Choosing a Space Heater: The Best Job for the Least Money
by Gary Foreman
You need a space heater that is safe and affordable, that allows you to stay warm while keeping heating bills in check. We explore the different types so you can choose a heater that best meets both your heating and financial needs.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
When the price of natural gas went up, I was shocked at my heating bill. Almost one week’s paycheck a month was going to keeping my house at only 65 degrees. I decided a change had to be made. I sewed a heavy floor to ceiling curtain and hung it in the hallway separating the bottom floor of my house from the upstairs. That way, I wasn’t heating empty bedrooms and a second bathroom all day long. I turned my furnace thermostat down to its lowest setting and bought a small electric heater to heat the bottom floor of my house during all but the time we were sleeping upstairs. My heating bill went down almost 35%!
This year gas in my area went up again. I am thinking about not using gas heat at all and getting another electric heater for upstairs at night. I am confused about what kind of space heater to choose. Which is the most efficient? I’ve seen quartz, ceramic, coil, and oil filled, but I don’t know which one works best? No matter which one I get, I will try and get one with good safety features.
The benefits of space heaters
Mary has discovered one of the best ways to reduce home heating bills. Only heat the rooms that are occupied. Especially when there’s only one person at home and they’re only using one or two rooms. And the simplest way to heat a room is to use a portable electric space heater.
Space heaters convert almost all of the electricity used into heat. In that, they’re very efficient. Unfortunately, electricity is often made from gas, oil or coal. And only about 30% of the energy used goes into electricity.
So while you probably wouldn’t want to use electric to heat your whole house in a cold climate, it’s often the most cost efficient method for heating a smaller area.
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Understand the dangers of space heaters before using
Mary is also wise to be concerned about safety. Space heaters can be dangerous. Even deadly. Especially if you have small children.
Safety features are an important part of the purchase decision. Make sure that you read and follow the instructions.
How space heaters provide heat
Space heaters generally provide heat in one of two ways. Radiant heaters actually heat the objects at which they’re aimed. They do not heat up the air in the room. The other type, convection heaters, warms the air around them.
Not heating the air is an advantage for radiant heaters. There are no drafts from moving air. And radiant heat is great for heating just portions of a room. You’re only heating the areas where you want heat. Just point the radiant heater at the chair that you’re sitting in!
The types of space heaters
Radiant heaters use a variety of heating elements.
Many use quartz tubes. Quartz heaters generally cost less than $80 and are rated between 750 and 1500 watts.
Parabolic heaters use a ceramic core. They cost a little more than quartz and put out about the same amount of heat per watt used.
Ceramic element heaters are safer than heaters with coils. They use a larger heating area so it doesn’t need to be as hot.
Halogen or reflective heaters use an energy saving halogen bulb to produce heat, which is reflected on nearby objects. The feeling is much like having the sun shine on you.
Convection heaters can heat a whole room more quickly than a radiant heater. That works well if there are a number of people in the room or they’re moving about within the room. Some convection heaters also have fans to circulate the air in the room. Convection heaters are inexpensive. You’ll get one rated up to 5,000 BTUs starting at about $50.
Like radiant heaters, convection heaters use a variety of heating elements. Ceramic disk heaters cost up to $150 and produce up to 5,000 BTUs per hour.
Oil and water filled units are the most efficient convection heaters. They utilize a heating element in a bath of oil or water. Like a water heater, the element cycles on and off. The water or oil stays warm in its container and heats the surrounding air.
So which heater is best for Mary?
Since she’s considering a nighttime application, people won’t be moving around. So she’s probably best choosing a radiant heater for each occupied bedroom. And, unless she has young children with inquisitive hands, the halogen or ceramic heater will provide more heat per kilowatt hour of electricity.
Whatever Mary picks we hope that her utility bill won’t be the hottest thing in her home this winter!
Reviewed December 2022
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.
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