What Are Space Heaters? Space heaters are self-contained units that are used to provide heat to a limited, often enclosed, space. Most space heaters are portable, although they can be permanently or semi-permanently mounted if the user desires. Space heaters are often used in lieu of or to supplement larger heating sources such as furnaces, heat pumps, and other central heating units which contain multiple components. One of the benefits of the space heater is that it can help save money on your electric and heating bills. Another benefit is that they can provide additional heat in areas where the primary heating source is inadequate, such as a room without a heating duct or vent. Furthermore, space heaters can provide heat for people who need a warmer temperature, such as people who are ill and older people.
Types of Space Heaters
Space heaters can be divided into several different types based on how they are powered and fueled. But these are other ways to categorize space heaters, too. Below is a discussion of each type and subtype of space heater, including some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type.
- Electric Space Heaters. These units plug into wall outlets and are powered by electricity. Most of these heaters are rated at 1500 watts regardless of the size of the heater, although some mini-heaters provide less heat. Electric heaters do not need to be vented. Most manufacturers discourage using these units with extension cords. Electric space heaters come in several types including convection, oil-filled, radiant, ceramic and infrared. Electric heaters are easily the most commonly used space heaters and they operate very efficiently.
- Gas Space Heaters. These heaters use natural gas, propane, or liquified gas as fuel. Some heaters also use diesel. These space heaters are generally used to provide heat outdoors because they produce toxic fumes. Gas space heaters are very efficient and produce a great deal of heat, but they must be vented if used indoors.
- Kerosene Space Heaters. These space heaters are fueled by kerosene and provide a great deal of heat. Consequently, they can heat more than one room. These heaters must be vented by opening a window for a few minutes at start-up because they can produce dangerous carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases. If kerosene heaters are maintained properly, they are safe indoors and outdoors. They must be refueled so the homeowner must obtain and store fuel. Refueling can be a messy and smelly operation. The heater wick must be dried out and changed periodically as well.
- Convection Space Heaters. These space heaters radiate heat in all directions. They heat the room itself. Typically, in electric convection heaters, electricity is used to power a heating element (either a resistor/coil or an infrared quartz tube). Often, a fan is built into the heater to force hot air into a room. In some models, the fan can be noisy and distracting. Most electric, kerosene and gas heaters are convection heaters.
- Radiant Heaters. Radiant space heaters work differently than convection heaters. They use a different type of heating element, typically quartz tubes, which heats people and objects instead of the air in a room (the Optimus infrared radiant heater is an example of this type of heater). They provide heat very quickly, but are not the best choice for heating an entire room. Some people also do not like the orange glow associated with radiant heating elements. However, radiant heaters are excellent for providing heat to one person, particularly if that person prefers a warmer temperature than other people in the room.
- Oil-filled Space Heaters. Oil-filled heaters use a heating element to heat the oil. These heaters often resemble radiators and can provide heat even after the heater is turned off.
- Ceramic Heaters. These heaters are considered safer than most space heaters because they use larger heating elements that do not get as hot as heating elements in other heaters. Often, ceramic heaters do not use fans.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Space Heater
Many factors come into play when it comes to selecting a space heater. Heating power, price, size, safety, and special features are all things to consider when choosing the space space heater best-suited for your needs. Since space heaters come in a large variety of combinations of characteristics, you are almost certain to find the space heater that you want if you do some research. Below is a discussion of space heater properties and features:
- Heating Power. Gas and kerosene heaters can provide significant amounts of heat quickly and come in a wide variety of sizes. Almost all electric space heaters have two settings of 1500 watts and 750 watts. It takes about 10 watts to heat each square foot of space in the typical home. If the space heater is being used as a supplemental heat source, figure on needing 5 to 10 watts for each square foot. Some electric heaters are small. Miniature heaters may be rated as low as 20 watts. Such a heater might be mounted under a desk to provide heat to keep your feet warm.
- Price. There is a wide range of prices for space heaters. Electric space heaters can range from about $30 to $400 or more with most priced between $30 and $200. Some miniature heaters are as low as $20. Indoor kerosene heaters are usually priced between $100 to $250. Gas heaters can run from about $130 up to thousands of dollars depending on size. Price is not always a good indicator of quality. Testing determined that while a $400 electric space heater was excellent at heating, it was much noisier and more easily tipped over than much cheaper heaters. A $120 space heater proved to be just as good at heating as more expensive models and was much quieter.
- Size and Features. Some features to consider in selecting a space heater include tip over protection, heat settings available, ability to control the direction of the heat, heater size and thermostatic controls. Some heaters swing back and forth and others allow you to close off part of the heater to direct heat in one direction. Most, but not all, electric space heaters have two heat settings, high and low. Thermostatic controls turn the heater off when the room reaches a certain temperature and restart it when the temperature drops. Thermostatic controls usually are not present on cheaper models. Some models also come with a remote control and automatic shutdown cycles. Some high end models like the Dr Heater DR-998 Infrared Heater even has a built in humidifier. Although electric space heaters come in a variety of sizes, their size does not necessarily determine how much heat they will produce. So you can choose a heater sized to fit your space without sacrificing heating power.
- Safety. Ensure that any space heater that you buy has the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) logo on it, which indicates that it meets industry safety standards. As noted above, ceramic heaters have cooler elements and are less of a fire threat than many other heaters. Oil-filled heaters also do not have an exposed heating element. Look for a heater that shuts down automatically when it is knocked over, particularly if you have children. A timed automatic shutoff can provide protection if you fear that you may fall asleep while the heater is running. Keep in mind that space heaters are safe if you follow all operating and safety instructions included when you buy the heater.
Do Space Heaters Save Money?
The cost of heating a home continues to rise each year, leaving homeowners looking for ways to save money on heating and electric bills. This begs several questions. Do space heaters save money? Can they provide adequate heat? The answers to these questions depend on each person’s needs and objectives. Space heaters can reduce your heating bill provided that you turn down your primary thermostat and use space heaters to provide supplemental heat to selected areas of your home. If you lower the primary thermostat and close off one or two rooms and use a space heater to help heat those rooms, you will see some cost savings. How much you will save depends on many factors such as how much you lower your thermostat and how many space heaters you use.