Best Zone Heaters

James Lee
• Monday, 02 November, 2020
• 13 min read

To offset the chill in a drafty room or to give your home’s heating system a little boost, you may need a space heater. The Tornado VH200 heated a room faster and more evenly than other models we tested, offering the best combination of power, comfort, and quietness.

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In our tests, the Tornado VH200 surpassed almost every other space heater in speed and total power, delivering an immediate temperature increase that built steadily and evenly across the room over the course of an hour. The VH200 is also quieter than most other ceramic heaters we’ve tried, emitting only a soft, manlike whir, and it’s compact enough to tuck away in a corner.

It warms up faster than most fan heaters we tested, and it has a compact, lightweight body that’s about the size of a loaf of bread. The heat is a focused stream of hot air, which warms the area directly in front of the space heater.

The Lasso struggles in larger spaces as a result, but it’s perfect for warming a home office or for quickly heating up a small bedroom. The 754200 has had consistently positive owner reviews for years, and many Wire cutter staff members have owned one for multiple winters with few complaints.

Like most oil-filled radiators, the TRD40615T warms up much more slowly than a ceramic heater, but it also retains its heat for longer, making it more energy-efficient. With a burly, all-metal construction that’s more durable than the builds of our other, plastic-clad picks, this De’Longhi model is sturdier and more attractive than any other oil-filled radiator we tested, and it’s also cooler to the touch.

While it won’t warm you up quite as quickly as our other Tornado picks, the steady arc of motion means a more comfortable and uniform heating throughout your space. With a solid metal construction and wonderfully retro knobs, it’s simply the best -looking electric space heater we’ve found that doesn’t sacrifice (too much) functionality.

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The Tornado VH200 heated a room faster and more evenly than other models we tested, offering the best combination of power, comfort, and quietness. We’ve interviewed experts on heating, including Joel Hawk, principal engineer manager at the global safety certification company UL ; Linda Hot, category director, and John Mayer, associate category manager, for the Home Comfort team at De’Longhi; a team of representatives from Tornado; and Gary McCall, former fire adviser to the Office of the Fire Commissioner for British Columbia’s Vancouver Island Region.

Since 2017, we’ve focused more on real-world testing, running the heaters under controlled conditions in cramped apartments in Boston and New York. He also learned the hard way that plugging a space heater and a half-stack Marshall guitar amp into the same power strip can cause some pyrotechnics (and not the cool, rock ’n’ roll kind).

Although space heaters generally shouldn’t be used to heat an entire building, they are a great way to supplement the warmth in specific rooms. Instead of wasting energy by filling the entire space with hot air or pumping heat into a room with no one in it.

Photo: Michael Session’ve updated this guide every year since 2011, building on our knowledge of and experience with the features that set a great space heater apart from the rest. We start by researching all the new space heaters released in a given year, along with popular competitors, whether we’ve previously tested them.

Our research has led us to focus on two prominent types: compact electric heaters with fans and oil-filled radiators. Some heaters that heat well are infuriatingly difficult to clean, have nonsensical interfaces, or sound like wasps.

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We also factored in customer reviews, especially those from people who’ve owned a particular space heater for an extended period of time. We pored over space heater reviews on Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot, hunting for any patterns of defects or longevity issues.

We docked any model whose grille got consistently hotter than 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the point at which one second of contact burns skin. Not ugly: While most people aren’t buying space heaters strictly as aesthetic decor for their homes, we still considered their appearance.

You’ll be living with them for months at a time in highly visible parts of your home, and we think you may as well have something nice to look at. In order to track the conditions in the room, we placed a NASCAR data logger directly in front of the heater at a distance of 3 feet and placed another diagonally, at a distance of 6 feet, to see how well the heat moved around the room.

The Tornado VH200 heated a room faster and more evenly than other models we tested, offering the best combination of power, comfort, and quietness. Out of all the space heaters we’ve tested, the Tornado VH200 offers the best overall combination of heating speed and distribution, safety features, easy operation, and affordability.

By contrast, the ceramic-plate models we tested (such as our budget pick from Lasso) delivered a narrow beam of heated air that made sweat trickle down our necks when we sat directly in the line of fire. The Tornado VH200 has every safety feature we look for in a space heater, including overheat protection, a tip-over switch, and UL certification.

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Despite its abundant heating ability, the VH200 operated with a quiet murmur that we didn’t find distracting or unpleasant. This Tornado model is not as quiet as a radiator, but no other kind of space heater is, and it’s still quieter than a household refrigerator.

We believe the VH200 is worth the price due to its pleasant, even heating and the fact that it can raise the temperature of a room so much more effectively than the other models we tested. It also lacks a fan-only mode (which is really only a bummer because room fans are Tornado’s primary area of expertise).

The Tornado AVH10 has a digital display, which will delight some people and frustrate others, because you have to manually tap a button numerous times to reach your desired temperature, up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When you turn off the AVH10, there’s a countdown on the digital screen, reminding you to wait 10 seconds for it to cool down before you unplug or move it.

For a higher price, Tornado’s AVH10 gives you slightly better heating performance and a digital temperature display. Photo: Michael HessionThe other big difference between the VH200 and the AVH10 is the price: The digital display and the cord-wrapping feature add a premium of about $30.

However, this Lasso model lacks a tip-over switch, a reassuring and basic safety feature that automatically powers down the machine if it falls over. As is the case with all ceramic heaters, the 754200 creates a concentrated jet of warm air that you can feel almost immediately, especially if you’re sitting right in front of it.

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After running on high for an hour, the Lasso raised the temperature of our room from 6 feet away by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, a performance close to that of the Tornado VH200. This actually came as a surprise when we looked at the data, as our initial gut-check left us feeling like the heat had not been evenly distributed.

In addition to its molded-plastic carrying handle, it has intuitive controls consisting of two physical dials that are easy to grasp and manipulate. Photo: Michael HessionThe Lasso 754200’s biggest failing is its lack of a tip-over kill switch, which is a pretty standard safety feature for portable space heaters.

Fortunately, the molded-plastic carrying handle is built in to the backside of the Lasso, far away from the grille, so you can transport it without the risk of getting burned. But a quick dive into the negative owner reviews reveals a number of incidents where the heater overheated even when plugged directly into a wall outlet.

Another benefit of oil-filled radiators is that they make absolutely no noise, unlike ceramic, open-element, or micathermic heaters. The De’Longhi TRD40615T has simple controls, a handy 24-hour timer, and an exterior that in our tests stayed cooler to the touch than those of other radiator-style heaters we tried.

Photo: Michael Sessional radiators are hot to the touch, and this De’Longhi model is no exception. However, its flat, articulated exoskeleton helps ensure that the exterior is much cooler to the touch than the exposed fins inside.

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Though this does make the TRD40615T a little top heavy, it was much more stable than other radiators we tested, including the KH390715CB, also from De’Longhi. Some Amazon customers have complained about the radiator giving off an unpleasant smell upon initial use, and the company acknowledges this, too.

Most other oil-filled radiators initially emit this noxious stench because some oil remains on the surface of the heater after manufacturing. A few space heater reviews have complained that the timer makes an audible ticking noise, but we did not encounter this issue in our testing.

The OSCTH1 is a sleek tower fan about a foot and a half tall that looks kind of like a miniature (and much less ominous) version of the Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a clear plastic touchscreen display on the top. The digital thermometer only goes up to 90, like on the Lasso FH500 tower heater, but we don’t think you’ll need any more heat than that.

It’s about 4 decibels louder than the VH200, too, although it still rates below “conversation level.” We also think the white noise it emits should be easy enough for most people to ignore (we found it rather pleasant ourselves). Also, because it is technically a tower heater, you will need to occasionally vacuum up or blow out the dust that gathers in OSCTH1’s filter over time.

These sorts of filters are a large part of why we don’t for cooling; although we’ve found it less frustrating with heaters, it’s still not ideal. Fortunately, if the filters do get blocked, the OSCTH1 has a built-in automatic shut-off system, so the hot air and dust don’t combust into bigger problems.

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Also, it just looks great as it subtly oscillates back and forth in the corner of the room like an extraterrestrial portent. At 3½ feet tall, it’s also the largest one we tested, although it’s nice enough in function and appearance that we wouldn’t mind having it stand out in our home.

What was even more remarkable was that as soon as the room reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the FH500 kept the temperature there for the rest of the hour. As the tower heater oscillated, it emitted a low, gentle whooshing sound that was too quiet to measure beneath the hum of the urban streets outside.

The FH500 room heater comes with a large remote control that can be stored in an attached pocket on the back of the tower. The buttons are clearly marked, matching the controls on the tower itself, including the digital temperature display, the timer, and the Auto Eco setting.

We’re reassured by the fact that the FH500 is covered by Lasso’s three-year warranty, and we’re optimistic that the dust and dirt factor won’t be as much of a problem for a heater, because you’re more likely to be using it indoors with the windows closed. At nearly 9 pounds, the HEAT’s metal body is noticeably heavier than the plastic Tornado models we tested, and its sea-foam green finish (also available in white) makes it feel like a deliberate choice of home decor, rather than, well, a small plastic space heater that you bought out of necessity.

In our heating tests, the HEAT performed near the top of the pack, even if it wasn’t quite as good as the VH200 or the AVH10 space heaters, or any of our other non-Vornado picks. The HEAT was able to raise the temperature in the room by 11 degrees in just 15 minutes when measured from 3 feet in front of the fan.

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But when we measured the temperature at 6 feet away, out of the fan’s direct line of sight, it had risen by only 4 degrees in that same amount of time. Nice analog details give the HEAT a retro feel, and we were glad to find that the metal exterior remained relatively cool to the touch.

Photo: Michael Session you think it sounds silly to sacrifice some heating prowess for a pleasing retro aesthetic, then the HEAT may not be the choice for you. But we found ourselves so utterly charmed by the plastic guitar-amp knobs and solid metal construction that we think this could be a fair trade-off for some people.

Our former upgrade pick, the Dyson Hot+Cool Jet Focus AM09, was one of the most efficient space heaters we tested and also doubled as a cooling fan, making it a great option for year-round climate control. But we were disappointed with it in other ways, including its maddeningly confusing controls and the 15-degree temperature difference between our measurements at 3 and 6 feet.

It was interesting that the AmazonBasics heater could be positioned as a tower, on its side like a log, and could point the heat upwards on an angle; unfortunately, this feature also meant it lacked a tip-over switch, which made it concerning to use even if it didn’t explode on us. It was cooler to touch than our from De’Longhi, but that’s because it only raised the room temperature by 4 degrees after 2 hours.

For our 2020 tests, we also took a look at the De'Longhi HSX4315E Slim Style Digital Convection Panel Heater with Fan. This particular De’Longhi model looks nice and heated the room well enough, but we don’t think it’d be a good substitute for a Tornado or a Rinnai-style installation.

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In previous years, we found it was slower to warm the room in our tests, and that the case was hotter to the touch after an hour. The indicator light would turn on, and the fan would run, but the MPH simply wouldn’t put out any heat.

Some Amazon reviewers have reportedly encountered a similar problem, and even though the manufacturer has typically been responsive and helpful, we think you’re better off going with a more reliable Tornado pick. We tested the Tornado VH10, which is a glossier, newer generation of the VH200, but nothing set it apart from our less expensive top pick.

It recorded similarly quiet decibel levels and performed just as well in heating our room. The Tornado Glide reminded us aesthetically of Prince Robot IV from the comic book Saga.

We had previously tested the oil-filled De’Longhi Silent System EW7707CM as well, but we found it also lacking in comparison with the TRD40615T. It worked well enough in our tests, steadily building up 10 degrees of heat across the room over the course of an hour.

It also has built-in settings for “Eco” mode and “Anti-freeze,” which could be good for keeping sparsely used parts of the house from getting too cold in the winter. It also made an obnoxious high-pitched whirring sound, and the tip-over switch activated only when it was fully horizontal, which is hardly safe.

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Space heaters come with a list of safe-operating instructions that most people would find surprisingly thorough, and there are a number of ways anyone could mistakenly use these machines incorrectly. We personally don’t leave any space heater in a room or closet within reach of young kids, even if it’s unplugged.

You can’t run the cord under a rug or pass it through a doorway, where the door or hinge would pinch, bend, and damage it. Beyond the restrictions against extension cords and power strips, keep in mind that you can’t use heaters on plug timers or FCI outlets (the kind with the test and reset buttons).

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (ADAM) recommends further precautions, such as keeping flammable materials like paint and matches far away. Them Dunn is an associate staff writer at Wire cutter reporting on HVAC and other home improvement topics.

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