Room Heater Buyer's Guide
Which room in your home is always cold in the winter? Maybe it's the additional bedroom that's too far from the main furnace. Or perhaps it's your drafty sun porch or garage workshop. It could even be the main living areas that need a little extra heat. Room heaters offer a solution that is both effective and cost-efficient.
Take the drafty sunporch as an example. Maybe you feel like it's wasted space during the winter because it's just too cold to enjoy. One option would be to turn up your entire furnace until it warmed up, but not only would your heating bill skyrocket, the rest of your living space might be stuffy and hot.
Instead, a room heater can add heat in one room without paying extra to turn up the heat in the rest of the house. Heating your home strategically is one way to stay comfortable during the winter without blowing your budget.
There's a lot more to the world of room heaters than tiny electric box heaters. This article will focus on gas room heaters and the different options that are available to suit your home.
What Are Room Heaters?
- Cat next to an electrical room heater
A gas room heater uses natural gas or propane and is designed to heat a smaller space. Usually, they are used to supplement a home furnace and provide additional heat in a section of the home or garage. Gas fuel is a popular choice in the heating industry because it provides efficient heat with convenient low maintenance.
How To Know Which Room Heater is Best?
There are many options when it comes to finding the right model. To make it easier, we'll divide the main differences into five categories: venting, heating method, BTU output, fuel type, and configuration. We'll explain the options and go over the pros and cons so you can build a checklist for the heater that fits your needs.
- Dated room heater
Gas heaters have three main venting options: b-vent, direct vent, and vent free. B-vent models use a vertical pipe to vent the exhaust gases out through the roof of the home. The pipe can sometimes be hidden in the wall.
These heaters draw in room air for combustion and are not as efficient as direct vent room heaters. However, they can be installed almost anywhere in the home as long as there is room for the vent pipe and clearances. Some of the models put out a lot of heat and could serve as the primary heat source in small homes.
- Direct vent room heater
Direct vent room heaters are completely sealed to the room. They use a double pipe to draw in outdoor air for combustion and vent all the exhaust outside. The high-efficiency models can exceed 80% efficiency with this design and other features. One drawback is that they must be installed on an outside wall. The direct vent pipe routes horizontally through the wall to the outdoors.
Vent free gas room heaters don't require any vent pipe at all. Instead, they are designed to burn the gas fuel so efficiently that very little byproduct is created by the burn. The heater draws in room air for combustion and vents the byproduct back into the room.
This obviously makes them incredibly versatile and easy to install because there is no need to route any venting.
Because they use room air, you need to make sure you install the right size for the space that you have. Large vent free heaters that require more oxygen will need to be installed in larger spaces. The manufacturer will list the minimum space requirements for the different models.
Again, the smoke and exhaust are so minimal for these models that the amount vented into the room is barely noticeable for most people. However, vent free room heaters are not recommended for people with asthma or other respiratory issues. The trace amounts of exhaust could irritate anyone who was particularly sensitive.
It's also important to note that vent free units are not allowed in all areas. Some states and local authorities have restrictions on the use of vent free appliances, so it's important to check before you buy.
Gas room heaters have two different methods of heating. Infrared radiant heat is a slow, gentle heat that works well for drafty areas because it isn't as affected by air movement. Blue flame heat works to heat the space quickly but is less effective in larger rooms or places with high ceilings.
Infrared radiant heaters warm the objects in the room with infrared rays. Lest you start imagining something like a dangerous ray gun, let me assure you that this is a gentle, safe heat. We think of radiation as something harmful, but the light from the sun (including the colors we see) is technically considered "radiation."
Radiation comes in all different frequencies. The high-energy, high-frequency rays are what we associate with things like sunburns, x-rays, and toxic radiation. Infrared radiation is on the other side of the spectrum. It has a lower frequency with lower energy than the colored light that we can see with our eyes.
These low-frequency rays transfer the warmth to objects in the room, which, in turn, make the room feel nice and warm. It's like how the sun heats the earth, except there aren't any dangerous high-frequency rays.
- Radiant room heater
Because infrared radiant heat transfers warmth to the objects and not just the air, it's a perfect solution for drafty rooms or large areas where heating the air is less feasible. Of course, it works best when there is furniture or other objects to heat. If you have a mostly empty room, you're probably better off with blue flame heating.
Blue flame room heaters burn propane or natural gas with a very hot (blue) flame. It is so hot that it burns very cleanly with almost no odor. These heaters work by heating the air which then circulates into the room. You can even use a ceiling fan with the blades turned down to help the warm air circulate.
Blue flame heat is not as even as radiant infrared and can create a "hot spot" where hot air is concentrated in front of the heater. Some appreciate this extra cozy spot and people who are cold-natured tend to love blue flame heaters because they heat up the room quickly.
However, blue flame heaters aren't as effective over larger spaces. They're also not as suitable for drafty spaces where the warm air leaks out.
The heating capacity of gas space heaters is measured in BTU. It provides a way to calculate and compare how much heat output you will need for your space. Some gas heaters are high enough in BTU output that they function as the main heat source for the home.
- Blue flame room heater
Determining the BTU range you will need for your heater depends on the square footage you wish to heat. It also depends on the temperature increase you're trying to achieve. For example, adding a little extra heat to the living room in a home that already has a furnace takes less BTU output than heating a garage in South Dakota.
If you're interested in a more detailed explanation of BTU and how to estimate what you'll need, check out this article.
Fuel Type: Propane or Natural Gas?
Another important step in choosing a space heater is deciding whether you'll go with natural gas or propane. Of course, there are other fuel options (like electric space heaters), but since we're talking about gas space heaters, let's focus on the difference between propane and natural gas.
- Natural gas line indoors
Natural gas tends to be cheaper than propane, and since it flows through pipelines, you don't need to worry about storing it. You just use what you need when the appliance is on and never have to worry about refilling propane tanks.
However, natural gas isn't available in all locations and some homes use propane stored in a large outdoor tank. Propane is also the fuel of choice for any portable gas heaters. A heater that runs off a 20-pound propane tank can be moved around the patio while a natural gas heater is tethered to its gas line hookup.
- Portable propane gas heaters
For more information on the different types of gas fuel and how to choose the best one for your home, check out our article on propane vs. natural gas.
Most of the gas heaters we sell in the room heater category are wall heaters or mount on the floor. Other options include ceiling-mounted heaters or portable heaters. You can also find heaters designed to be framed into a wall or ceiling, although many of these are high output and function more as furnaces than space heaters.
- Empire - Empire is one of the most ubiquitous and consistently reliable brands of gas comfort heating appliances in the U.S. In fact, they're family-owned, based in IL, and have been at it since 1932. Their wall heaters are often recommended if not sold directly by many local residential gas utility providers. They also proudly make the Broilmaster brand of gas grills. While gas fireplaces and hearth appliances dominate their product selection, their infrared wall heaters are a welcome addition to many homes.
- Dr. Infrared Heater - Owners of these portable residential bedrooms and living area space heaters absolutely love them. Dr. Infrared Heater is another CA-based company whose products use quartz tube elements. While they are popular and, no doubt, effective, these heaters still rely on a high proportion of air-based heating in combination with the infrared, as evidenced by their industry-leading 7" diameter blower fans.
- Solaira - This Ontario based company has been positioning itself as a technology innovator in both indoor and outdoor heating. for commercial hospitality, industrial, and residential applications since 2004. They make a wide array of electric quartz tube lamp-style heaters to cover dozens of uses. If you've been in a bus station, a large church or cathedral, a ski resort in CO, BC, UT, or VT, the Mirage or Paris casinos in Las Vegas, a driving range, or New York City Center, there's a good chance you've experienced a Solaira heater.
The first step in installing any gas appliance is to provide the gas source. Any new gas lines should be installed by a professional. Framed-in models require some extra construction, but most room heaters are simply mounted with brackets or on a stand.
The owner's manual should contain all of the important information for installing your particular model. It is especially important to pay attention to all of the clearance requirements so that your heater is a safe distance from flammable objects.
Care and Maintenance
- Cleaning a surface
Gas room heaters are easy to care for, but that doesn't mean you can ignore maintenance. Again, the owner's manual is your friend. In it, you'll find instructions specifically tailored for your appliance. In general, the routine maintenance includes clearing away dust buildup, inspecting the gas lines, and keeping the venting unclogged.
Before you start your heater for the season, take off the cover and vacuum up any dust or pet hair that may have accumulated. After everything is put back together, check that the pilot light and ignition system fires up like normal.
Periodically inspect the gas lines (or the propane tank). If at any time you smell a strong gas odor, it may be an indication that you have a leak and you should call 911.
If you have a heater with a b-vent or direct vent, it's important that the vent stays intact and unclogged. Check the outside termination to make sure it is undamaged and free from debris.
Many wall heaters are compact enough that they can ship via normal parcel post. Some of the larger units will require LTL freight shipment. Once the shipment arrives, be sure to inspect the heater for any damaged or missing parts before signing off on the delivery. Contact the manufacturer if anything is amiss and they can help make things right.
- Woman shivering cold
The ability to add extra heat to one room without heating up the rest of the house is both convenient and budget-friendly. You don't have to settle for being cold and uncomfortable. Gas heaters are a great option for low-maintenance and effective heating, and they come in a wide range of options and styles.
All of the innovations make it easier to find a model that does exactly what you need. If you have any questions about finding the right room heater for your home, reach out to us! Our NFI Certified Technicians will be happy to answer your questions
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Room Heaters Q&A with the NFI Certified Specialists* Please Note: All customer questions are answered by our NFI Certified Specialists free of charge!
from Yankton, SD asked:
August 22, 2021
I want to heat my garage workshop. It is 336 sq feet with 10-foot ceilings. I have a nat gas hook up and will use a ventless wall heater. My question is what size heater and to use infrared or blue flame heater?
A 10,000 BTU vent-free heater should be sufficient to heat your space.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on August 23, 2021
from Marqyette, MI asked:
March 31, 2020
What is the heat output on the Empire RH-50-C with LP with the unit set a full max?
It would be 50 thousand BTU's
on April 1, 2020
from Northbrook, IL asked:
October 5, 2019
Looking to set a heater in front of the fireplace and vent through the existing 6" round vent. I think there is plenty of room to set this on the stone hearth in front of the fireplace. Any issues with this type of installation?
Any of the vented heaters would require the use of the type and model line of venting specified by their installation documentation. The required venting may not be the same as or compatible with your existing venting.
on October 7, 2019