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When space heaters make cents

Can electric space heaters cut my electric bills, and which types are best for what rooms?—Vicki  

Running an electric space heater can save small amounts of energy if used selectively to supplement heat in a small area or room. Most people use space heaters as a “comfort heat” in addition to their central heating system, which can increase energy bills.

The type and design of an electric space heater impacts your savings and comfort. The size of the room, number of people, and specific activities determine which type is your best choice.

Safety should be the top consideration: space heaters should never be used unattended, or while you sleep. The sobering statistics prove this point (see safety tips below).

Radiant vs. convection

The basic choices are direct radiant and convection (air circulation) space heaters, with each having its advantages, comfort features, and options. There may be extra safety considerations if you have young children.

Radiant-style units produce quick, comfortable, and effective heat. They are quiet and ideal for heating a specific spot, designed to heat people directly in front of them. To heat a slightly larger area, select a model that oscillates. Radiant heaters use a red-hot ribbon, quartz, or carbon tubes to produce infrared heat similar to the sun’s rays.

Convection heaters heat the room air, so it takes longer to feel their effect. Most models use a built-in fan to circulate room air over the heating elements, so they make some noise. For comfort, choose a convection heater with a three-speed fan and thermostat, so you can select a temperature and it will not overheat a room and waste energy.

Oil-filled, radiator-style heaters use natural air circulation to move the room air gently over the heat source and are often ideal for bedrooms. Place it a minimum of 3 feet from a wall, mattress, or bedding. While they take longer to heat up, an oil-filled heater will continue radiating heat for several hours after turned off.

Warming larger rooms

For a living room, consider a convection-style heater. This will heat a larger room more effectively. If you typically sit in one chair, a mirrored or decorative radiant wall panel is effective and quiet, but it cannot easily be moved. Since the living room is a gathering place for the entire family, check out ceramic convection heaters, with safety features that make them safer around children.

JAMES DULLEY is a nationally syndicated columnist who writes on energy efficiency and do-it-yourself energy topics.

 

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