Choosing a Space Heater

Written by Gary Foreman

spaceheaterLast 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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60 Responses to “Choosing a Space Heater”

  • Sharon says:

    good article thank you for posting this

  • Gord C says:

    “….the halogen or ceramic heater will provide more heat per kilowatt hour of electricity.”

    This statement is FALSE!!. They are exactly the same. A $10.00 1000W convection heater will give the same heat as a $100.00 1000W halogen, ceramic, oil filed, radiant, etc. Watts are watts. BTU’s are BTU’s.

    See earlier post.

  • Gord C says:

    Many people are missing the point. There is no differrence between the costs of running a heater. Heaters are rated by the watts they are capable of using. They are 100% efficient. Every watt is used to produce heat. Wether it is a 750 Watt oil filled, quartz, ceramic, radiant, or convection they all cost the same to operate.. The effectiveness is different because of design etc., but the cost to run them is exactly the same. A heaters electrical output is measured in watts. 1 watt/hour = 3.412 BTU’s/hour. A BTU is a measure of heat produced. 1 cubic foot of air requires 0.018 BTU/hour to raise the temperature 1 degree fahrenheit. The Electric Utility Company charges you a rate by the kWh (1000Watts/hour). A heater is not like a light bulb. As of yet, there is no light source that is 100% efficient. They all produce some amount of heat instead of light. This is why there is a difference between CFL, LED and incandescent bulb efficiency.

  • Jackie says:

    My daughter recently moved into a VERY old apartment, poorly insulated or maybe even no insulation. It has baseboard heat in each room, LR, Kit, MB, a very small spare br and bath and probably old as well. She understands baseboard heat is expensive. However not only is it costly the problem is it’s also not doing a good job of heating the LR/ Kit which is open to each other. IMB is ok as she can close the door and use it only at night. She thinks a space heater will help. I would appreciate any recommendation of what type of space heater would be best for her. I have searched the Internet until I’m blue in the face and confused as ever with all the choices, infrared, convection, ceramic, oil filled, water filled, etc. the living room is about 14×16 open to same size kitchen.
    The windows are decent, vinyl, double pane and she has just put plastic film over the 3 windows in living room.,

    We will appreciate any advice. We know that operating a space heater isn’t cheap either but at least she will be warmer and more comfortable.

  • Sharon says:

    good article I got a good fire place to heal and heat to heat our place

  • Thomas says:

    Daniel, I have to thank you for your 11/04/2015 posting on electric heaters! I remember some of my 1968 high school physics, so I could follow ( O.K., I read it twice first ) your energy output evaluations, but I just plain never thought of the idea,that a unit like the oil filled electric heater would Not actually run at its stated rating whenever it was On.
    We use 5 such units for everything from keeping basement pipes from freezing to heating our high-use rooms to spare our old oil furnace,& my wallet.
    I Will be getting a use meter to verify actual hourly output on each of these in turn. Thank you again, you have done us a real service !

  • Ronald West says:

    I own a comfort furnace for the past 3 years and I must say I am very satisfied with its heating efficiency. I chose this for its performance and it’s ability to heat large rooms.

  • Daniel says:

    I see many are still confusing efficient with effective.

    As we already know all electric resistance heat is equally 100% efficient.

    It has also been discussed that how the heat is delivered affects its effectiveness.

    What hasn’t been mentioned is does the heater in question actually use the watthours it is supposed to. You would figure that a standard 1500 watt heater would use 1.5kwh per hour and emit the corresponding ~5120BTUs per hour but they often don’t.

    Take many common oil filled units, they simply aren’t big enough to dissipate the heat so to keep from overheating themselves they cycle on the thermostat and don’t use the full 1.5kwh per hour. IOW the average power is less than the rated power. I have one model on for testing next to me right now (Patton POH2501) set to 600 watts. It is drawing 650 actual watts at 120.0 volts per a Kill-A-Watt meter and its surface temperature is 110° Fahrenheit over ambient per a meat thermometer and my room thermometers. 67° F room 177° F heater. So much for not getting hot enough to burn you, I could cook food on this thing.

    The point, if it is getting that hot on only the 600watt low setting then putting it on a higher setting would be pointless because the thermostat would just cycle to keep it from overheating. Hence the higher settings can only be useful for getting the unit’s oil up to temp faster but not for actually heating the room faster. If the heater were bigger the higher settings would actually be useful.

    So if you have a space heater get yourself a power and energy meter like the Kill-A-Watt, plug your heater in to it, put the heater on its highest settings, wait 1 hour, see if the kwh consumed actually matches up to the rating of the heater, chances are good it won’t.

  • Aldo says:

    Granny, no matter which way Henry puts it, it is still going to sound like a lot of mambo-jumbo technology.

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