Some of us may have romantic visions of giant crackling fires beneath ornate mantels to warm our homes once the chilly days have settled in. But given the inefficient heating of open fires and the general lack of Citizen Kane-ish fireplaces these days, some of us may find ourselves huddling around a space heater instead.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It used to be that electric space heaters were — aside from being hideous to look at — an expensive way to heat since electricity is one of the costliest ways to warm up the house. But new models incorporate features that make them much more energy-efficient (like thermostats and timers, for starters). And for people who choose to heat only one room, or supplement in an area if the whole house is being kept cooler, space heaters can have a great impact on energy usage.
So with that in mind, here are our top picks for portable electric space heaters. And although performance and energy-efficiency are the top criteria here, we're happy to report that none of these are particularly hard on the eyes.
1. Dyson’s AM05
Looking more like an alien communication console as imagined by a 1950s' sci-fi writer (see photo of its predecessor, the AM04, above), the Dyson entry in the market, as you might imagine, is not at all affordable, at least compared to most of the other options. But Consumer Reports praises the company's heaters for efficiency and design, and gives them the top mark in its category.
So if you want a piece of abstract sculpture that has novel attributes and pitch-perfect performance, this is the one for you. See the Dyson site for specs, and for extra fun, read them in the voice of James Dyson. (Dyson’s AM05, $400) [Updated Jan 2015]
2. DeLonghi Compact Ceramic Electric Heater
This affordable ceramic electric heater offers great eco-performance in addition to nice versatility. It has a smart eco-energy function that reduces energy usage by 40 percent by selecting the ideal power level based on the user's set temperature and current room temperature. It comes with an adjustable electronic thermostat, 24-hour digital timer and multiple heat settings.
It also provides air filtration with a removable dust filter, and can be used without heat as a summer fan as well. (DeLonghi Compact Ceramic Electric Heater, $45)
3. Vornado DVTH
Voted "Best Overall" by Good Housekeeping, Vornado's energy-efficient heaters differ from traditional space heaters because of their "unique vortex action" (their words, not ours) which disburses heat evenly throughout the room, hastening the process and requiring less power.
The DVTH has digital controls and uses automatic climate control, plus safety features and a cool-to-the-touch exterior. (Vornado DVTH, $100)
4. Holmes HFH436
The parent company of Holmes also owns Sunbeam, Patton, Coleman and Bionaire, meaning it has nearly 40 percent of the U.S. space-heater market, meaning it knows its space heaters — which is why this affordable model scores so well in reviews.
Among other features, this petit heater has a pre-heat timer so that you can warm a cold bathroom before your presence is required. (Holmes HFH436, $32)
5. Lasko 6462 Full Circle Ceramic Heater
This 25-inch tall tower of a heater sweeps warmth around in a full 360-degree radius to quickly warm a whole room. It ranked second in its category at Consumer Reports, and aside from its mod design, it has a list of handy features, such as remote control, an easy-to-clean filter, and a number of safety components. (Lasko 6462 Full Circle Ceramic Heater, $72)
6. Ambia Ach-120 Portable Two Zone Ceramic Heater
This hot little number is really kind of brilliant. At first glance it looks like a stereo, and with good reason. It has two heater modules that can be used together like a conventional heater, or they can be separated to direct heat toward two separate places up to 6-feet apart.
One near the feet and one on the desk? One each for two people? One for your front, one for your back? Anyway you split them, heating in stereo is awesome. (Ambia Ach-120 Portable Two Zone Ceramic Heater, $65)
And a final note: Although these selections are some of the safest on the market, space heaters can be dangerous. See a list of safety tips here.