dial), my bedroom temp climbed from 66.1 to 70.3 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour and held the temperature from 70 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours. The power switch features a lockout, and the anti-tip feature is incredibly sensitive, shutting off the heater immediately at the slightest movement. Plus, the grille never got hot, even after running for hours.

space heater top view with yellow buttonAlly Childress for Family Handyman

Pros

  • Multiple safety features for peace of mind
  • Quiet compared to other fan-driven heaters
  • Grille stays tolerably warm, even on high heat
  • Hidden and covered cord storage

Cons

  • No numerical thermostat
  • Bright red power light may be annoying for babies who like darkness

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How to Use a Space Heater Safely

Space heaters are only as safe as their users. If you’re going to warm your chilly spaces with a space heater this winter, take precautions. Follow all manufacturer directions and keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from flammable objects
  • Place the heater on a solid, flat surface (the floor, preferably)
  • Plug space heaters directly into a receptacle outlet—never use extension cords or power strips
  • Turn off and unplug space heaters when unattended

What to Look for When Buying a Safe Space Heater

Ready to take the plunge into warmth this winter? Arm yourself with the info below and consider the following features when shopping.

Certification

The NEC requires space heaters be “listed,” which means certified by an accredited testing laboratory, like UL or Intertek. Being listed tells the consumer that the space heater manufacturer conforms to standards published by a recognized safety standard organization. Listed space heaters will be stamped or otherwise marked with a listing symbol.

Automatic Shutoff

Remember those space heater fire stats: nine of 10 deaths and four of five injuries. If your space heater tips over or exceeds the rating of the circuit it’s plugged into, it must have a mechanism to shut itself off before it starts a fire. You’re in luck: If a space heater is listed, it has this feature, so look for the UL or other listing mark before you buy.

Heat Output

When buying a space heater, check the square footage it covers. It will be listed on the box or online description. Need a space heater for your cavernous, damp basement? Skip the bathroom heater. Likewise, a massive open-coil garage heater isn’t appropriate for your bedroom. Take the Goldilocks approach with space heaters, and buy one that’s just right for your space.

Why You Should Trust Us

At Family Handyman, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. For this piece, Ally Childress tapped her experience as a licensed electrician and consulted with AireServ home heating expert, Brad Roberson, to provide relevant, accurate information to help you make a sound purchasing decision.

FAQ

What is the safest heater to leave on overnight?

While it’s not recommended to leave any space heater on if you’re not monitoring it, oil-filled, radiant space heaters are considered safer than ceramic convection (hot air) types, according to Roberson. Both of these options are safer than open-coil heaters.

Are ceramic space heaters safe?

Yes, like any listed space heater, ceramic heaters are safe, as long as you operate them safely. These heaters warm up your space by blowing air across heated ceramic plates instead of metal coils, so it’s important to keep the area around the space heater unobstructed.

Source:

Ally Childress
Ally Childress comes to Family Handyman from the electrical industry, where she was an accomplished electrician, winning the highly competitive Outstanding Graduate award as an apprentice. Her professional electrical experience included large commercial projects such as Minnesota's US Bank Stadium, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several hospitals. Before becoming an electrician, she worked in food safety and water quality as a scientist and technical writer. Ally's career, spanning multiple industries and areas of the country, honed her innate sense of curiosity and her ability to connect with subject matters of all kinds and explain dense subjects to diverse audiences. Ally is her household's designated handy person and is well versed in a variety of home DIY and maintenance tasks, able to confidently clean, troubleshoot, build, install, and modify. She loves spending time outdoors, especially with her partner and dogs.