Space Heaters: Too Good to Be True?

You know it’s winter when the full page ads for the latest miracle space heater start appearing in the newspaper. I read one last night (I know you are thinking this guy should get a life…). The claims are compelling: never be cold again, drastically slash home heating bills, uses the same energy as a coffee maker, and it produces “Ortho-Thermic ™ bone-soothing heat”. If that’s not enough, it’s fire-less flame technology creates the ambience of a real fireplace. Start dialing the hotline now because the phones are ringing off the hook to get this amazing deal.

Too good to be true? Yes and no. Electric space heaters are 100% efficient. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity you buy delivers 3,413 BTUs of heat – regardless of the type or style of electric space heater. There is no magic. Most electric space heaters that plug in the wall are limited to a maximum of about 1500 Watts (1.5 kW) – about the same as a coffee maker or hair dryer – Okay for heating a room but not an entire house.

Electric space heaters are useful for spot heating. If you have a room that is cold or drafty you could use a heater to warm that room but it would be better to invest in some caulk, weather-stripping and insulation than an overpriced space heater. You can save money using a space heater only if you use it to heat a single room and turn down the heat in the rest of the house. If you move the heater from room to room, your savings will be small.

If you use space heaters, use them safely – don’t place them near flammable materials, don’t use them with an extension cord, use space heaters that include safety features like a switch that turns the heater off if it tips over or gets too hot, look for UL listed products, don’t use them outdoors or in wet areas, keep them away from small children, and turn them off and unplug them when you leave.

Want to evaluate the cost of operating different types of space heaters? Try the new space heater calculator on the Touchstone Energy Save Energy Save Money App. Apple Devices, Click here for the App Store; Android, Click here for Google Play.

Alan C. Shedd, P.E., CEM
Director, Residential and Commercial Energy Programs
Touchstone Energy Cooperatives

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