Heat the Room You're Actually In This Winter, Not the Entire House

Baby, it's cold outside. Actually, it's pretty darn chilly inside too. But before you go cranking up the house's thermostat and heating a bunch of empty rooms, take a look at some toe-toasting space heater alternatives.

Unless your going old-school and building a proper fireplace fire with proper firewood, you've got three primary technologies at your disposal for indoor heating: Electric, Oil, and Infrared. The type you chose depends largely on how much space you actually need heated. Fast-heating electric sets, for example, are best for smaller rooms with fewer people, while larger oil-filled or IR units take a while to get going but will keep a larger room toasty for hours. Kerosene and propane-powered sets on the other hand are right out—unless you enjoy dying of carbon monoxide poisoning—and should only be employed on sheltered patios, or other areas with plenty of ventilation.

The general rule of thumb for picking the right sized heater for the room in question is roughly 10-15 watts per square foot—a 100 square foot room needs a 1,000 watt heater. Also there are a few basic safety features you should look for in any space heater, like a knock-over sensor, an overheat sensor, or better yet, both; space heaters tend to overheat when pushed over and that's what starts fires.

Heat the Room You're Actually In This Winter, Not the Entire House

Electric

Convective space heaters run large electrical currents (up to 1,500 watts) through an exposed filament wire which in turn heats the surrounding air. These are a solid choice for small spaces since they heat quickly, provide a constant, diffuse level of heating and often incorporate fans to help speed up the process. The drawback is that these heaters generally won't hold the heat they produce for very long after you shut them off—unlike oil-filled heaters—as they lack the thermal mass of larger units. But if all you want to do is keep your feet warm while sitting at a desk, or toastify the area immediately around the couch for movie night, electrics should fit the bill. Our friends over at The Wirecutter highly recommend the $25 Lasko 754200. As Seamus Bellamy points out:

If you have a smaller area like an office, bathroom or den to keep warm, the is your best option. Despite its small size, it raised the temperature of our testing area over the course of an hour by more than any other heater we tested. It also scored points for ease of use, cost of running and safety. And it's only $25. It's easy to see why it's one of the most popular models on Amazon. On the higher 1,500 watt setting (which is the most you can pull out of a single wall outlet), the Lasko 754200 raised the temperature of our test area by 14.7 degrees Celsius (26.46 degrees Fahrenheit) in one hour's time. This is astounding given that the second place SoleusAir HGW-308R could only raise it by 10.9 degrees Celsius (19.62 degrees Fahrenheit). There's also a 900-watt low setting that's good for maintaining temperatures or even smaller areas.

Heat the Room You're Actually In This Winter, Not the Entire House

Oil

Oil-filled radiant heaters, take far longer to get going than their electric counterparts but sometimes slower is better. For one thing, the surfaces of oil heaters don't get nearly as searingly hot as electrics so there's less risk of setting clothes, rugs, and blankets alight if they accidentally come into contact. What's more, the oil contained within a radiant heater holds onto the warmth it produces for far longer than the spindly heating filaments of electrics. And oil heaters generally don't require a noisy fan to move hot air throughout the room. Finally, since you don't have to keep running it to keep warm, a radiant heater is a bit easier on your utility bill as well.

The $86 DeLonghi EW7507EB is a solid choice for a radiant heater. It's portable, which means you can use it for heating the whole living room during the evening and move it into the bedroom to keep you warm for the rest of the night. Plus it less than 30 pounds to keep it from tipping over or getting mired in the plush of your carpet.

Heat the Room You're Actually In This Winter, Not the Entire House

Infrared

Infrared heaters are the latest type of heater to reach market. Instead of heating a filament or oil, they radiate infrared light which is absorbed by clothing and skin, generating heat. Like conventional electric heaters, IR's can either heat the surrounding air directly or be directed into a heat exchanger where flowing air is heated and pushed into the room using a fan. These heating elements are usually made of tungsten filaments in heat-resistant quartz envelopes, which is actually very effective at producing heat with maximum efficiency. The $175 Dr Infrared Heater is a monster of an IR space heater. With a 1500 watt draw, it can reportedly keep up to a 1,000 square feet of room a balmy 68-86 degrees F without breaking a sweat. But at a 1,500 watt draw, you'll definitely see a bump in your utility bill. [Consumer Search, The Sweet Home, Consumer Reports, This Old House - Images: Khvost, Natalia Barsukova, Marcin Moga, Algefoto]