Expensive furniture-style space heaters may look cool, but they don’t heat any better than the $25 models on the shelf at your local hardware or big-box store. In fact, federal government standards limit the maximum output of a portable electric space heater to 1,500 watts, which is far too low for heating an entire home or even a large room.
No matter what type of packaging it comes in, a space heater really is a pretty simple device – and it’s very efficient, since almost all of the electric energy that goes into the unit is converted to heat. That being said, keep in mind that any time a portable electric space heater is turned on and producing heat, it’s also consuming energy.
Does a space heater make sense for your family?
Some people buy a portable electric space heater to warm a chilly room. Others are trying to compensate for a variety of energy-wasting problems in their homes, such as a poorly maintained furnace, inadequate insulation, missing caulk around windows or damaged weather stripping around doors.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of experimenting with zone heating – in this case, setting the temperature of all the rooms in your home considerably lower than normal and warming one room with a portable electric space heater – first check the free Honeywell Portable Heat Savings Calculator at www.honeywellheatsavings.com. (On the home page, click on Savings Calculator.) You may find that – excluding the cost of the space heater – you might be able to save a couple of hundred dollars a year on your utility bill, if you’re willing to put up with the discomfort of an always-chilly house and the inconvenience of moving a portable electric space heater to whatever room you’re occupying at the time.
In reality, the only way a portable electric space heater is going to significantly help you lower your annual heating bill is if you use it to heat only the room you’re in and turn down the thermostat – to as low as 50 degrees – for the rest of the house. This premise was the basis for past energy-saving claims made by at least one manufacturer of pretty (and pricey) furniture-style electric space heaters.
There’s another consideration: If your electric cooperative offers a special electric rate for a central heating system wired to a separate meter, the space heater will use main house power that’s billed at the regular rate – not the lower rate available for the central heating system. So, you’ll actually be reducing your energy usage at the lower rate and increasing your energy usage at the higher rate – which means you could be saving energy overall, but still may end up paying more on your monthly power bill than you would pay by not using a space heater!
Here’s the bottom line
To your electric meter, all space heaters pretty much look alike. Spending the same amount on energy-saving home improvements as you’d spend on an electric space heater likely would be a better investment in whole-house comfort – and reduced heating (and air-conditioning) bills for many years to come.
For a wide variety of energy-saving, do-it-yourself tips, visit the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives website at www.togetherwesave.com – or discover the best places to save in your home by using the organization’s new Home Efficiency Analysis Tool at http://homeefficiency.togetherwesave.com.
Follow these safety tips to prevent home fires
After checking to see if your electric space heater has been recalled, give the unit a checkup before plugging it in.
If your space heater hasn’t been recalled, give it the once-over. Inspect the case, guard, controls, cord and plug – and never operate a heater you suspect is damaged. If the unit looks OK, follow all of the manufacturer’s operating and maintenance instructions. Also check for a secure fit of the space heater’s plug in the wall outlet. If it’s loose, use another outlet to power the heater and have an electrician replace the original outlet.
Here are some more safety tips to keep in mind:
Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface – not on a rug or carpet – where people won’t bump into it.
Never run the heater’s cord under a rug or carpet. This can damage the cord, causing it and nearby objects to burn.
Keep the heater at least 3 feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, papers and other flammable materials.
Don’t power the heater with an extension cord or power strip.
Always turn off the space heater when you go to sleep – and don’t put one close to a sleeping person.
Turn off the space heater if you leave the house or even the room where the heater’s located.
Keep children and pets away from the unit at all times.
During use, frequently check to see if the heater’s plug or cord – or the wall outlet – is hot. If either of them is, immediately discontinue using the heater. Then replace the heater or have it inspected and repaired by an authorized technician. If the outlet is hot, call an electrician to check and/or replace the wall outlet.
To prevent electrical shocks and electrocutions, always keep the electric heater away from water, and never touch an electric heater if you’re wet.
For more information on space heater safety, go to the UL website at http://ul.com or the CPSC website at www.cpsc.gov.
Millions of dangerous, faulty space heaters have been recalled. Is yours one of them?
Even if you haven’t received a recall notice on your space heater – many people don’t, since they didn’t register their space heater with the manufacturer when they purchased it – check to see if it’s been recalled, before you plug it in for the first time this fall. Go to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website at www.cpsc.gov, and enter the manufacturer’s name and/or model number in the Search box at the top of the page. Check the Recalls & News Releases button before starting your search.
A faulty space heater can present a burn hazard or overheat and catch fire, damaging your home. If you own a recalled unit, don’t use it until it’s been repaired or replaced.