Electric Space Heaters under $100: Differences between Quartz, Infrared, Ceramic, Radiant and Oil-filled Heaters.

fish tank here in my garage on beveragely hillsIn place of a Lamborghini, I now only have a small 55-gallon aquarium in my garage here on Beveragely Hills that I got off Facebook market for $40. My cat loves coming out and watches the fishes every night, while I’m fixing up my Ferrari. I firmly believe that this cat is planning accordingly to eat one of my neon tetras this weekend.

Now the tropical tank has its own heater but it sometimes struggled to keep up with the ambient temperature, since the garage didn’t have any air vent from the HVAC nor any attic insulation. So it was always freezing cold in the winter evening, as we sat here and watched each others like the most dedicated members of the Nightwatch. It’s pretty relaxing and torturing.

Yet I was afraid that the consistent sub-30°F would eventually kill all my aloe plants. Hence as the Tom Kirkman of my own garage, I decided last morning that this had to stop. And a few trips to local home improvement stores later, I got myself 7 rafter vents, a bottle of foam sealant and 30 big bags of greenfiber cellulose to insulate the 20’x 20′ garage’s attic area.

Here they are, next to my AMG convertible for scale. The Ferrari was parked outside because the SLA battery is completely dead.

Half an hour to position the ladder and 14-ft off the ground later…

It’s surprisingly quiet and serene up here. For a moment, I thought I should have had my aquarium in the attic instead.

Another 90 minutes passed, rafter vents were now in place, insulation depth rulers were up and ready to go. I also had to air-seal every single electrical box and hole with the Great Stuff Foam, otherwise all these insulation works would have been in vain.

You need to look up your climate zone to figure out an optimal R-value for the attic insulation. It is usually recommended to be anywhere between R38 and above. However since my garage is fairly small, I went all the way to R60 just because reasons. Well do it right and only have to do it once, right?

Total cost after everything is only about $350. Perhaps even if there is a dismissive return somewhere, it wasn’t a lot.

Keep in mind that adding a thick layer of insulation is only to help retain the current temperature of the area underneath it longer, not stopping it from gradually going back to sub-freezing degree in the winter or burning up like an oven in the summer . This change can happen even faster if there are air drafts in the room. And for that reason alone, we still need an air conditioning unit.

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Buying a Heater

Now it’s time to look at some 110v electric heaters to keep this place warm when we needed. In your case it might a different room, but the garage is the most difficult area to keep comfortable in the winter –hence I use my own as the testing place.

There are also 240v heaters out there, such as the well known Fahrenheat/NewAir G73 model. Unfortunately that is a review for another day, since not everyone has a 240v outlet readily available on the wall. But if you do, you know exactly which one to look for now.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of different types of 110v heaters in the market and it varies from a little $30 portable one to a fancy $600 fireplace that can also cook and fold clothes for you. I only need a simple machine that can bring my garage temperature to above 68°F and accurately calculate the quantum physics energy of a Tessaract as it travels two times the speed of light inside the Black Hole, so nothing really crazy. Also my budget is $20.

With that in mind, a couple of our editors set out to scout Lowes, Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, Costco and other retailers for one year to look for the best heaters and put together an important list that we can work on. Unfortunately, we accidentally lost that list to the wind when we opened the window at the McDonald drive-through.

The good news is that list is empty because they couldn’t find any good heaters for $20 anyway…

So that incident asides, one significant factor you need to know about these 110v heaters is that they always max out around 5,100 BTU or 1500W –until the future changes otherwise. And the difference is they use different kinds of heating elements as the heat source, thus they warm up the room or an object in their own particular way.

I eventually ended up with a little more than 10 heaters for the experiment –but a handful of them crapped out faster than a Black Friday sale TV leaving the store, while couple others just didn’t do the job well enough –hint: ’em oil filled heaters.

Hence what you see in the photo here are the 4 final contenders and I think they are the great buys for $100 or less.

These space heaters are perfect for a small and enclosed room. In open-space areas, they should only be used as a supplementary heat source. Also in a highly drafty area like the garage, you might need a combination of different kind of heaters to quickly raise the temperature to a comfortable level due to air leakages.

Nonetheless, by the end of this article you’ll understand all the differences between Radiant, Quartz, Ceramic, Coil, Infrared, Oil-filled Heaters. You may wonder why there are only four heaters reviewed –What about the gazillion heaters out there and all the tech jargon they are associated with? No worries.

Essentially, it all comes down to two main categories: convection and radiant. There might be additional bell and whistle on top such as realistic burning flame effect, pretty fireplace design and sexy lingerie. But once you know them, it isn’t too difficult to pick out the best heater that fits your needs.

So let’s go over each one of these products and learn more about them now.


If you are a Costco members, you should have seen this heates everytime you walked by the entrance guy whose absolute duty is making sure you have your membership card and a well funded wallet to pay for all the shopping.

Now the Presto Heat Dish is a type of radiant heaters, as opposed to convection heaters.

It has a coiled wire element wraps around and heats up a ceramic cone, then a parabolic plate behind the heating element absorbs the heat from the cone and reflects this energy straight forward without relying on air movement. This works in a very similar fashion to a radiant infrared heater where infrared radiation passively and directly warms an object, small area or the person it’s pointing at.

If you are within the perimeter of the Heat Dish‘s projection, your upper body will really sweat even in 25°F weather.

The amount of heat this device generates is surprisingly impressive and it consumes the least amount of energy among other heaters, which is only 1,000W as advertised on the box. However upon further testing, our meter reports it only draws an average of 900W from the outlet (thanks Vegeta).

Now unlike convection heaters, radiant heaters like the this heater does not warm the air nor it depends on it. Though, that is a two-headed knife.

Since it does not rely on air to move heat, it delivers the supreme heat almost instantly at your demand. But once you step out of the heating path of a radiant heater, you will feel the chill again because the surrounding air has not been warmed and is a lot colder.

PROS

  • Instant and direct heat. Not affected by ambient air temperature.
  • Very hot even in the blistering cold.
  • Does not consume a lot of energy (900W-1000W) to generate this tremendous amount of heat.
  • Multiple heat settings: Low, Medium and High.

  • Good cable management design.

  • Has a spring-loaded tip over protection base at the bottom & loud alarm on the back. This black base also highlights my beautiful freshly painted gel nail, because when your young daughter asks for a nail paint & tea party, you join the nail paint & tea party. Apparently, TIL gel polish should last more than 2 weeks.

CONS

  • Very concentrated heat area.
  • Does not warm the whole room.
  • Low coil-whine noise, might not be noticeable but it’s there if you are an elf.
  • Must sit on flat surface, not wall-mountable.
  • No remote control.

SUMMARY

Energy-saving, free-standing radiant ceramic heater, limited heating space but instant, extremely hot heatwave projects within its path, does not warm up room.

PreviewProductPriceRating
Presto Heat Dish Plus Parabolic Electric Heater Presto Heat Dish Plus Parabolic Electric Heater 384 Reviews $89.31 $89.28


First impression? This is a very good looking infrared heater enclosed in a nice and slightly heavy 27″ wood cabinet.

Infrared heaters could fall in either one of the two categories we mentioned above: convection or radiant.

In this case, the Infrared Tower Heater here is a convection heater where a fan is used to dissipated heat as well as circulating air around the room. Sometimes people also call it a quartz heater due to the fact that a thin coil of iron-chromium-aluminum alloy is contained inside a quartz tube and is used as the heating element.

So a couple frequently asked questions here are –are they dangerous? Yes, infrared heater can burn your house down if you keep pointing it at that stack of toilet papers. Is it gonna give you cancer? No, only cancer gives you cancer and the radiation energy here is basically a form of short wave invisible light that contains a large amount of heat. Just like ghosts, but ghosts are like infrared “cold” air conditioner instead.

Metaphysics aside, infrared heater could be considered the most healthy heating method that actually gives benefit to your body. Our skin can absorb infrared heat wavelength naturally and that helps detoxifying as well as giving the immune system a small boost. So clean air, energy efficient, magic pill for health and keeping you warm, what not to love? I also use them to purify my karma level when it starts to raise too high again.

Similar to the Presto Heat Dish above, this infrared heater also gets hot very quickly even it only has 3 quartz tube (heating elements) inside. As the quartz tubes absorb more energy, they also heat up the surrounding copper plates in order to transfer heat in the right direction as well as keeping the exterior of the unit cool to touch. Speaking of which, I would be very selective on where I touch the Presto Heat Dish when it’s hot.

Now the specification differences between this heater and the Presto Heat Dish are the fan, the oscillating vent, smart digital thermostat and a remote control.

The Presto Heat Dish raises the temperature in a focused area very quickly but it cannot warm the whole room, this infrared tower heater does the exact opposite.

It evenly distributes warm air throughout the room thanks to the functioning oscillation vent –but it takes time. If you walk into a cold room/garage, it may need more than an hour to bring the temperature up.

In fact, it might be a perfect heater for a bedroom or small living room because you can define the shut-off temperature as needed to keep the area warm consistently. You can also set a timer to let it run for a desired period of time, or simply send it commands from across the room via a remote control.

We also find that fan isn’t very loud, more like a subtle white noise. Most of the time we weren’t aware of it, only the bright orange from the quartz tubes gives away that the heater is actually working normal.

PROS

  • Heating elements gets hot very quickly under a minute. However, that greatly depends on the ambient air temperature.
  • Oscillating vent.
  • Fan moves decent volume of air.
  • Digital thermostat with temperature control.
  • Thermistor is positioned at the right location: in the back, at the bottom. If it’s installed at the wrong place, it may capture the heat from the heater itself and returns inaccurate reading of the room temperature.

  • Has timer.
  • Has remote control.
  • Child safety lock to prevent kid messing around with it and committing arson.
  • Multiple heat settings: 1500W, 1000W and ECO.
  • Overheating protection and tip over protection.
  • Supports fan only mode.
  • Fan continues to run a while longer when the unit is turned off to fully dissipate the remaining heat.
  • Washable filter. Not a lot convection heater comes with this feature.

  • 3-prong electrical plug.

CONS

  • Though it gets instantly hot, the output air stream is effectively a few degrees cooler due to the cold air input is drawn in from the back of the heater. Meaning it’s not burning hot as Presto Heat Dish at the beginning, unless you get really close to the heater or the room has gotten a lot warmer.
  • A little bulky and heavy. Won’t make your guns grow any bigger though.
  • Maximum 1500W of power draw, efficient but it does consume more energy for the same amount of heat the Presto Heat Dish outputs. Yet this feels like comparing apple to orange –though they are both fruits (heaters) but one is sweeter (focused heat) and one is more sour (broad-range heat), and one is cheaper than the other (power consumption for different purpose).

SUMMARY

Smart Infrared Quartz Heater, convection style, board-range heat distribution, warms surrounding air over time.

Step-up and Similar Products


You should be able to tell what kind of heater this is and how it functions easily.

This overhead radiant heater has dual extra-long quartz tubes as the heating element and they generate heat by emitting short wave radiation energy that comes from infrared invisible light. In term of whether it’s convection or radiant, since it has no fan hence this is a radiant heater where an object, small area or a person is heated directly and passively without relying on air movement for energy distribution.

It’s very easy to mount this heater on the ceiling as long as it’s securely attached to the beam. The heater is about 12-ft above my workbench but it gives off a huge amount of heat that even my brain can tell. I hope I don’t go bald due to this.

On another note, there isn’t much option to control this overhead heater. You simply pull a string to cycle through four different mode –OFF, lamp only, low heat 750W (one quartz tube on) or high heat 1500W (both quartz tubes on). There is no built-in thermostat or remote control.

Since the Presto Heat Dish cannot be mounted, this overhead quartz heater is the perfect alternative option for your garage. It does not stay in the way or gets blocked by tools and cabinets when it’s up top. It also does not rely on air movement so there is no pocket of hot air hovering by the ceiling while the floor is ice cold.

Another benefit of this overhead heater is more often than not, there might be already an electrical outlet on the ceiling for the garage door opener that runs on a separate 15-amp breaker, hence you should be able to run two heaters in the garage without overload one circuit breaker –one radiant to quickly warm where you are and one convection heater to heat up the ambient temperature.

PROS

  • Instant and direct heat. Not affected by ambient air temperature.
  • Very hot but not as hot as the Presto Heat Dish, but certainly few degrees warmer than the Infrared Tower Heater.
  • Comes with a halogen light.
  • Three heat settings: Low, Medium and High.
  • Easy mount.
  • Adjustable tilting bracket.
  • Rotatable if mounted with one center screw, or fixed with set of of side screws.

  • 3-prong electrical plug.
  • Overheat protection.

CONS

  • Once this overhead radiant heater is turned on, it’ll run all the times until you switch it off.
  • Draws more energy than the Presto Heat Dish.
  • Limited heating range just like the Presto Heat Dish and other radiant heaters.
  • Once it’s on the light is also on in all modes. I have to physically remove the bulb to keep it off.
  • Older model has plastic arms and housing and they could melt under certain circumstance hence the lower rating on Amazon. Newer model is enclosed in a steel cabinet.
  • No remote control. If you have a high ceiling, the pull string might be too short.

SUMMARY

Powerful ceiling-mountable radiant infrared heater, limited heating space but very hot heatwave is instantly projected within its range, does not warm up room.

PreviewProductPriceRating
Comfort Zone Ceiling Mount Quartz Heater, 1 Size, Black Comfort Zone Ceiling Mount Quartz Heater, 1 Size, Black 408 Reviews $77.99 $63.99
PreviewProductPriceRating
UFO S-15 Electric Infrared Heater, 1500 Watt UFO S-15 Electric Infrared Heater, 1500 Watt 50 Reviews $177.99


While the infrared tower heater above is an extremely practical heater, it has a very minimalist design that may not look appealing to many folks. Hence I wanted to explore other options. And one that comes up most often are these kinds of electric infrared stove heaters.

Of the three heaters reviewed above, this one requires the most time for assembling.

Four legs and 12 screws later.

The flame effect in general is very pretty. It gives out a realistic glow that certainly looks attractive and soothing. However, it gets bored very quickly due to the repetitive pattern. It would have been a lot better if the flame dance more randomly. I guess you would love this as a background effect –a treat to the peripheral vision instead of staring at it directly for 3 hours like my other cat.

There are also 3 heating elements (quartz tube) to radiate heatwave. The tubes are a little shorter than those ones found in the infrared tower heater above hence the hot air output temperature is a wee bit lower, especially when the room is cold. However, that won’t be a difference once the ambient temperature starts to rise.

Keep in mind that the quartz tube’s temperature is absolutely much higher than what my Thermal Detector is capable of measuring. For instance, this is what I would see every time the laser guide accurately hit the heating elements of any of these heaters, or my wife when she’s angry.

PROS

  • Nice looking convection infrared quartz heater.
  • Pretty flame effect. Dimmable.
  • Four operating modes: Fan only, 1000W, 1500W, Flame only.
  • Has fan to circulate air and dissipate heat efficiently in the room.
  • Has thermostat to set cut-off temperature.
  • Heating elements gets hot very quickly under a minute. However, that greatly depends on the ambient air temperature.
  • Fan moves decent volume of air.
  • Metal frame, but cool to touch.
  • Much lighter weight than the Infrared Tower Heater.
  • Tip over and overheat protection.
  • CONS

  • No remote control.
  • Not as hot as the Infrared Tower Heater, but only by a little.
  • Consumes more energy than the Presto Heat Dish but should be able to warm up a whole mid-sized room.
  • Fan stops immediately when unit is turned off, leaving the residual heat wasted.
  • 2-prong electrical plug
  • Hot air escaped via the bottom vent, which consequently heats up the floor below over time. So that might not be a good idea to place this on wood floor or high tile carpet. There are similar models that relocates the output vent to the top.
  • SUMMARY

    Infrared Quartz Heater, convection style, stove design, board-range heat distribution, warms surrounding air over time with pretty burning flame and glowing log effect.

    Step-up & Similar Products


    Heaters that didn’t make it?

    Traditional ceramic heater is in many way similar to a convection infrared heater; with the exception of the Presto Heat Dish above which is a hybrid ceramic + infrared radiant heater.

    It’s easy to recognize a ceramic heater every time it’s first turned on, because you’ll notice a burned smell coming out from the metal fins and there is no glowing orange coil wire. Ceramic heater can generate huge amount of heat just like infrared heater, even at a much smaller footprint.

    The downside is, the heat dissipation happens very quickly depending on room temperature. Hence most of the time ceramic heaters are advertised for office, under-the-desk or personal use. Another potential deal breaker is they consume energy at all time high and hot air that comes out from the heater is sometimes a bit too dry for comfort.

    The convection ceramic heater I bought at the local home improvement store died on me a couple days in due to a faulty wiring. I may revisit ceramic heater again when I have a chance to order these better rating units off Amazon. For now, the Presto Heat Dish will temporarily represent ceramic heater just fine.


    Now of the 10 heaters that I purchased, the old school oil-filled radiators could be the worst type of heater in comparison to these infrared heaters and also the most disappointment.

    It radiates heatwave yet this type of conventional heat transfer is weak. It greatly relies on air movement to deliver energy but it has no fan!

    When you put the Presto Heat Dish and an Oil-filled Heater in a fight facing off each other, the Heat Dish probably could heat up the radiator faster than the radiator could do that itself. This heater also struggles so hard from the start to finish just to bring the room temperature up by a few degrees. It’s also hot to touch, which makes it dangerous for children and pet. I have a feeling that I would trip on it and burn myself in the darkest nights.

    Power consumption upon start-up is tremendous but that reduces gradually once the inside oil got heated up. In all honesty, I just can’t find myself placing this type of heater anywhere in my house and it’s a risk of investment for potential disaster returns, I’m losing money here. And for that reason.. I’m out.


    I hope this article has helped you understand these electric heaters better. If you already decided which one to buy, please share a comment so that future readers could also take this bit of advice into their buying consideration. Meanwhile, care for another fun article?

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