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Choosing a Space Heater

What Experts Are Saying

Most safety experts conclude that portable electric heaters are the only ones that are safe for regular indoor use.  According toe Harvey Sachs of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, fossil fuel heaters, such as kerosene or propane heaters, add a large amount of humidity to the air and could produce carbon monoxide if the fuel doesn't burn completely. While this doesn't pose a problem if the unit is used outdoors, it does clearly make the case for why we should stick to electric space heaters for indoor use.

Aside from energy efficiency and fuel costs, many space heaters also come with an additional safety feature - they immediately switch off if tilted from the base.  If your space heater comes with this feature, the slightest tilt in any direction will automatically shut off the heater.  This is especially useful if you have children or pets.

Why Choose an Electric Space Heater?

Electricity is a relatively expensive fuel an energy source, it's nowhere near as costly as natural gases which home heating units use to create heat.  An electric heater may help you save money on heating if you use it just to take the chill off a single room without having to crank up the heat in the entire house.

After safety, money is the next deciding factor. With the cost of gas heat going through the roof, the best way to heat your home for the winter is to do it by only heating those rooms which you actually use. This is a clever but simple strategy that should be put into effect, especially if there's only one person in the dwelling or if only one or two rooms are being used.

Space heaters also convert almost all of the electricity into heat. Electricity, often created from gas, oil, or coal is usually only able to convert to 30% usage - so if you switch on an appliance, about 30% of the energy used is actually serving the purpose of powering the appliance.  While you probably wouldn't want to use electricity to heat your whole house in a cold climate, it's often the most cost-efficient method for heating your home - summing up at about 13 centers per hour.

Two Commonly Used Types of Space Heaters

Space heaters come in all different shapes, sizes and varieties. A quick look at our space heater buying guide will help distinguish between the various types and sizes. There are two commonly used types of of electric portable space heaters: convection heaters and radiant heaters.

Convection Heaters vs. Radiant Heaters

Most consumers make the mistake in thinking that convection and radiant heaters are not electric space heaters - when in fact they are.

Radiant space heaters heat objects and people rather than just the air in the room. Radiant heat works the way the sun's rays do. When you're in those rays, you're warm; when the rays are blocked, you get cold. Consequently, you have to keep a radiant heater within your line of sight to feel its warmth.

The U.S. Department of Energy says radiant heaters are a more efficient choice than convection heaters on a case by case basis. With radiant heating, also referred to as infrared heaters,  if you'll be in the room for only a few hours and can stay within that line of sight. This is made possible since radiant heaters don't need to heat the entire room - which is an advantage for these types of heaters since there's no drafts from moving air. 

Should you choose a convection heater instead, the Energy Department recommends buying the type that contains a heat transfer liquid such as oil. The electric element heats the fluid, which stores some of the heat for gradual release into the room. That way the heater can cycle less but the warmth from the heater remains more constant. Convection heaters heat the air in the room, and aside from the portable heater variety, they also come as baseboard and wall heaters. Though baseboard and wall heaters are stationary units, they are nonetheless space heaters as well.

One of the benefits of convection heaters is that you can heat the whole room more quickly than a radiant heater since the fan forces out the heater air.. So convection heaters would probably be a better bet if there are a lot of people in a room or if they were constantly moving around or within the room. 

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