Holidays and family gatherings help make winter a special time of the year. A hot cup of coffee just seems to taste better on a cold weekend morning. Winter is also a season where we have to be energy savvy. Nothing shatters the majesty of a crisp winter day faster than receiving a high electricity or natural gas bill. Because most of our winter energy budget is spent heating our homes, it also offers the greatest opportunity for energy savings.
Heating systems do not always warm your home evenly. Sometimes you have to overheat your home to make sure that a particular room or sitting area is at a comfortable temperature. This can be very expensive even if you shop for low electricity and natural gas rates. Space heaters are good at providing supplemental heat and can provide an economical means of battling the winter chill.
Space heaters have earned a bad reputation over the years. There are troubling statistics about house fires, serious burns, and deaths attributed to portable heaters. What good is saving a few bucks on your electricity bill if you risk the loss of life or property? Almost all space heater problems, however, result from improper use. Here is an overview of how to properly select and safely use space heaters.
Gas versus Electric Heaters
Natural gas heaters are usually cheaper to operate than electric heaters. Gas heaters also have the advantage of providing heat more quickly. Furthermore, in the event of a power outage, a gas heater can still function and provide heat for your home. Ventilation and cost are the main drawbacks of gas heaters. The risk associated with combustion gases requires extra vigilance and the installation of carbon monoxide detectors.
Electric space heaters are generally safer than gas space heaters. Because they do not require venting, it is easy to move them within the home to deliver a burst of heat. Electric heaters are not necessarily cheap to operate. On a BTU basis, residential electricity rates are three to four times higher than natural gas rates. Therefore, gas appliances are usually cheaper to operate. When it comes to space heaters, however, the safety and portability of electric models makes them a better overall choice.
Choosing an Electric Space Heater
There are several different types of space heaters from which to choose. Oil-filled convection models are among the safest and least expensive. These models resemble old-style radiators and are great for warming an entire room. The oil in the unit provides heat storage, which means the unit does not have to cycle as much. These are generally safer than models with exposed heating elements. The only downside is that it might take a while to heat up.
Ceramic units are good at providing immediate heat. A fan passes air over coil ceramic and aluminum heating elements. These models are best suited for use in smaller rooms or in a specific part of a room. They are compact and great for delivering targeted heat to a small area.
Infrared radiant space heaters can effectively provide warmth to people and objects within their direct line of sight. While this may limit their usefulness, it also makes them very energy efficient as they only heat specific areas within a room.
Safety Tips for Electric Space Heaters
Safety is the top concern when it comes to space heaters. Here are some general guidelines to follow when using an electric space heater in your home.
- Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label.
- Choose a heater that is appropriate for the purpose. Most heaters come with a general sizing table and other information that will help you get the select the right model.
- Make sure your electric space heater has a tip-over safety switch that turns off the unit if it knocked over.
- Do not use extension cords or power strips. Plug the heater directly into an electrical outlet. It should not pass through an air freshener outlet or any other device.
- Place the heater on the floor away from foot traffic.
- Keep the heater at least three feet away from combustible materials such as curtains, bedding, furniture or magazine racks.
- If possible, choose a model that comes equipped with a GFCI plug for additional protection.
- Check out additional space heater safety tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Following these guidelines will help you enjoy the benefits of electric space heaters while keeping you family and home safe.