Thursday, November 24, 2005

Space Heaters - Reducing Your Home Heating Costs

When winter approaches many of us are scurrying around trying to find the best space heater. This year oil and liquid propane gas prices have sky-rocketed and people are thinking about just heating the space they are using, as opposed to keeping the whole house “up to speed,” heat wise. There are many heaters from which to choose. Some of them are the old standbys and some of them are fairly high tech. So, here’s a primer that may help you sort through the sale flyers you are receiving from the home stores, and figure out what you want, and what you need in a space heater.

Electric Heaters
Convection Heaters. These heaters have heating coils running through them and heat up very quickly. Most of these heaters have a thermostat that will cycle the heater off and on according to your desired heat level. The coils in these heaters get red-hot and they can easily be a fire hazard. My convection heater turns off if it is knocked over, but all heaters don’t have this feature. Mine also became a lot louder to operate after I tripped over it! The convection heaters have small fans that circulate the warmth throughout a room. This heater works well if you want to heat more than one person in a room. The fan usually has a setting for just air, which is a nice feature in the summer. You can purchase one with different heat settings (750, 1000, and 1500 watts). As a rule, the more settings a heater has, the more expensive it is to buy. These heaters can be a safety hazard if you have toddlers around the house.

What is a watt? When trying to figure out how effective a particular heater will be in the space you need heated, it is good to know some comparisons of heating lingo between electric and other fuels. Most fuels besides electricity are measured in BTU’s. Your fuel oil furnaces, kerosene heaters and woodstoves all are rated with BTU’s. You’ve probably heard it before, but what does it actually mean? A BTU is a British Thermal Unit, and one BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1lb of water 1 degree Fahrenheit. Furnaces can be rated 80,000 BTU’s. Many gas heaters have a rating of 39,000 BTU’s. Kerosene heaters are usually around 15,000 BTU’s. Electricity, however, is measured in wattage. If you multiply the number of watts by 3.41 you will get the amount of BTU’s you can expect from the heater. 1500 watts X 3.41 = 5115 BTU’s. Electric space heaters are usually much lower in their heat output than kerosene heaters, but for many rooms a heater giving off 15,000 BTU’s would drive you out!

Ceramic Heaters
This second type of electric heater is new on the heating scene. It delivers quite a bit of heat from a little box. It is highly portable and doesn’t use as much electricity as the coil type of heater. Some of the disc heaters are equipped with a rheotstat that sends full voltage to the element when the room is cold and slows down its output of electricity to the fan as it heats up. This is a nice feature, but it can override your own choice of the desired temperature for your room.

Oil Filled Radiant Heaters
These heaters look like an old fashioned radiator. They are electric heaters that are permanently filled with oil. They also seem to use less electricity than the coil type of electric heater. Most of the models come with wheels on them for easy portability. Although these take a little longer to warm up a room, it is a steady, economical heat source. Many people seem to be very satisfied with this type of heater.

Non-electric heaters

Kerosene heaters(non-vented)
These heaters would be the next step up in heating larger areas, and garages. As they are unvented it is recommended that you don’t use them in an enclosed area, but many people do. The heaters are radiant and have a wick that soaks up kerosene from a refillable tank. Most are equipped with automatic shut-offs if the heater is tipped or knocked over. They are about double the heating capacity of the largest heater mentioned above.

Natural or LP Gas Heaters(Non Vented)
Very popular heaters that require no venting according to the manufacturer. Many of these are wall mounted heaters, or come on a base. They need to be hooked up to your natural gas line, or a propane cylinder. Some brands come with oxygen depletion sensors that will shut the heater down if the air is getting oxygen poor. This could result in carbon monoxide poisoning. These can have heating capacities up to about 39,000 BTU’s. Today’s decorative fireplaces and even heaters that look much like wood stoves, can have gas as their fuel source. There are also vented models that only have to have a pipe that goes through the wall of an exterior wall. When you are figuring out how fast you will go through your tank of LP gas, remember that a gallon of LP is actually 4.25 pounds.

Wood Burning Heaters
Very popular in the 1970’s wood burning heaters have taken a second place to gas heaters, however, with the high price of gas and oil they are making a comeback. The biggest drawback to using a wood burning stove is that it requires an adequate (and usually expensive) chimney system that extends above the roof line. You must also follow certain safety guidelines about the placement of the stove in relation to the floors and walls. Check with your insurance agent before having a wood stove installed.

When you purchase your space heater, be sure to read the safety guidelines carefully. Remember, if your clothing does catch on fire, don’t run. Drop and roll to extinguish the fire. Teach all the members of the household about safety issues with the new heater. If you are using a heater that burns kerosene, LP or natural gas, or even wood you should also have a carbon monoxide detector installed on every floor of your house.


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