As the leaves start changing and colder weather approaches, you’re probably starting to think about keeping warm this winter.
You may have considered whether a space heater would be a good option. But you also may have heard news reports about house fires caused by space heaters – making you question whether it’s worth the risk to warm up and stop shivering.
In this article we’ll talk about the pros and cons of space heaters and things to think about whether you already use one – or if you’re considering whether to get one. Let’s begin by looking at different types of space heaters.
What Is a Space Heater?
A space heater is an indoor heater designed to warm a single room or a small space within a home or building. Instead of running your central heating system at full blast, a space heater can be a more efficient way to focus the heat right where you need it, especially if you’re only using one room while the rest of the house is unoccupied.
Space heaters come in a range of sizes from small to large, and capacities ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs). Many space heaters are powered by a simple electric cord plugged into an outlet. Other common fuels include propane, natural gas, kerosene, and wood pellets.
The two most commonly known types of space heaters are radiant and convection space heaters.
Radiant Space Heaters
The oldest artificial heating method, a radiant heater directly heats nearby objects within its line of sight. While it doesn’t heat the entire room, it can be a good option if you have a particular spot that needs to stay warm – like your favorite chair in front of the TV, or the desk where you work on the computer.
Heating objects instead of the air is what makes radiant heaters more energy efficient than convection heaters – you avoid wasting heat on areas of a room that aren’t in use, and only heat the areas and objects you need. Radiant heaters deliver heat to the floor and not the ceiling and are great for drafty areas, uninsulated rooms, and rooms with high ceilings.
One disadvantage of radiant heaters is that they don’t circulate heat throughout a room, if that’s something you need. In addition, older radiant space heaters can pose safety hazards because of exposed heating elements and should be kept away from children and pets.
Convection Space Heaters
Also known as a forced air system, a convection heater circulates heated air throughout a room and is the most commonly used type of space heater. An internal fan blows air across the heating element, and circulates heat throughout the air, raising the ambient temperature in the room.
Convection heaters can heat an entire room more quickly than a radiant heater, and are appropriate for air-tight rooms with a low to average ceiling height. Convection heaters are a good choice if multiple people are in the room, or if you are moving around and need heat throughout the room.
One disadvantage of convection heaters is that they are less energy efficient than radiant heaters. Because they use fans to circulate air, convection heaters can also be louder than radiant heaters.
What are the Advantages of Space Heaters?
If you’ve got just one or a few areas of the house that need more heat than others, a space heater is a great way to raise the temperature in just those specific areas – unlike your central heating system, which wastes energy by delivering heat where it isn’t needed.
This example illustrates the two main advantages of space heaters:
- Lower energy costs – It is cheaper to use a space heater to warm a small space than to run the central heat at a higher temperature. So instead of cranking up the thermostat every time you feel a draft, focus a space heater where you need to warm up – and save money on your energy bills.
- Greater energy efficiency – A space heater uses less electricity than your central heating system, which limits your home’s environmental impact. That makes it an excellent way to stay warm – and stay green – even when the ground is white with snow.
Disadvantages of Space Heaters
Safety is the main concern with using space heaters. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 25,000 residential house fires each year are associated with space heaters, which result in about 300 deaths. Space heaters also lead to more than 6,000 emergency room visits for burn injuries.
So how do you reduce the risk of fire and injury while trying to keep warm? Practice these important space heater safety tips:
- Place the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
- Keep the area around the heater clear of flammable objects, especially paper, fabric, trash, paints, cleaning supplies, or aerosol cans.
- Avoid extension cords when using electric space heaters, which may not have the appropriate wattage to handle the electrical load of the space heater. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is marked No. 14 or No. 12 AWG. It must also have a tag or stamp of approval from an independent testing organization such as Underwriters Laboratories.
- Choose a heater that will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over.
- Avoid any direct contact with the heating elements. Be especially attentive when using a space heater in the same room as children or pets.
Is a Space Heater Right for You this Winter?
Whether you currently use space heaters, or if you’re thinking of purchasing one, here are some things to keep in mind when using them.
Safety Considerations for Space Heaters
When purchasing a space heater, look for models with up-to-date safety features to reduce the risk of fire and burn injuries. Carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s safety instructions and practice the important safety habits listed in this article.
Energy Efficiency and Space Heaters
We’ve already talked about how space heaters can save energy when compared with central heating systems. Here are some important features that can help you purchase an energy efficient space heater – so you can limit your heating costs and your environmental impact:
- Choose a heater with a thermostat. You’ll avoid wasting energy and overheating the room. The heater will automatically shut off when it senses that the room temperature has reached your desired level, and will only turn back on when it senses a temperature drop.
- Look for space heaters that let you adjust the amount of heated air that is released into the room.
- You may also consider a space heater that comes with a timer to make sure it isn’t left on too long. This can save energy and reduce the risk of fire and injury.
- Select the proper size – most heaters come with a chart that will help you select the correctly sized unit for the room you need to heat.
The bottom line is that a space heater can be a sensible heating option. If you practice a few smart habits, space heaters can help you and your family stay warm, safe, and green this winter.