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ARTICLES - Electric - About Electric Space Heaters

Electric Space Heaters - Initial Costs and Operating Costs

Modern electric heaters are a popular way to take the chill off a room in the fall or to help with temporary heating in hard to heat parts of your house. However, it is important to become educated on the basics of electric heat to avoid spending too much money on the initial purchase and on the continued operation of your space heater. Safety is another issue, as some electric heaters are capable of lighting a piece of paper or other combustible household materials on fire.

You might often see TV, Magazine and Newspaper advertising for electric heaters and electric fireplaces making claims which are suspect. Some of these heavily advertised units are called “Amish Fireplaces”, “Eden Pure”, “Ceramic Disc Heaters”. etc. The ads would have you believe that these units are more efficient - that is, that they produce more heat for your dollar than a less expensive unit.

But the fact is that these heaters do not save money over a much less expensive electric heater. They are simply evidence that if you confuse customers with enough technical terms, the customer may be impressed and buy such a unit. And, make no mistake, millions of these units are sold! Be sure to understand the efficiency factor - there may be reasons you want an upscale unit…looks, features or just wanting something different than the hardware store models…but the price of the actual delivered heat is not a reason to buy the fancier units.

Plug-in Electric space heaters are limited in heating ability by the capacity of an average electrical wall socket. As a result, you will see that most are labeled as 1500 watts maximum, which works out to the same as 5100 BTU/HR. Such a heater on full would use 1.5 KWH of electricity for each hour of use, which would cost about 24 cents in our service area. Electric heat is usually more expensive than any other forum - BTU to BTU, but your savings results from being allowed to stay warm in one small area while leaving the heat in the rest of the home at a much lower level.

BTUs are a common measurement of heat, which also allows you to compare an electric heater to other appliances. For example, a home furnace may put out 100,000 BTU, as much as 20 electric heaters! A wood or pellet stove can usually be adjusted from 10,000 to 30,000 BTU, or the size of 2 to 6 Electric heaters. Hearth.com has a fuel cost calculator where you can enter the cost of various fuel sources, including electricity, and determine the cost per BTU.
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Since safety is an issue, many experts recommend the oil-filled electric radiators. These have the advantage of no exposed elements as well as surfaces which will not burn your skin on contact. Given these advantages, an oil filled type is probably the best electric space heater to consider for your home.  Although some units cost less, these often are made of cheap plastic and have fans (noise) as well as exposed “cherry red” heating elements which could ignite combustible materials around the heater.

Remember, such heaters are ONLY for short term use as spot and space heating! Do not attempt to use plug-in electric heaters as a full time or main heating source unless they are specifically tested and listed for such use!

Please note: If the “fireplace effect” as opposed to the space heating is most important to you, by all means consider one of the many electric fireplaces in the market.  Some other units, such as infrared heaters, also emit a warm glow which can be cheery in the midst of winter.


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