How to Buy a Space Heater
Space heaters are generally used to heat small spaces such as a single room. They can provide extra heat in homes when the main heating system is inadequate, or when it is more cost efficient to warm the small space that people are using instead of turning up the temperature on the empty parts of the house.
Space heaters come in different sizes and designs, can use different fuel sources, and can heat their surroundings using a variety of methods. However, small, portable space heaters that run on electricity are the easiest and safest to use. They are relatively inexpensive and need nothing more for installation than a standard electrical outlet. For residential use, portable electric space heaters are widely available and will be the main focus of this article.
Radiant vs. Convection Heaters
Electric space heaters are generally described as providing radiant heat or convection heat. Convection heaters circulate heated air throughout a room. Most convection heaters either use metal coils or ceramic plates to generate heat and may or may not include fans to help circulate the warm air. Convections heaters with fans tend to heat a room more quickly and more evenly than those without. Additionally, in many models, the heating element can be turned off in the summer so the unit can be used as a fan only. The down side to fans is that they can be noisy. Because convection heat is air-based, they don't work as well in very drafty or poorly insulated rooms. Ceramic convection heaters are also available as flat panels that can be wall-mounted, which is appealing if space is at a premium.
Radiant heaters typically use either glowing quartz or a metal element with a reflector to direct heat to a specific location. Oil-filled radiators, which resemble old-fashioned steam radiators, are electric radiant heaters filled with oil that warms but does not burn. Radiant heaters tend to warm up quickly and operate quietly. Since they warm objects rather than air, radiant heaters are an excellent choice for rooms with a single occupant remaining stationary, such as a person working at a desk or watching TV. Some radiant heaters are also designed to heat larger spaces over time, but the spread of heat outward from the source can be slow.
Choosing an Appropriate Size or Output
The power of a heater can be measured in either watts or BTUs. Electric space heaters generally come in sizes from 500 to 2250 watts, with many models offering multiple wattage settings on a single unit. To choose the right size heater for your needs, it's good to know the size of your room, how many windows there are, and have a sense of how insulated or drafty the space is. A 1500- watt heater, for example, is adequate for an average 12' x 12' room. If looking at heaters that use fuel sources other than electricity, the size will most often be specified in. BTUs. A 1500-watt heater is approximately equal to one that is listed as 450 BTUs. In both watts and BTUs, the higher the number, the more powerful the heater.
Some heaters are specifically designed for use in a particular room or area. Patio and garage heaters tend to be more powerful than other heaters since they have to battle the elements or heat uninsulated areas. Bathroom heaters (also good choices for kitchens and laundry areas) tend to include extra safety features related to water.
Fuels and Venting
Space heaters using other fuels such as kerosene, heating oil, natural gas, wood, or even a combination of electricity and oil are available. However, some of these require venting to remove exhaust and toxic chemicals from the air in the home. Installing a vented heater is a very different prospect than plugging in the cord on an electric heater and being ready to go. Generally, people use non-electric heaters in outdoor spaces, garages, or to have on hand as back-up heat in a power outage.