Electric Space Heaters: What You Need to Know

electric space heaters
There are times when you need a heating boost. Maybe the temperature dropped sharply and the furnace just hasn't caught up yet. Or maybe the heating to one room in particular just doesn't work very well. Electric space heaters are a simple and easy way to solve the problem. They give your home a much-needed burst of heat to take the edge off the chill.

What Are Electric Space Heaters?

An electric space heater is a heating device designed to focus heat in a single room or small zone. They work by expelling hot air through a fan, which naturally rises and forces colder air to the floor. This process helps to circulate the heat and warm the space effectively. They are fast and efficient at heating your room, but should not be used as an alternative to a central heating system. Think of them more as a temporary fix, or a supplement to your heating when you need it.

What Do Electric Space Heaters Cost?

The costs can vary depending on the functions and power of the heater. A good rule of thumb would be somewhere between $100 and $350. At the cheaper end, don’t expect any advanced features. It will be a basic, switch-on/switch-off type of model. At the most expensive end of the price spectrum, you should expect all the bells and whistles like auto shut-off, an overheat switch, timers, and thermostats. You may even be able to upgrade to a remote control model!

Why Use Electric Space Heaters?

An electric space heater is a handy portable heater that enables you to add instant heat to any room or space. Often, when a furnace breaks down, an electric space heater is the answer to your problems until a repair is done. Some people like to lower the thermostat on their central furnace and use the “zone” heating method. It is the principle of heating zones or spaces in the house without wasting energy on other parts of the home that are unoccupied. This will require an electric space heater to supplement the heat that the furnace no longer provides. Also, electric space heaters are effective at giving your room instant heat, which is excellent if you occupy a small space or apartment. Plus, if you are having some remodeling work carried out in your home, sometimes those rooms need to dry out. A space heater is ideal as it is compact and portable, allowing you to run it while getting on with other tasks. If you are contemplating this, try and buy a space heater with the most significant wattage.

Are Electric Space Heaters Costly to Run?

This depends on how you use the electric space heater and how often. Most electric space heaters are 1,500 watts, although more powerful versions are available. If you were to run a 1,500-watt space heater for an hour, it would consume roughly 1.5 kWh of electricity. That equates to about 16 Cents every hour. However, if you turn the heater on and leave it running 24/7 for an entire month, it would consume approximately $100 - $120 of energy. So you can see that electric space heaters, when used in the correct way, can be a great solution to a heating problem, but longer-term, they are expensive to run.

Are Electric Space Heaters Safe?

When used correctly, electric space heaters are perfectly safe. However, the National Fire Protection Agency has concluded that between 2012 and 2016, over 52,000 home fires involved heating equipment. And specifically, they attributed 86% of deaths as a result of these fires directly to portable space heaters. It is worth noting that there are other forms of space heaters instead of the electric variety. Gas space heaters are a common type of heater, and when used and maintained correctly, they are safe. But, gas space heaters give off low levels of carbon monoxide, and of course, there is the danger of a naked flame to consider. With an electric space heater, the risks are reduced considerably. That said, they are not eliminated. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), electric space heaters are the safest of all the space heaters available. But they do issue guidelines on their use:
  • Always choose an electric space heater with a tip-over cut-off switch. Often, these space heaters are situated on the floor, and the last thing you would want is for it to fall over and start a fire.
  • Where possible, always plug your space heater directly into a wall socket. If this isn’t possible, then when using an extension cord, make sure the wiring is a minimum of 14-gauge. If you are unsure, the DOE recommends you seek the advice of the manufacturer.

Safety Features to Look for in Electric Space Heaters

  • Look for an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Mark - This is the most commonly accepted independent safety certification in the US. Millions of products feature this mark. There are other certifications to look for; the ETL (Intertek) mark is a recognized North American certificate that tests products to UL standards. Alternatively, you could look for the CSA (Canadian Standards Association) mark, which is a standard of certification accepted in North America and Canada, as well as the rest of the world.
  • Look for Shut Off Features - Your electric space heater should have a tip-over cut-off switch to ensure that should it fall over, it cuts out. Also, try and buy one with an overheating sensor that cuts the motor when the unit gets too hot.
  • Look for a Thermostat - This enables you to set the desired temperature and maintain it when reached. It should save you energy usage because the heater only has to top up on the heat when the temperature drops slightly. It also saves you continuously switching it on and off.
  • Look for a Timer - The timer enables you to set a time for the heater to come on so that you don’t enter a cold room. Likewise, it shuts down at the desired time when you leave the room.
  • Look for a Long Power Cord - The power cord length lets you place the electric space heater in the safest place, away from soft furnishings and drapes. But be careful that you don’t trip on the trailing lead when crossing the room.
  • Look for a Sturdy Handle - Having a handle helps you move the heater around the room or the house. It means you can relocate the heater even when the surface is hot to the touch.

The Pros and Cons of Using Electric Space Heaters

Pros Cons
  • Portable
  • Instant heat
  • Efficient
  • Great for zone heating
  • Easy to use
  • Not designed for long-term use
  • Cannot be left unattended
  • Increased risk of fires
  • Only heats small spaces
  • When used continuously, it can be expensive

How to Use Electric Space Heaters Safely

  • Adopt the 3 Feet Rule - Don’t place your space heater near anything within a 3 feet radius and never place it near soft furnishings or anything combustible.
  • Watch Out for Children - Don’t let your kids run around the room when the space heater is on. Also, adopt the same attitudes towards pets and elderly relatives.
  • Never Place a Space Heater on Carpet - Carpet is likely to get hot and combust. Only place the heater on a smooth floor covering and never elevate it off the ground by placing it on a side or cabinet.
  • Look for Flat Surfaces - If the surface isn’t flat, don’t place your space heater there, or you will run the risk of it toppling over.
  • Never Leave it Unattended - This rule speaks for itself. Fires happen when you aren’t around, and you won’t be there to put it out.

Final Thoughts

As with any product, electric space heaters have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. They are an excellent way of adding supplemental heat to a single zone, and they provide that boost of warmth many want on the coldest winter days. Plus, they're typically lightweight and easy to move around. But use your electric space heaters responsibly! Never underestimate the dangers associated with electric space heaters. Also, these are best used as a temporary or additional method of warmth, and are not intended to be your primary home heating source. While you could use electric space heaters for all your home heating needs, that would get very expensive, very quickly.

Check out our complete inventory of electric heaters right here.

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