Choosing a Space Heater

Written by Gary Foreman stretcher.com

Last year when the price of natural gas went up, I was shocked at my heating bill. Almost one week’s paycheck a month was going to keeping my house at only 65 degrees. I decided a change had to be made.

I sewed a heavy floor to ceiling curtain and hung it in the hallway separating the bottom floor of my house from the upstairs. That way I wasn’t heating empty bedrooms and a second bathroom all day long. I turned my furnace thermostat down to it’s lowest setting and bought a small electric heater to heat the bottom floor of my house during all but the time we were sleeping upstairs. My heating bill went down almost 35 percent!

This year gas in my area is going up 12 percent and electric is actually going down. I am thinking about not using gas heat at all and getting another electric heater for upstairs at night. I am confused about what kind of electric heater to get. Which is the most efficient? I’ve seen quartz, ceramic, coil, and oil filled but I don’t know which one works best? No matter which one I get I will try and get one with good safety features.

~ Mary

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Mary has discovered one of the best ways to reduce your home heating bill. Only heat the rooms that are occupied. Especially when there’s only one person at home and they’re only using one or two rooms. And the simplest way to heat a room is to use a portable electric space heater.

Space heaters convert almost all of the electric used into heat. In that, they’re very efficient. Unfortunately, electricity is often made from gas, oil or coal. And only about 30% of the energy used goes into electricity.

So while you probably wouldn’t want to use electric to heat your whole house in a cold climate, it’s often the most cost efficient method for heating a smaller area. According the Central Maine Power Company the average cost of an electric heater is 13 cents per hour.

Mary is also wise to be concerned about safety. Space heaters can be dangerous. Even deadly. Especially if you have small children. Safety features are an important part of the purchase decision. Make sure that you read and follow the instructions.

Space heaters generally provide heat in one of two ways. Radiant heaters actually heat the objects at which they’re aimed. They do not heat up the air in the room. The other type, convection heaters, warm the air around them.

Radient vs. convection heaters

Not heating the air is an advantage for radiant heaters. There’s no drafts from moving air. And radiant heat is great for heating just portions of a room. You’re only heating the areas where you want heat. Just point the radiant heater at the chair that you’re sitting in!

  • Radiant heaters use a variety of heating elements. Many use quartz tubes. Quartz heaters generally cost less than $70 and are rated between 750 and 1500 watts.
  • Parabolic heaters use a ceramic core. They cost a little more than quartz and put out about the same amount of heat per watt used. Ceramic element heaters are safer than heaters with coils. They use a larger heating area so it doesn’t need to be as hot.
  • Halogen or reflective heaters use an energy saving halogen bulb to produce heat which is reflected on nearby objects. The feeling is much like having the sun shine on you.
  • Convection heaters can heat a whole room more quickly than a radiant heater. That works well if there are a number of people in the room or they’re moving about within the room. Some convection heaters also have fans to circulate the air in the room.Convection heaters are inexpensive. You’ll get one rated up to 5,000 Btu’s for less than $50.Like radiant heaters, convection heaters use a variety of heating elements. Ceramic disc heaters cost up to $150 and produce up to 5,000 Btu’s per hour. Oil and water filled units are the most efficient convection heaters. They utilize a heating element in a bath of oil or water. Like a water heater, the element cycles on and off. The water or oil stays warm in it’s container and heats the surrounding air.

Which heater will work for you?

So which heater is best for Mary? Since she’s considering a nighttime application people won’t be moving around. So she’s probably best choosing a radiant heater for each occupied bedroom. And, unless she has young children with inquisitive hands, the halogen or ceramic heater will provide more heat per kilowatt hour of electricity. Whatever Mary picks we hope that her utility bill won’t be the hottest thing in her home this winter!

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46 Responses to “Choosing a Space Heater”

  • Aldo Aldo says:

    Toasty, agreed.

  • toasty says:

    Most people looking for an electric heater for heating a room or a part of the house get absolutely bewildered by the range of options, all of which claim to be the most efficient. As this article rightly points out, there is essentially two types of space heaters and once you get that and the differences between them, choosing the right space heater becomes a piece of cake.

  • Hal says:

    This is a great topic. The weather is definitely creating a problem with the gas prices rising!

  • Cheryl Khan says:

    Space heaters are a great way to lower your bill. You don’t have to heat your whole house. You can stay warm outside on the patio too. Halogen heaters are your best bet. http://bit.ly/1aWQhxD They are different from convection heaters and work much better for the outdoors.

  • Shelley Shelley says:

    What I do for heat in my home is: I set my thermostat at 20c{Canada} on all of them. Then I keep the upstairs cool and the main floor warm and the basement warmer, with the boiler there. My roommate uses a heater that plugs into the wall and it keeps her warm. That is the only heater that I use.

  • Dot says:

    I want to keep my kitchen and front room at a steady low heat – I have been using oil fill radiators as I felt safe with them – checking out quartz – and convection by De Longhi. Even looked at a Duraflame quartz – this will be placed in kitchen due to flooring – do not want to put on rug

  • Doris Beck D. Beck says:

    Thanks for weighing in Patrick and taking the time to explain some of what has been shared! The temperatures are going down outside so people are looking for answers about space heaters again! It’s definitely that time of year!

  • Patrick Buick says:

    A lot was said about physics. Indeed energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but that doesn’t mean that a heater is 100% efficient.

    As one person pointed out, energy can be looked at as a wave phenomenon with different wavelengths (and wavelength is only another way of expressing frequency of wave phenomenon). The reason you want infrared wavelength energy is because that is what we perceive as heat. Conversion to any other wavelength is a loss if the object is to produce heat just as producing heat when the object is to produce light is considered a loss. Certainly losses in wire resistance etc. doesn’t count as a loss of efficiency in this application because it is lost as heat, which in this case is the desired effect.

    As for water versus oil heaters, water has a higher specific heat or heat capacity. It will take longer to heat up, but it will also have to give off more heat before cooling down. It therefore moderates temperature changes better. This higher heat capacity of water is also the reason it was chosen for hydronic systems and automobile cooling systems and so on. Oh this is also why the ceramic heaters are so nice. The ceramic gets heated and gives off a nice even infrared heat with very little energy lost to other wavelengths. I just wish they had a parabolic heater which didn’t lose energy to light when heating the ceramic at the focal point!

    I’m torn on the Mica based heating, basically you put a mineral (rock) on either side of the heating element and let the element heat it. Voila, you are doing like the old rock in the fire, heating up an object and using the infrared energy emission from it. This is the same idea as the ceramic heaters. If the original element gets hot enough to generate light, there is a significant loss.

    On radiant versus convection heat, I tend to agree with most of the comments. Radiant is great if you can aim the heater where you need it. It heats what it hits, which preferably is you :) It will however heat walls and chairs and other things and they will re-radiate the heat. It will also be blocked easily, which is why there are cold spots in garages heated by overhead radiant heaters. Convection moves heat around in air.. you heat the air and then move it around to distribute the heat. This is the idea behind central heating and many space heaters. If there is air leakage / drafts, then you have a problem with this method! Conductive works too – using heating pads / blankets etc. and it doesn’t have to travel across the room. Ideally, I like to try to use a combination where there is some radiant heat and some convective heat.

    As for the government limiting heaters to 1500 Watts, that is not directly due to any government intervention, but merely the limit of wattage able to be safely provided by the “standard” outlet – 15 Amps @ ~120 Volts AC. Baseboard heating can be wired in with larger circuits and even ~240 Volts AC for more wattage heating. I had to wire in a 20A 120V AC circuit for my sauna because it is 1800 Watts (and uses carbon fibre heating elements – no light emission at all and very cozy).

    Enough said for now… hopefully this helps!

  • @Jeannie water heaters are simply better at power efficiency and not as good as oil filled convection heaters at performance.

  • Jamie Editor says:

    Hi RFB, I appreciate your input in the conversation. You will notice that I have edited your comment slightly. Some phrases don’t translate well to a text setting like this and I thought that some of your comments may have been misunderstood as antagonistic and that is not the intent of this site. Hope you understand. Thanks!

  • RFB says:

    Reply @Joe Heaters are NOT a dead short! If they were, you would be blowing breakers and burning up electrical wiring left and right, resulting in a burnt down dwelling and a visit from the Fire Marshal..not to mention one fat law suit to the thousands of heater manufacturers and “Red Tagging” of every electrical heater that exists by every electrical utility around.

    Your “dead short” would produce the BTU you describe, but certainly not at mere 1KW! A typical home electrical service is 200 amps 240VAC single phase. A dead short on that would start to burn up that service drop lead in which is typically 2/0 gauge size wire, and glow like a heating element until the transformer on the utility pole either explodes or it’s high voltage protective fuses pops.

    This site: http://electrical.about.com/od/wiringcircuitry/a/electwiresizes.htm has a table consisting of various wire gauges and their intended purposes.

    This site : http://www.alloywire.com/heating_element_design.html is an excellent elementary tutorial on engineering a heating coil or element, complete with the necessary calculations and formulas to build a heater element, or to even discover that there is no such thing as a “dead short” when it comes to electrical heaters!

    RFB – 30yr electronic/electrical design engineer.

  • joe says:

    So As a certified Energy analyst here is you answer 3412 btus per kilo watt with a dead Short which is what a electric heater is. I dont care if its ceramic or wires or a light bulb, a heat pump is different so dont throw that in, energy can be released as heat or motion thats it, and sound and light are both wave lengths. Guess What a 1000 what light bulb 3412 btus of heat. Turn on 10 100 watt light bulbs 3412 btus. if you looking to save money buy a heater that uses low wattage and point it at you, since you are what needs to be warm, your house could care less if its warm or not. so any one ever tells you one electric heater is more efficient than another is wrong. 3412 btus Per 1 KW PERIOD.

  • Brendan Kiely says:

    A great electric heater is the Lasko 6435 Designer Series Ceramic Oscillating Heater with Remote Control

    Highly recommended

    Read more: http://www.istumbledupon.com/lasko-6435-designer-series-ceramic-oscillating-heater-with-remote-control/

  • james says:

    Lucian is 100% correct, all electric heaters are 100% efficient, if a heater only converted 95% of electricity to heat, the other 5% must be “lost” in some other way either through sound or light or mechanical movement, so unless your heater also has speakers(which produce no heat) a bright light(which doesn’t produce heat) and powers some mechanical device(which has no friction,to produce heat) it will be 100% efficient. Oil filled heater are not more efficient, they are only more effective in certain circumstances, electrical efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing.
    Some simple understanding of physics would be a good base before your start giving advice to people.

  • Lucian Wischik says:

    @Krystoff: on the contrary, most devices for generating heat from electricity are 100% efficient. Everything lost through wire-resistance is lost AS HEAT.

    @SpaceHeaterReviews: Of course you can transform 100% of energy into heat. It doesn’t in any way make a perpetuum mobile. The only way to make a perpetuum mobile is to transform 0% of energy into heat.

    Look, all these basic misunderstandings about “efficiency” is why the article is misleading. It was a great opportunity to explain to people how to judge the cost of heating, the cost of initial purchase, the specificity of the heat produced — but instead it perpetuated the confusion.

  • krzystoff says:

    @Lucian; to split your ‘split-hairs’, no device is 100% efficient, the resistance of the wires and components ensures that, until someone discovers the perfect superconductor, we will never have 100% efficiency. higher voltage appliances are more electrically efficient than lower voltage — so a device running on 9V is likely more energy efficient than a USB powered device and a mains-powered light fitting for example is more energy efficient than a 12V light fitting. thus, you are utilising less energy that what you paid for, and if you have plug-packs/transformers all around your home, you are using far less still.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Mike and for that excellent input. I have actually used the heaters that are filled with oil and they give off great heat for very little cost.

  • Mike says:

    I have heaters that use glowing wires and I also have ceramic heaters. They have the same wattage supposedly, but I can attest that the ceramic produces more noticeable heat. Since they are rated at the same maximum wattage that tells me the ceramic will provide more heat for the same amount of electricity used.

    I have a ceramic that stands 18 inches tall, it is about eight inches in diameter. The heat it puts out is noticeably greater than the one that uses glowing wires. It can be adjusted to oscillate back and forth so it could easily warm all sides of a person sitting in a chair and perhaps even two people fairly close together. It has two power settings and a timer so it will shut off if you rise and forget it. It also has a thermostat with increments every five from 65 to 85. That heater costs about $45 at discount stores compared to about $20 for the glowing wire heaters but I am reasonably certain it will cost far less to operate. Perhaps paying you back in the first month of use. I have been using it now for five years. It is beginning to produce a slight odor so I suspect it is nearing the end of its usable life but it still works.

    The warmth from the ceramic can be felt up to six feet away in a 60 degree room. On the highest setting it can make you sweat from six feet away.

    I remember in the 1960’s and 70’s my grandma hanging blankets on doorways in the winter to control heat and using small heaters for the different rooms. She turned her thermostat down to 50 at night and would use a small heater facing her breakfast chair while she waited for the furnace to warm the kitchen.

    Isolating rooms is an excellent way to control heat. That is why many older homes had numerous swinging doors. Modern houses don’t usually have those because most people don’t want to be bothered opening and closing doors between rooms. A good alternative is a blanket or sheet hung with an overlapping split at the center so a person can easily push through without the need to use hands. It might mess up your hair a bit but it works well.

    I have not tried the type that are filled with oil so I cannot compare them. If they use a ceramic system I am certain they would also be more cost saving than the glowing wire type. I would never use a glowing wire heater if there are small children around, too dangerous. Make certain ALL heaters you use have protection that will shut them off in case they should be tipped over.

  • Robin says:

    If your goal was to stay warm because, as a result of a medical condition, you perceive the temperature to be lower than it is. This is the most cost effective way for you to feel warmer.

    Set your thermostat to 60 degrees to control your costs and keep the building at a resonable temperature. Then use a portable radient heat source. radient energy will pass into your body. You will feel warmer without paying to heat the air around you. You have tryed to heat the air, that doesn’t work for you. It is also too expensive. If you sit in a chair both you and the chair will get warm. When you leave the chair, it’s warmth will then be used to heat the air in the room.

  • @Lucian, I believe you can talk about efficiency related to space heaters. You might be right that the efficiency rate of modern heaters is quite good, maybe up to 99% of used energy can be converted to heat (can’t be 100% obviously, not a perpetuum mobile). But we can definitely state which space heater is more efficient to run in given conditions: convection heaters won’t be efficient in drafty room, I think there is nothing wrong with saying that even if you are pedantic. :)

  • Charles says:

    I had to look up the word efficient just to be sure about your post lol. “Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.”

    By efficient I think he like myself means the best productivity for the buck.

    Certain materials heat faster and longer then others and things like a fan and oscillating help disperse heat better. But I’m realizing if you want to heat a room the a radiator design is the best this takes in the cold air and shoots it our hot rather then just pushing heat through air. So if you want to cook in one spot get a porcelain fan style heater if you want to heat a room get a mica radiator. A big problem is the most “watts” the GOV allows a heater to use is 1500 which is not enough power to heat a full size room with any heater.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Lucian, I think you’re splitting hairs here. Clearly in the context of the article the author is using the term “efficient” in the context of “which space heater will give me the most heat for my money”. Gary Foreman is an excellent journalist and has spent years writing about practical ways to stretch a dollar. He’s very good at what he does. You are of course welcome to go to whichever source you prefer for your information, but I have full confidence in Gary, he knows his stuff and I will continue to use his work here. He has helped a lot of people and in times like these, that help is desperately needed.

    Claire Colvin
    Sr. Ed., Power to Change

  • Lucian says:

    How to tell that a journalist knows nothing about electric space heaters: when he says that one kind is more “efficient” than another. That’s not how electricity works!

    The electricity comes from the outlet. The space heater turns it into heat. 100% of the electricity used gets turned into heat. Every electric space heater is 100% efficient. 100% of what you pay for it on your electric bill gets turned into heat.

    If someone writes that one electric heater is “more efficient” than another — then they don’t understand electric heaters. Go somewhere else for advice.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Thanks so much for answering the questions about micathermic heaters! I don’t even know what they are!

  • Hi, the micathermic heaters are something in between convection heaters and radiant heaters (like an oil-filled radiator and an infrared heater combined in one appliance – 70% convection vs 30% radiant). This makes them quite versatile.
    Unlike oil-filled heaters, micathermic heaters doesn’t require a long time to heat up and also safety wise they doesn’t impose risk (because only 30% of the heating is radiant heat).
    They are not the best choice however for a poorly insulated spaces because still most of the heat generated is by convection which heats the room’s air which is escaping through gap in insulation. For such a places infrared or other radiant heaters are the best choice.

  • Host says:

    Why doesn’t anyone mention mica tech for heaters. I am trying to decide if I should get this heater but no one compares the different heating elements :(( so annoying.

    I’m trying to find what is best for a space heater: MICA, Ceramic, OIL, Radiant, Water, ect..

    Thanks,

  • Anon says:

    I live in North Carolina and have neurological, medical problems that make me perceive the world to be colder than it really is. I take a warm shower in the morning, and wear two sweaters in the apartment during the day in the winter. I have an electrical heater in the room I am occupying and an electric blanket in my bedroom. I know, I’m not *supposed* to leave the heater on overnight, but I take extra care to make sure there’s nothing anywhere near the heater before I go to bed every night.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Thanks for the great links. Lots of good information about heaters.

  • Depends what you mean by efficiency. In a well insulated room oil-filled radiators fitted with thermostat are efficient because after reaching the target temperature they turn off until the temperature starts falling again. No need to run all the time, most gas heaters can’t do this.
    On the other hand gas heaters have bigger heating potential, a portable gas heater can deliver up to 3 times the power of most 1500 Watts powered electric heaters (BTU-wise). But I still wouldn’t use a gas heater in my home because of the safety concerns, only in garage and only when I’m around.
    Anyway there is an article which summarizes different heater types safety and efficiency-wise on the http://electric-heaters-review.com (article located at the bottom of the page).

  • Garry K says:

    Need to know if the radiant oil or gas heaters are more efficient than the other heaters ?

  • Safest bet is the oil-filled radiator, also some like the DeLonghi Dragon model offers nice features like thermostat or programmable timer. No fire hazard because don’t get hot enough to cause burning wounds so safe with children and pets.
    http://electric-heaters-review.com has reviews of the best space heaters on the market today.

  • Doris Beck Doris says:

    Good point Amanda. It also impacts hardwood floors and even carpets if there is no heat or large heat fluctuations in the room so there should be some amount of heat in every room, but not necessarily the same in every room.

  • Amanda says:

    You should be giving every part of your home a little bit of heat regardless to the amount you use that room. If there are pipes in the walls or floors, you don’t want to give them the chance to freeze or burst.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Marion it would be difficult to know what would work the best in your apartment without seeing it. Have you talked to any of the other people in your apartment about thier heating bill? If they have a solution for their apartment it may be a similar solution for yours.

    It would seem to me that part of your issue is about insulation as much as it is about heating. I don’t know what kind of support your utility company gives but the one in my area will do an assessment of a person’s home and make suggestions for dealing with drafts, and out of control heating costs. You may want to check with your utility company and see what resources they could make available to you.

  • Marion says:

    So how do I figure out which type of heater to heat 2 rooms or three rooms. I recently got divorced and never had to figure any of this stuff out before but I do know that last year for my small apartment it cost for just 3 of the months of Winter I was here $2500.00 and I had the heat at 62 at night & 68 when I was home plus 1 oil portable heater and 2 small sunbeam heaters and I froze. I want to buy another heater to heat one room but it be portable so if I want to heat a different room I can, any help would be appreciated and also looking for the best price too.

  • Shelley Shelley says:

    I live here in Canada and we have thank God all kind of ways to keep warm in the winter months=electric, oil, gas, wood (still) and some places coal.

  • Ryan says:

    Correction on John’s formula: you can’t simply multiply the wattage of the heater by the number of hours it is turned on! Why? Because many heaters are NOT using electricity 100% of the time they are in use!

    Take radiant heaters, for example. It will use electricity to heat the internal oil and turn off when the room reaches the target temperature. The hot oil continues to heat the room without electricity. When it begins to cool, so does the room and after some time, it will “switch on”, so to speak, and start using electricity to heat the oil again.

    To correct the formula, you need to estimate the percentage of time the heater will be using electricity. Simply use his formula as presented, but be sure to multiply the total kilowatt hours (kWh) by the estimated percentage of time the heater will be using electricity. This should make your calculations look even better!

  • Steven says:

    Kudos to John. Conservation of energy says that unless you’re splitting atoms or a certain heater is dumping out a lot of energy in noise or electromagnetic radiation, all heaters are all the same in terms of cost to you to heat a room of a given size. Oil heaters take a while to heat up at the start and cool down when you turn it off, so it’s good as a longer-term heater; however, if you’re just warming yourself while you get dressed for work, some energy is wasted to heating an empty room (because you already paid for the heat it is still radiating, even when turned off). Coil space heaters give instant heat and (virtually) no energy is wasted if you turn it off on your way out of the house.

  • Colin Hall says:

    Last year we went away on holiday over Christmas and left the heating settings on an even 12 degrees C. When we returned we found that the system had used 1/3 of a tank of oil in just 2 weeks ! This would equate to £200 for oil bought in the spring and £350 for oil bought in the Winter. This year we have purchased 3 x 2kw convection heaters and will be following the guide above. Fingers crossed for a warmer winter than last year :-)

  • Karen Ann says:

    This is all very good advice for saving money on your heating and electric bills. However, it would be adviseable to check with your insurance company to find out if “open flame, convection heat, kerosene or oil space heaters, electric space heaters, etc” are an exclusion on your homeowners insurance policy. If they are an exclusion and the house burns down, you may have a bigger problem than saving money on your heating and electric bill. Your loss may not be covered or paid out. Rule of thumb … before leaping into anything that changes or adds to the basic operation systems of your home, check with your insurance agent to see how those changes are going to affect your homeowners insurance. There is more to saving money than just cutting your electric bill …

  • Haie says:

    It’s very exiting to find this powertochange.com website. Thanks for sharing this info. I find it very informational as I have been analysing a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about…

  • John says:

    Quartz, oil, water, radient etc. Electric heaters are 100% Efficient. Doesn;t matter what media they use to distribute the heat. If the heater has more thermal capacity like a water heater it will stay warm longer after you shut it off but it will take longer to heat up.
    The best heater for your needs will depend on what you want it to do. If you want quick heat or your gonna keep it on. Some people like feeling the warm air blowing on them some don’t. If you get a convection heater with no fan, don’t expect to feel the heat from it on the other side of the room five minutes after you plug it in! But don’t complain about fan noise if you want to have instant heat blowing on your feet either.
    Want to know how much the heater will cost to run? A 1000W heater uses a kilowatt hour per hour! pretty straight forward. So a 2000W heater used ten hours a day will used 20kWh/day, times thirty days is 600kWh. So if your rate is 15c/kWh then it will cost you $90 for that month. If you can turn your furnace down enough to save $200 in the same month then you have just saved $110. I think the best way is to get used to the cooler temps – ie 65 degrees or cooler. It is nice for sleep (but not getting up! lol) then just use a heater for the room you spend your time in.

  • PAUL says:

    DO RADIANT HEATERS WITH QUARTZ BULBS USE LESS ELECTRICITY THAT THE RADIANT HEATERS WITH HEATING COILS?

  • Mary says:

    I have a cement block house that I rent out. It has a wall-mounted gas space heater in the Living room. This January was brutal for South Carolina. The bedroom was especially cold. What would be the most cost effective heater for the tenant to use?

  • Yea Yea says:

    Hi – I was wondering also if the oil filled radiators (not knowing the water filled ones are even in existence) are the most efficient electricity-wise of any of the room heaters. Our electric bill went up over $100 this last month because one of my roommates is using a Holmes electric heater (not sure how much he has it on..).

  • Jeannie says:

    On water and oil filled convection heaters do you have an opinion on which holds
    the heat the longest. I am looking at a couple one new Water filled and one
    older used oil filled. I am thinking the new Water filled would be the best
    buy. The price is the same for both.

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