Last Updated on January 28, 2021 by HVAC
A Guide to Understanding (the BEST) Space Heaters
For many homes, space heaters are extremely beneficial, whether you have central heating or not. The small range and portability allows users to maintain temperatures according to temporary convenience or necessity, without the cost of running central heat, similar to a window air conditioner for cooling.
Types of Space Heaters
- Electric heaters run on a power cord. They are available in radiant and convection models and are very convenient for indoor heating. Convection models will better heat an entire room but can be louder than radiant versions, which are ideal for spot heating but whose heat quickly disappears when they’re turned off. There are some electric heaters that are filled with oil, making them slightly more expensive but also guaranteeing that they never need replacing.
- Propane and kerosene heaters are ideal for outdoor space heating. The heat from propane/kerosene heaters is extremely powerful, but because they run on open flames, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and accidental fires is much higher than in electric heaters, so they should be used with caution. Indoor use is not encouraged, except in cases of emergency, and only when good ventilation is available. For example, propane garage heaters are efficient and cheap to run, but when in use, it’s important to leave the garage door open, or have a large ventilation open space so that you are not exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Important Space Heater Features
- Handle: Because space heaters are ideal for their portability, having sturdy handles is a necessity. It allows both for convenience and safety. Depending on the model and its weight, you may need a heavier duty handle. Most electric models, for example, are lighter than fuel-operated models.
- Power cord: On electric space heaters, cords are a huge safety concern. Be sure that the cords are well installed and that they have plenty of safety rubber. Cord lengths vary, but you should be sure that the length you choose is convenient for you. Cords that are too long or too short lead to tripping and fire hazards. Also, only use extension cords that are 12- or 14-gauge models. Any overloaded power cord or frayed cord can lead to fire, injury or worse. The good thing is a cord is all that is needed, no HVAC relays or complicated wiring is necessary.
- Thermostat: Space heaters can be a hassle when you have to turn them off and as room temperature varies. With a thermostat, however, the user can set a temperature and the heater will maintain that temperature until it is turned off.
- Touch sensor/tip-over switch: For safety concerns, you should look for space heaters with these settings. A tip-over switch will turn the heater off automatically if it is tipped or knocked over. A touch sensor will turn the heater off automatically if the grille is touched. These are important, particularly if you have flammable materials in your home like curtains or shag carpet near the heater, or if you have children and pets that are at home when the heater is in use.
- Oxygen depletion sensor: On fuel-fired space heaters, an oxygen depletion sensor will shut off the heater automatically when it senses that the amount of oxygen in the surrounding air is reduced. This can lessen the risk of poisoning.
Space Heater Cost
Basic electric convection heater fans can cost anywhere from $15 to $65, and better features can push that cost up to $250. Electric ceramic convection heaters, which are somewhat safer than metal coil-based heaters, start at $30 and can cost anywhere up to $150. Oil-filled electric heaters can cost anywhere from $50 to $110. A lot less than the thousands a radiant floor heat system would cost.
Propane heaters cost between $80 and $250 and provide up to six hours of heat on a one-gallon tank. Kerosene heaters are somewhat more expensive, ranging from $130 to $500. However, they are not as popular now due to safety concerns, so they are mostly used in outdoor adventures or winter outdoor events.
And speaking of outdoor heating, take a look at our top picks for the best outdoor patio heaters here.
Space Heater Safety
The biggest issue with space heaters is safety. Over 20,000 home fires are caused each year by space heaters. Over 1,500 of those result in intense injury or death. When shopping for an electric space heater, always look for a label from Underwriters Laboratory (UL), Interket (ETL) or Canadian Standards Association (CSA), all of which verify that the heater was constructed following U.S. safety standards.
When setting up a space heater, make sure it is on a flat, level surface that is not easily susceptible to heat damage. Put it where children and pets can’t reach it, and be sure your space heater is never left unattended. Never use a space heater on a damp or wet surface, unless the heater is designed for outdoor/bathroom use. The moisture can damage your heater and also cause electric shocks.
Keep combustible materials such as bedding, curtains, furniture and rugs away from the heater on all sides. Never use your heater near paint, gas cans or matches, all of which pose extreme fire risks when combined with heat or flame. Electric cords are most safe when placed on top of area rugs or carpeting, as these are less susceptible to tripping. Also, be wary of using the same outlet for you heater for something else at the time of heater operation. This can, in some cases, cause overheating, which can break the device and/or cause electrical surges.