Are space heaters energy efficient? If you're looking for a way to keep your home warm this winter despite rising energy costs, let's take a closer look.
When temperatures drop, a common impulse is to reach for the thermostat to adjust the temperature inside your home. However, any home heating system wastes money and energy if your house isn’t well insulated. In fact, there are plenty of home heating mistakes that waste resources and contribute to high energy bills.
If you want to be less reliant on your central heating system and are considering alternative solutions, you may be wondering if space heaters are energy efficient. The answer isn’t necessarily straightforward.
Different Types of Space Heaters
Space heaters are typically small, portable devices that run on electricity and provide heating solutions for smaller rooms. They are available in all shapes and sizes and come in a few different forms:
- Radiator space heaters: These heaters are filled with diathermic oil, which gets heated and circulated through its pipes. As the oil heats the pipes, surface heat is released into the air. The oil holds onto residual heat, which means these devices stay warm after being turned off.
- Panel space heaters: These units heat up using electrical currents instead of oil, but their overall effect is similar to radiator space heaters. They can be mounted on a wall or used as a standalone unit. These are the safest space heaters.
- Infrared space heaters: This option uses electromagnetic waves to heat objects and people within your home while raising the room’s ambient temperature. Objects absorb the heat, much like the earth absorbs the sun’s radiation. This type is better suited for larger and fully furnished large areas.
- Ceramic space heaters: Here, ceramic plates are attached to metal coils. Ceramic space heaters run on electricity, warming up instantly as the coils heat the plates. Some come with a fan feature, which blows the heat to spread it more evenly throughout the room. These are best suited for smaller spaces.
- Fan space heaters: This is one of the most basic models available. A coil is heated inside the fan, dispersing heat throughout your space. Much like the ceramic version, this is suited to smaller rooms.
Unlike with other heating systems, there are currently no energy efficiency ratings for electric space heaters. Each option above converts all electricity generated into heat. Be aware: that doesn’t mean that they are cost-effective.
Can Space Heaters Save You Money?
Most American homes are heated using natural gas and centralized air systems. With home heating and cooling accounting for approximately 42% of household energy costs in 2021, many people are considering space heaters to combat rising energy costs.
If you follow the recommended thermostat temperature settings for winter, know when to turn the heat on, and use a space heater as an additional heat source, you should save some money on your energy bill. How much you save depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The size of the room relative to the rest of the house
- How you use your space heater
- If rooms are separated or open-plan
- The hours you have it running
For your space heater to be energy efficient and cost-effective, turn down the temperature throughout your entire home and only use the space heater to heat the area you’re currently using.
You should also ensure you’ve purchased the right size space heater for the area you want to keep warm. If the heater is too large, it will consume more energy, leading to higher energy bills. If it’s too small, it won’t heat the space efficiently, making it a waste of money and energy. For your space heater to be energy efficient, calculate the required size with this rule of thumb: 10 watts of heating power for every square foot.
Using Space Heaters Safely
Whether space heaters are energy efficient or not, they can be fire hazards. According to the National Fire Protection Association, approximately 25,000 house fires are connected to space heaters yearly. So, it’s important to use them safely. Keep the following points in mind:
- Place your space heater on a hard, level and non-flammable surface. They should be on the ground, not on a table or countertop.
- Keep it at least three feet away from combustible materials like blankets, duvets, curtains and bedding.
- Turn it off before leaving the room or going to bed, and always unplug it when not in use.
- Don’t plug anything else into the same electrical socket as an electric space heater as this may cause overheating.
- Never put a space heater in a child’s bedroom, and keep children and pets away from it.
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