Informational Guide

Comparing Electric Fireplaces, Infrared Heater & Space Heaters

Which heating system is best for your home? We explore and compare infrared heaters, space heaters and electric fireplaces.

by Josh M

As the winter months roll in, we’re all thinking about our heating, and it’s about this time of year we start to consider what the best heater might be.

There’s always been the argument of electric vs. oil filled heaters, but 3 of the best-known modern options for heating your home are electric fireplaces, space heaters, and infrared heaters. In this guide, we’ll help explain how each works, the pros and cons, and help you decide which one is best for you.

Electric fireplaces have actually been around since 1912 and were designed as an alternative to the traditional fireplace. You didn’t need any wood to fuel them, and there was no ash or smoke to clean up afterward, which made them much better suited for homeowners, but despite these advantages, they didn’t really take off.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950s that electric fireplace heaters became popular, and it wasn’t until 1981 that Dimplex invented a fireplace with the realistic looking flames that we associate with modern electric fireplaces. Since that point, the demand has grown and grown, and you can now see electric fireplace heaters in millions of homes.

Modern electric fireplace heaters operate using convection. Cold air is drawn into the device, and a heating coil is used to heat it up before it’s released back into your home. By heating the air in a room, the fireplace raises the overall temperature and warms your home.

Electric fireplaces are generally made from stainless steel and plastic. The internal components and mechanisms are all metal, but some exterior parts are made from plastic. There is often a glass panel on the front with LEDs that mimic the flickering of flames, adding to the look and feel of the fireplace.

Electric fireplaces are popular with homeowners because they are cheap to buy, simple to install, very low maintenance, and offer effective heating. They combine function with aesthetics well and can make a room seem warmer and cozier instantly.

Pros & Cons of Electric Fireplaces

What We Like
  • No Fumes: Unlike wood or gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces give off no fumes or by products, so there’s no need for any ventilation.
  • Effective Heating: Electric fireplaces are a good way to heat a room, and you will feel the benefit.
  • Life-like Flames: The realistic flame displays add to the overall aesthetics of a room and can even make you feel warmer during the cold months.
  • Safe: Electric fireplaces have a light display that looks like flames but should be cool to the touch. This makes it safe for kids and pets.
  • Affordable: Electric fireplace heaters are generally cheaper to buy than other types of heaters, and there are no installation costs (providing you have access to a 120V or 240V outlet).
Things We Don’t
  • Must Be Near Outlet: Electric fireplaces are portable, but you will need an outlet nearby or pay for one to be installed.
  • Some Non-Serviceable Parts: Good electric fireplaces will last years, but some components within the heater can’t be fixed or replaced. This means if something goes wrong, you might have to replace the whole fireplace.

Overview of Infrared Heaters

Infrared Heater

Infrared heaters offer a different type of heat which can be really useful in some situations. Unlike traditional convection heaters, which work by warming the air around you, infrared heaters use light to transfer heat directly. This has been shown to heat you more intensely and provide instant heat without having to wait for the space around you to warm up.

Infrared heaters sound very scientific, and you would logically think they are very modern. However, the first infrared heater was actually invented in 1800 by William Herschel, a German-born astronomer and composer.

William was experimenting with different types of light through a prism and discovered that certain wavelengths gave off heat. Of course, it wasn’t for over a hundred years that this idea was developed into a commercial heater, but the principle started there.

Modern infrared heaters use electricity to power infrared light bulbs. These light up and become red hot, emitting heat and raising the temperature of everything around them. They have often been found outside bars and restaurants but are now increasingly common in the home.

They are popular with homeowners because they give off a more natural feeling of heat which has even been shown to have healing effects. They aren’t reliant on airflow, and they are generally cheaper to run than other types of heaters.

Pros & Cons of Infrared Heating

What We Like
  • Direct Heat: Infrared heating isn’t reliant on heating the air around you. It transfers the heat directly. This means it heats a room more quickly.
  • Low Running Costs: Infrared heaters are one of the most energy-efficient options on the market, so you’ll save money on bills.
  • Dry Heat: Infrared heaters give off very dry heat, which is good for helping you deal with mold or dampness.
  • Low Maintenance: Once installed, you won’t need to do much to keep your heater running.
  • Good For Allergies: The heater doesn’t rely on air circulation, so there are fewer dust particles traveling around the room. This makes it better suited for those with allergies.
Things We Don’t
  • Focused Heating: The heat really does focus where the light shines and doesn’t spread. It won’t be as effective at heating a large area.
  • Potential Hazard: The intense heat can be a fire hazard if any flammable materials are left too close. You should also keep children from going too close to the heater.

Overview of Space Heaters

Space Heater with a Remote Control SampleSpace heaters are designed to quickly heat a single room or closed-off space. They generally use convection methods to heat the air around you, but there are a few models which use radiant technology, which is similar to infrared heaters. However, generally they work by drawing cold air inwards, heating it, and then expelling it using a fan, so it quickly flows through a room.

Space heater technology really dates back to when electric heaters were first invented in 1883 by Alexander Graham Bell. Though the design was primitive, it was effective and worked by placing light bulbs in a metal box which then gave off heat to the room. In the mid-1900s, this was combined with a fan, and the modern space heater was born.

There are three main types of space heaters: ceramic, oil, and infrared. Ceramic space heaters use electricity to heat ceramic plates within the device. This then emits heat which will warm cold air in the unit, and then a fan blows this out into the room. Oil space heaters work the same way, but instead of ceramic plates, electricity is used to heat oil within the machine. With infrared space heaters, electromagnetic waves are used to heat the air, and then it’s blown out into the room.

Space heaters are popular for those with a small/medium-sized space they need to heat up quickly. They are generally more expensive to run and aren’t really designed to be left on constantly. They work well as portable heaters, and homeowners who need to move a powerful heater between rooms will benefit from a space heater.

What We Like
  • Intense Heat: Space heaters give off heat quickly and can warm up a room fast.
  • Portable: Many space heaters are portable, so you can move them about your home as needed.
  • Easy To Install And Use: Space heaters pretty much just plug in and go, so you won’t need to waste time or money on installation. They’re also simple to use with no complicated instructions or controls.
  • Flexible: Space heaters can be used on the ground, wall-mounted, ceiling mounted, or tabletop. They’re one of the most versatile types of heaters.
  • Affordable: There’s a lot of different space heaters on the market, and they are generally more affordable than other heaters.
Things We Don’t
  • Expensive To Run: Space heaters use more electricity to run and shouldn’t be left on all the time. They shouldn’t be used as a replacement for central heating.
  • Fire Hazard: The intense nature of a space heater means they can be a fire hazard. You’ll need to remove all flammable objects from around them, and you should never leave them unsupervised. The U.S Product Safety Commission considers them one of the more dangerous types of heater.

Electric Fireplaces Vs Infrared Vs Space Heaters: Key Differences

Hopefully, you now understand a bit more about each type of heater, but there are still a lot of similarities between them which can make it difficult to choose between them. To make life easier, we’ve created a list of the key features so you can see how they all measure up next to each other:

Model and Installation Cost

Cost is important, and the initial price of each of these types of heaters does vary. Electric fireplaces are generally the most expensive because they have the most complicated design and the best aesthetics.

Infrared heaters are generally quite affordable because of their simple nature, but it does vary depending on the exact specifications. Space heaters are generally smaller and more portable and should carry the lowest price tag.

Space heaters are generally the cheapest option, but it does depend on the size and power of the model. Electric fireplaces, infrared heaters, and space heaters are all usually quite simple to install, so there’s no real cost associated with them.

Running Costs

All 3 of these heaters use electricity which means the running costs are slightly dependent on the average rates in your area. However, the infrared heater works in a different way from the others and is the cheapest to run.

Electric fireplaces are reasonably efficient, but because they lack power, you generally have to run them for longer, which can drive running costs up. Space heaters are by far the most expensive to run as you have the heating itself and a fan to power. That’s why space heaters are usually only used for a specific job and then switched off again.

The amount you pay will depend on the size of the room you’re heating and how long you’ll run the heater for, but the infrared heater is the cheapest option.

Power Requirements

This is directly linked to running costs, but it’s good to understand the requirements of each type of heater so you can safely run it in your home. All 3 of these heaters will, on average, use about 1500 Watts and need access to either a 120V or 240V outlet. This will be clear on the specifications/packaging, but most homes will have that as standard.

Heating Speed

When we get into the heart of winter, it’s useful to know how quickly you can expect a room to warm up. The electric fireplace is generally the slowest of the three and can take hours to heat a room. This is just because it’s the least powerful of these heaters and takes a while to heat the air.

Infrared heaters operate more quickly, and the radiant method will make you feel warm more quickly. In fact, if you position yourself in front of the heater, then you’ll warm up almost instantly. It will take a lot longer for the whole room to warm up, though.

When it comes to warming a whole room, then the space heater is the quickest. The combination of heating and the fan means that warm air is literally forced into the room at a pace. You should expect to feel the benefit immediately and for the whole room to warm up after 10 or 15 minutes. If you want fast heating, then the space heater is the one for you.

Heat Effectiveness

When we talk about heat effectiveness, we mean how efficient the heater is and the benefit you’ll feel from the device. A space heater will warm you up quickly, but you can’t leave it running for long periods, or it will cost you a fortune. Instead, you’re best off using this in short bursts as needed and conserving the energy.

Electric fireplaces are quite effective and will gradually heat and maintain the temperature in the room. They are fairly inexpensive to run and can be left on continuously, so you can keep a room cozy without a big energy bill spike.

Infrared heaters often feel like the most effective because they are heating you directly. This helps you feel warm and comforted straight away but isn’t as good at heating the environment around you.

All in all, electric fireplaces probably give you the most effective heat because they are efficient enough to be used continuously, and effective enough to heat a room fully. However, you will need to consider the insulation of your home and how heat is escaping because if this is too poor, then you won’t be able to sustainably heat any room.

Safety

There are two things to consider when we talk about safety: is there a fire hazard, and are people safe around the heater? With the infrared heater, there is a fire risk because the electromagnetic waves of heat can be quite intense.

If these come into contact with something flammable, they can cause a fire, so you have to be vigilant. Infrared heaters can also be a risk to those around the device because the infrared bulbs will become hot to the touch. Children and pets should never be left unsupervised around the heater for that reason.

Your space heater can also be a fire hazard. The extreme heat given off and the speed of hot air circulating can cause a fire if there’s anything flammable nearby. You should never leave a space heater unattended because it’s designed for short bursts of intense heat.

Electric fireplaces, on the other hand, are pretty safe. There’s minimal risk of fire unless a flammable is left right next to the heater. Plus, even though there might be realistic looking flames on the front of the heater, it should be cool to touch. This means it’s safe for kids and pets, and you won’t need to worry about leaving the room.

Appearance of Appliance

It’s not all about functionality, and you have to consider how the different heaters will look in your home. Space heaters aren’t really designed for aesthetics, and they are the more practical option. You can get some nice-looking models, but generally, you choose this for function, not form.

Infrared heaters range from very basic to quite stylish. You can spend more to get a model that blends in nicely with your home, and there are some good options out there. However, you are a bit limited, and it will generally always look like a heater.

Modern electric fireplaces are designed to be stylish and add to the look and feel of a room. They use LEDs to create a realistic flame effect and make your whole home feel cozier. If you want a heater that feels more like a home decoration, you should go for an electric heater.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Nobody wants a high-maintenance heater, but thankfully, none of these options are too much work. Your electric fireplace won’t really need any maintenance or upkeep once it’s running, and your infrared heater might just need the occasional dusting.

Your space heater shouldn’t require much maintenance, but you should supervise it while it’s on. This makes it a bit more work than the other two.

Which Is Best?

Now let’s get down to the specifics. You know what type of home you have and how you want to use the heater, so let’s give you a breakdown of the main scenarios so you can decide which is best for you:

For Large Homes

An electric fireplace is really designed to be a fixture in one room and won’t necessarily heat a large home. It isn’t portable and won’t be of much use if you’re trying to heat different rooms at different times. That being said, it does bring together your living room and can make it the heart of a large home.

An infrared heater can work well in a large home. They are inexpensive to run, so you can fit panels in several different rooms and run them simultaneously without any massive energy spike. This is probably the best option for a large homeowner.

Space heaters are designed for fixed spaces and won’t work to heat a whole home, especially not a large one. However, one benefit of space heaters is that they are portable, so you can move them between rooms in your home as needed. This might not heat the whole home but can be useful.

For Living Rooms

Electric fireplaces are definitely the best option for living rooms. They are designed to sit in the middle and give off heat so comfortable heat even a large living room. Plus, they act as a centerpiece and work best in this setting.

Infrared heaters can work in living rooms, but the direct heating can be a bit intense while you’re relaxing. You may need to fit several panels to heat a medium/large living room.

A space heater will probably be too intense for a living room unless you’re looking to give a quiet burst of heat to warm it up quickly. However, you’ll spend a lot of time in your living room, and a space heater will be too expensive to run continuously.

For Bedrooms

An electric fireplace works really well in a bedroom. It will give off enough heat to keep you warm and is safe and gentle enough to leave running overnight. The flickering flame can also be very relaxing to help you unwind, or romantic to add to the mood.

Infrared heaters can work in your bedroom, but the intense heat from the electromagnetic waves can be a bit much when you’re trying to unwind. You wouldn’t want to leave it on overnight, so you might have to add a timer, so it comes on in the morning.

Space heaters aren’t really suitable for bedrooms. You could use them for a quick burst of heat before you go to sleep, but you can’t safely leave them on overnight while you’re sleeping. Our advice would be to avoid this option.

For Apartments

Even though apartments can be smaller, they are generally open plan, so you need a heater that can deal with a large space. Electric fireplaces aren’t the best at actively heating a large area, and they work better in living rooms or bedrooms.

Infrared heaters can work really well in apartments if you position panels in the right places. You can control these centrally and make sure the whole apartment is at an ambient temperature. This is the best option for those with apartments.

A space heater can work quite well in an apartment because it can heat the whole space if positioned correctly. However, you can’t leave it running, so you’ll be switching it off and on all the time. Plus, it could be expensive to run if you’re using it to heat such a large space.

For Cabins/Tiny Homes

In cabins and small homes, central heating is often a waste. You don’t need regular heat pouring into the space, just small bursts which raise the temperature as needed. Electric fireplaces aren’t going to be great in this environment, but they can make a small home very cozy in the winter months.

Similarly, infrared heaters aren’t going to be the best option because they’ll heat the space a bit more slowly.

Space heaters are probably the best option in this scenario because you can run the powerful heater for short bursts to heat the space and then turn it off again. This will be economical and give you all the heat you need.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Are infrared heaters safe to leave on overnight?

Yes, most modern infrared heaters are safe to leave on overnight and have built-in safety features to shut off if there’s a problem. However, always check the manual/instructions for your model as it can vary between devices.

Can you leave a space heater on all night?

No, space heaters shouldn’t be left on all night as they can be a fire hazard.

Are electric fireplaces expensive to run?

No, electric fireplaces are not overly expensive to run compared to other heaters. They are more expensive than gas heaters, but that’s because electricity is a more expensive power source.

Do electric fireplace flames look real?

This generally depends on the type of electric fireplace you buy, but a good, modern unit can have very realistic flames. Cheaper units may not look as good.

Conclusion

It’s important to understand the differences between specific types of heaters so you can find the best option for you. Space heaters, infrared heaters, and electric fireplaces all have their uses, but they won’t be suitable for everyone.

Hopefully this guide has helped you understand their similarities and differences and has given you everything you need to make an informed decision.

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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