Are Space Heaters a Smart Option to Heat Rooms?
There are many homes out there that have that one “cold room,” like a basement office that just doesn’t
seem to feel as comfortable as the rest of the home. You may keep a stack of blankets or even try using a space heater to keep warm when you are in there. And while it may do the trick, is a space heater a smart option to heat a room? We’ll weigh the pros and cons and look at other options to see if there’s a better alternative for safety and cost.
Types of Space Heaters
Gas and Fuel Oil
- Vented: Connected to vents or chimneys and installed as a permanent heating solution for a specific space – like a small addition or three-season porch.
- Unvented: Fuel-fired heaters that are portable and can move to different spaces. Combustion from the heater goes into the space it occupies, not up a vent or chimney.
- Electric space heaters are usually small, portable, and use electricity to create heat. This is the type most people picture when they think of a space heater.
Space Heaters – The Pros
- An electric space heater tends to be very inexpensive to buy.
- Electric heaters are usually small and portable and can move from room to room.
- Most electric space heaters can last up to 20 years or more.
- New models of electric space heaters are safer and have programmable and automatic shutoffs if tipped over or left on.
- Space heaters are efficient between 95-100%, meaning that the percentage of energy used to run the heater gets converted to usable heat 95-100% of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's home heating facts.
Space Heaters – The Cons
- Can only be used to heat a small area
- Costly to use
- Heating only, space heaters do not provide air conditioning
Just because a space heater is efficient in converting electricity to heat, doesn’t mean it’s the same as being efficient in saving energy and fuel costs. Electric heaters are expensive to operate compared to a combustion appliance like an HVAC system. The cost per BTU is quite high.
“Home energy savings will only result if a small area is heated while the rest of the house is kept at low temperatures,” said Keith Hill, manager, technical support, at Minnesota Air. “Contrary to the sales pitch given by most space heater companies, you would only save money if you heated only the area in the home where you are stationed at the time, moving the heater from room to room as you move about.”
Keith says most space heaters are best used as supplemental heat to a central unit for comfort reasons, not for saving money on your fuel bill.
Potential Fire Hazards
There are potential dangers to be aware of if you are using a gas or fuel oil space heater. If it tips and fuel spills out, it could be a fire hazard. You also have to make sure that before you turn it on, the area around it is free of combustibles that could catch fire.
According to the Department of Energy, more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. And an estimated 6,000 people have to go to the emergency room due to burns caused by touching the hot surfaces of the heaters, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Potential Byproduct Dangers
A gas or fuel oil space heater also produces combustion byproducts from using the fuel to make heat. If unvented, this could be a danger, too.
“Unvented space heaters should be called ‘vented into the living space’ heaters,” says Keith, “because that’s what’s happening. All of the products of combustion including carbon dioxide, water vapor, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide are being vented into the indoor space. In all fairness, the carbon monoxide should be at very low levels if the heater is burning correctly." Keith says you never, ever want to use an unvented space heater in a bedroom or other sleeping area because if something does go wrong, the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning may not be noticed while asleep.
A Safer And More Efficient Heating Alternative
If you’ve chosen to use a space heater, make sure to read our tips to keep your home safe. Consider a permanent gas-fired, vented space heater that has a sealed combustion system for maximum safety.
If you have a central system that just isn’t getting the job done, consider adding a zone system to eliminate the hot and cold spots in your home. It may cost more than a space heater, but it will provide a permanent and efficient solution, and it will heat and cool the space.
For more energy saving and home comfort tips, visit StayComfyMinnesota.com! Stay Comfy, Minnesota is your Minnesota resource for air conditioning repair, furnace repair and HVAC tips and advice.