Portable Heater Buyer's Guide
Ready to have more control over what spaces you pay to heat? Portable heaters are the perfect option for someone looking for a heat source that isn't stuck in one location. It's flexible because you can move the heater around, but it's also cost-effective since you can choose to heat one room without heating the whole house.
Before we begin, let's be clear that there is way more to the category of portable heaters than those little electric box heaters that make a humming noise as they struggle to heat four square feet. Tiny space heaters are fine, but if you're looking for something more effective, you definitely have options.
- Portable electric heater
They're also easy and convenient to install.
If you're interested in a gas or electric portable heater for your home or outdoor space, you've come to the right place. Here's a helpful breakdown of what is available for portable heaters and what to look for when choosing the best one for you.
What Are Portable Heaters?
In this category, we lump everything from highly portable to semi-portable gas and electric space heaters. These include both indoor and outdoor models. “Portable” doesn't always mean you can pick it up with one hand and shuffle it around. It just means you can change the location relatively easily.
Vent-free wall and space heaters are popular choices because they do not require any vent pipe system. Propane and electric models are also common in this category because they are the most portable. Natural gas heaters will need to be connected to a gas line. This makes them less portable because you can't decide to put it in another room without providing another gas hookup.
Not all of the portable heaters are free-standing. Some of them can be floor-mounted or wall-mounted on brackets. Even though these models are mounted to the wall, they are still considered semi-portable because they can be relocated without a lot of hassle.
What Are The Benefits of a Portable Heater?
Besides the obvious convenience that they are portable, they're also great options for zone heating both indoors and out. Portable gas or electric heaters are usually less expensive than a traditional fireplace and they burn more efficiently than natural vent fireplaces.
There are two different heating methods: radiant infrared and blue flame heat. This allows you to choose the one that best suits your needs. (We'll cover more on the difference between radiant infrared and blue flame in a later section.)
The drawbacks to portable heaters include the fact that they tend to have a lower BTU output than some of the more permanent heating options. They may not be the best option if you are trying to heat a large space. Some of the heaters also have the propensity to create “hot spots” next to the heater that could burn objects or people that get too close.
Before You Buy
Measure twice, cut once. Or in this case, make sure you have a plan and permission before you purchase a heater. Some state and local authorities (including Home Owner's Associations) have restrictions for vent-free gas models. Check to make sure the model you want is approved for where you want to install it.
It's also helpful to chart out a realistic budget that includes not only the price of the unit but any other costs like propane tanks and enclosures or gas line installation. Many of the portable models are appealing in the fact that they do not need much (if any) extra installation like venting, gas lines, or new electrical wiring.
Choosing the right model is largely based on how you want to use it. Do you want to heat a single room? Warm up your outdoor patio?
- Empire freestanding gas heater
Outline your heating priorities so you can sort through all the options to find the best fit.
Finally, plan out ahead of time where you'd like to put your portable heater. Of course, the whole point is that it doesn't have to stay in one place, but you still want to have good options. This includes finding locations where your heater will have enough clearance.
Heating: Radiant Infrared vs. Blue Flame
As mentioned above, there are two methods that portable heaters use when it comes to generating heat. The main difference is that radiant heat warms up the objects in the room, while a blue flame heats the air. They both have pros and cons, so here's how to pick which heating method is best for you.
Radiant infrared is an option for both gas and electric heaters. It sends out low-frequency infrared rays that heat up furniture and other objects in the room. If heating by “rays” and “radiation” sounds unnerving, just remember that this is essentially the way the sun heats things naturally. All of the light from the sun, including the colors that we can see, is radiation.
- Ceiling-mounted infrared heater
Actually, infrared heating is far more gentle than the sun because it only uses the low-energy, low-frequency rays instead of the high-frequency rays that we associate with dangerous radiation.
The benefit of radiant heating is that it heats the room very evenly. It's especially useful for drafty areas because it radiates heat to the objects, which then radiate heat to the room.
Since the objects stay in the room, it's more effective than trying to heat the air that is constantly escaping through cracks and poor insulation. Of course, this only really works if there are objects in the room, to begin with. If you're trying to heat a mostly empty room, you should opt for blue flame heating.
You do need to be careful about people or objects getting too close to the unit since it could cause burns or ignite flammable objects.
Blue flame heat burns propane or natural gas to create a hot flame that glows blue. The flame is tucked behind safety shields and is so hot that it burns very cleanly and efficiently. The heater uses this hot flame to heat and circulate air to the room. You can use a ceiling fan with the blades turned down to help circulate the air even more.
- Image of blue flame
Blue flame heat warms the space up quickly. It's more effective at heating larger areas than electric heaters. Because it heats the air, it often gets hotter in the zone right next to the heater. Some people love having this extra cozy spot, but it is less even heat than the radiant heating. It's also less effective for rooms with high ceilings since the hot air rises.
Portable heaters come in a variety of configurations including freestanding, tabletop, and mountable. Many of the outdoor propane models we carry are freestanding. Indoor models that are larger than the small electric box heaters are usually wall-mounted or floor mounted.
Portable heaters are a great way to extend the use of your outdoor space into the cooler months. Many of the larger models have wheels to help you move them easier.
Freestanding propane models usually have a built-in compartment to house a 20-pound propane tank. For example, this pole-mounted heater houses a 20-pound tank and heats about 65 square feet. A tank of that size gives you around 10 hours of burn time before needing a refill. Keep in mind that you may need more than one unit if you plan on heating a large space.
Other benefits include safety features like automatic shut-off if the unit tips, and a weighted base for extra stability. Many models also have electronic ignition.
Tabletop electric or gas heaters are a smaller version designed for a patio table. These have a lower BTU output, but they are even more lightweight and portable. Some are even designed to look like table lamps.
All of the semi-portable mountable models must follow all of the clearance requirements outlined in the owner's manual. Wall-mounted models can usually mount directly up against the wall using screws or a bracket. Floor-mounted models use a leg set and may require a floor shield for extra protection and leveling. Ceiling mounted models are often used for patios or decks.
- Wall-mounted infrared heater
You can find various mounting options for propane, electric, and natural gas fuel. Natural gas requires a hookup and propane models will need some sort of propane installation. With propane, this can mean a dedicated propane tank or access to a larger tank. In this regard, electric heaters are usually the easiest to relocate.
Also, remember that the clearance requirements apply to all sides of the unit. A wall unit designed to mount flush to the wall might still need to be a certain distance away from any shelves or flammable objects near its sides or front.
Ignition Systems and Controls
You'll find three different ignition options for portable and semi-portable heaters. The least common ignition type is match-lit, although you may find it in some older heaters. Matchless Piezo standing pilot ignition is common for indoor heaters, while electronic ignition is used for patio heaters.
Unless you are using an electric heater, most of the ignition options don't require an electrical power source. Even the electronic ignitions on patio heaters often use a battery to create the circuit that ignites the heater.
Matchless piezo ignition uses a push button to trigger a tiny spark and relies on a pilot flame for safe and convenient ignition.
- Ignition controls on a portable heater
Some of the models come with variable heat settings so you can adjust the heat output. Thermostat controls allow you to select the desired temperature and will cycle the heater on and off to stay within the desired range.
There are so many options when it comes to fuel and configuration that it's easy to get lost in the search. Here are some of our top recommended manufacturers to help you find a durable, well-built portable heater that suits your needs.
- Infratech Comfort - Infratech comfort specializes in infrared heating. They have a wide selection of outdoor electric infrared heaters with slim, sleek designs that won't be an eyesore.
- Endless Summer – Endless Summer products help you enjoy your outdoor space even when it's chilly. Their propane or electric patio heaters are a stylish and effective heating solution.
- Bromic – Bromic is another great option for outdoor heaters. They offer quality gas, electric, and portable models designed for outdoor use.
Care and Maintenance
Proper care goes a long way in making your heater long-lasting and safe. The first rule is always to read the manual for information on the specific product you own. To avoid a fire hazard, pay close attention to the required clearances. The manufacturer's instructions should also include information on cleaning your unit.
Gas and electric heaters are low maintenance, but they still need periodic inspections and dusting. Follow the owner's manual for instructions on how to dust the heating components. Often, a can of compressed air works great for dusting hard-to-reach places.
Regularly inspect your propane tanks for leaks. If you are using natural gas, check that the gas lines are hooked up properly and aren't leaking. Call the fire department right away if you smell gas unexpectedly.
- Propane gas line connection on a portable heater
When the heating season is over, disconnect and turn off the gas sources and take the opportunity to dust the units again before storing them for the summer.
Smaller portable heaters like the wall-mounted gas or electric infrared heaters usually ship via small parcel post. Any of the larger units that are too big/heavy for normal parcel post will ship using LTL freight.
If your shipment is coming on LTL freight, the shipping company will contact you to arrange a time for delivery. With any shipment, always inspect the item before you sign off on the delivery. Call the manufacturer if you notice anything amiss and they can help make it right.
- Bromic pole-mounted infrared heater
Portable heaters are a convenient way to warm up the spaces you choose. Whether you want to make your patio more comfortable, add zone heating in your home, or heat up a workshop or garage, our portable heaters make it easy to get efficient heat.
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