Space Heater or Turn Up the Thermostat?

January 13, 2009 | Kate Horrell

Space_heater
I'm home alone most days, and I try to keep the heat in my drafty house down to about 62 degrees during the days.  I don't want to let it get any colder because it would be hard to warm up when the kids got home from school, and because I would be really, really cold.  I have a small electric space heater that I keep under my desk because that is the place where I'm usually the coldest.  So I got to wondering – is that really efficient?  How much electricity is my space heater using?  Is this the best choice for my situation?

Here's what I found out:

photo by:  Jo Jakeman

First, I hadn't considered how many types of space heaters were available.  Spaces can be heated with natural gas, propane, kerosene, electric or
wood heaters.  Electric heaters are the most popular because they are
easily obtained, portable and easy to operate.  However, they are the
most expensive form of space heating so consider whether a more
permanent solution is better for your specific situation.  I'm going to focus on electric space heaters because that's what I have, and that is the easiest choice for most people.

How do you choose an electric space heater?

  • What kind of heating do you desire?  Are you looking to heat a small space (like under my desk) or a whole room?  Do you want to use it constantly or intermittantly?
  • Do you want a model with a thermostat, or will you manually turn it off and on as necessary?
  • Do you have small children or curious pets?

Safety is an important issue when purchasing a space heater.  The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires are caused each year by space heaters, resulting in 300 deaths.  An additional 6,000 emergency room visits result from space heater burn injuries every year.  Here are some space heater safety consideration:

  • Make sure that is has the UL (Underwriter's Laboratory) certification label.
  • Look for safety features such as overheating shut-off and a tip-over safety switch that will turn off the unit if it is tipped over.
  • Plug directly into an electric outlet, or use a heavy duty extension cord.  Do not use a standard extension cord.
  • Do not run the cord under carpets.
  • Keep the area free of all objects.
  • Place on a hard, flat surface, preferably the floor.

There are several types of space heaters, but specifically there are radiant heaters and convection heaters, which may or may not include a fan to assist with the convection.

  • Radiant heaters work by emitting infrared radiation that directly warms up anything in it's "view."  Radiant heaters look hot, and they are.  Radiant heaters are more of a fire hazard and burn danger than other types of heaters.  They typically use less electricity and provide for more instant heat.  Radiant heaters have a metal or quartz element that is heated, and use reflectors to send the heat to a specific location.
  • Oil-filled radiators.  They use the normal air flow of a room to spread the heat that they make.  They take longer to warm a room, but they provide a lot of heat and they are quiet.  Good for heating a cold room all the time.
  • Ceramic Fan blown heaters use fans to spread the warm air.  These don't get as hot to the touch as radiant heaters or oil-filled radiators.
  • Heater Fan use a fan that blows air over a heated coil.  They provide fast, even heat over a larger area.  In addition, usually the heater portion can be turned off and the fan can be used alone in warmer weather.

So where does all this information leave me?  My ceramic space heater uses 1500 watts and costs me about 18 cents an hour
to use, at 12 cents per kWh.  I probably use it about 8 hours a day,
which makes it $1.44 a day.  My gas bill, which covers heat, hot
water and cooking, runs about $3.50 a day when it is really cold
outside.  So what makes more sense?  I don't know how much I would have
to turn up the heat to make my desk area warm, and I'm not sure that I
want to find out.  What are my options?  (Besides freezing, of course.)

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources website probably summarizes it the best:

"If you turn your central heating system down a few degrees and
supplement the heat in a small area with a space heater, you will
probably save money. 
If you do not turn the thermostat down and add more heat with the electric space heater, you will increase your total bill."

I wonder if I could turn my heat down another two degrees and use the space heater?  Or put on another layer of clothes?  I think I'll try both and see how it goes.  I'll let you know!

Another resource:  The US Department of Energy's Consumer's Guide to Portable Heaters"

Comments

  1. I bought 3 ceramic space heaters in November because our central air unit is out of commission at the moment and those little things are really effective.
    I got the safe-touch ones for $15 each because we don't want our dogs burning their noses on them, and they're saving us hundreds of dollars this year because we're not using the central heating which used to cost us about $200-300 a month during the winter. (I'm planning a post about this for my blog.)
    P.S. Your post will be in the Carnival of Personal Finance on the 19th. Thanks for submitting!
    P

  2. Monique says:

    Our power bill last month was 460.00 so after some discussion with my husband we decided to not use the heat and to switch to space heaters instead. We were running the thermostat on around eighty degrees since the weather in Wisconsin has been incredibly cold. We have four space heaters in a three story four bedroom home and they were keeping our home at about seventy degrees. We just got our power bill today and it was 720.00!!!! I have spent the last month freezing my bum off (I have circulation problems and very thin blood) just to have our power bill go up hundreds of dollars! I will be selling my space heaters on craigslist bc they are a waste of money. I'm going back to heating my house with central air.

  3. Tracy Myers says:

    My name is Tracy Myers of Santa Rosa, CA. Like I just wanted to say that I totally love my CZ Infrared 1500 plastic heater. It's the bomb, yo. Check it, I was like so cold before…even though I like totally live in Cali…I was still like freezing all the time. You try keepin' up with the styles in the mags and still stay warm. It's like so a challenge, ya know? So like, I was cruising the net blog scene and scoped all the awesome reviews this CZ Infrared heater was rockin', and I like said to myself, I need one of those for my pad. So I like ordered one & it came totally quick, yo….and they were so understanding at that Earth-something company….totally cool. They were like totally patient and answered all my questions, yo. So totally the bomb that after I received my heater and needed help understanding how to use it, cuz like who really has time to like read that user-manual thingy, they were so totally down to help me understand every setting and the do's & don'ts of using my heater, yo. The heater like totally hooked up my pad with this even, comfortable heat that allows me to chill in my threads with no worries, for real. I like totally promoted to all my peeps who like sportin' the mad trends and wanna stay toasty and chill in their own pads. So like totally check the mad skills this heater has at keepin' a girl comfy, yo.

  4. Edward Thompson says:

    This message is in response to Tracy Myers post. While it appears that you were impressed with the customer service of the CZ Infrared company, there isn't any real information provided beyond your empty, slang-ridden opinions of the heater. I have heard good things and thought you could provide me with more than your review has. What has the state of our educational system come to if the best review you can muster comes across as some muddled rap video.

  5. Larry McCullough says:

    I'm not sure my czinfrared is the "bomb" (not something I want my heater to be) but it has definitely saved me money on my LP gas. My wife is always turning the heat way up. With this heater, I can heat the room she's in, and turn the furnace down. It's great that it matches my dresser, it blends right in. They were pretty cheap on czinfraredheaters.com

  6. Ethel says:

    I purchased a CZ infrared heater at the start of winter. I am very please with not only the functionality of the heater, but it aesthetically fits into my living area beautifully. I am constantly getting complements from my dinner guests.

  7. Alejandra Cocke says:

    The perfect type of space heater is one that can help you stick to your budget and provide adequate warmth to your desired area. That choice depends on a lot of factors, including the size of the area you want heated and the type of heater you want to employ. Whether electric or powered by gas, it is best to seek professional advice from HVAC experts prior to finalizing your decision. :)

    -Alejandra Cocke

  8. Chuck Goodman says:

    The real truth of a "space" heater is in the word "space", it is used to warm a certain space, not an entire house. If you are using it to heat the average size room as a "supplemental" heater for additional heat, or to heat an enclosed" area such as an average sized room in your home, you will e quite happy. But, If you are using it to heat large areas, or an entire house, you are going to find yourself displeased with both the performance and the cost.