Over the past century or so, space heaters have evolved dramatically, both in efficiency and safety. From ancient Roman hypocaust systems to modern wall-mounted space heaters, the revolution has led to thousands of companies entering the industry and contributing to extensive research meant to improve how heat can be distributed in the house in a safe, effective and efficient manner.
The competition for the consumer is very stiff as most companies have upped their game. Some will even claim that their’s will reduce your energy bills to as much as 50% or use similar tactics to lure customers to buy their products. This guide is meant to equip you with the knowledge to discern authentic from such and other similar exaggerated claims.
- Buying Guide
- The heat generation technology
- The power source of the space heater
- The energy efficiency
- The portability
- The safety
As winter approaches and the indoor spaces get colder, many families tend to shift to space heaters to solve heat inadequacies. While this is a good solution, it is good to ensure you understand your heater so you don’t end up inflating your bills with an inefficient one.
|ℹ️ It goes without saying, but let’s say it: we are not doctors or lawyers, and the following does not constitute legal or medical advice. When in doubt, please always stay on the safe side!|
We will try to break down some of the features to look for next time you are buying a space heater in an easy non-technical language. This will arm you with more than enough knowledge you need to shop for one.
The heat generation technology
There are two main ways for radiators and space heaters to generate and transmit heat to a room. We’ll tell you all about it below:
Convection: making the air of a room warmer by circulating it
The infrared/quartz space heaters
Quartz space heaters are types of infrared heaters that, like electric space heaters, use electricity to produce heat energy, albeit not directly. Quartz space heaters generate infrared radiation that warms the object it touches. Unlike other types that warm the air to heat the room, this type only warms the objects the radiation touches.
When compared to other space heaters, quartz space heaters are much energy efficient in providing heating energy. This is because they distribute heat primarily to people in the room when they are properly set up.
Infrared heaters are safety hazards and should be kept far from children and solid objects. If the heater is placed too close to the person, it can cause burns. Exposure should also be moderated as it can cause depigmentation of the iris.
Before buying one, you should ensure availability of various replacement parts such as bulbs, and their prices to ensure you don’t have difficulty operating the appliance in the future.
Radiant heat: sending heat waves towards a target
The ceramic heaters or fan heaters
As opposed to coil heaters which heat air directly using coils, ceramic heaters use special plates made up of ceramic material to heat up the air. Though they also use coils, they absorb the heat from the coils and release it into the air. This enables less time to cool when they are switched off and as they are switched off.
The unit works by pulling air from the base of the heater and passing it over the ceramic material replacing the already heated air that is dispersed into the room. Alternatively, there can be a use of fan force to drive the heated air out of the appliance. This method is much more efficient as it ensures that hot air is not trapped inside the appliance.
There also exists radiant ceramic heaters. Instead of using a fan as convection heaters do, these heaters radiate heat directly at objects in its direct field of view. As long as the temperature of the objects is lower than that of the heater, they will continue to absorb heat naturally from the heater until their temperature is the same.
Though they might not heat the entire room due to limitations of radiant heating, radiant ceramic heaters are generally more efficient heaters as compared to their conventional counterparts as they transfer heat directly to where it is needed without having to rely on air which is a poor conductor of heat.
Ceramic heaters come fitted with a thermostat or other overheating protection mechanism which ensures the ceramic plates are kept within a certain range of temperature.
These types of heaters are also more affordable than oil or gas as the fuel is becoming more expensive due to increased taxing. This is making people opt for more affordable ways to keep themselves from the cold weather and keep their body warm.
The safety feature of these heaters is another aspect that makes these types of heaters more popular. Ceramic heaters have some features that make it impossible to cause a fire hazard. These include the overheat protection switch that shuts the device of in the case it detects abnormal temperatures from faulty internal components.
Compared to other heaters, ceramic heaters enable for production of very portable heaters, with some having as low as 10 pounds in weight. This makes it easier to move the heaters from one room to another with ease.
These types are ideal if you are planning to heat one or two rooms as opposed to the whole house. They are also excellent when you need to have some quick warmth while preparing for work in the morning or while having a bath. If you, however, have a house which is drafty and have high ceilings, you may want to use another type of heater, probably one that runs on natural gas.
There a lot of brands that have gained respect from the market over the past few years. Some of these include Lasko, Hunter, DeLonghi, Dimplex, Honeywell, and Pelonis.
The oil filled radiators
While ceramic heaters warm air directly and force it out using a fan, oil filled radiators contain a heating element immersed in oil medium such that it is heats the oil directly. The oil then transfers the heat energy to the heater body which in turns heats the air around the room.
To increase the surface of the heated area, multiple stacked fins are connected together and warm diathermic oil is made to move through the columns to facilitate quick heat production.
Oil heaters are very efficient and they can help you lower your electricity bill by a significant percentage. By use of eco-modes to heat to keep the temperature consistent by switching heating cycle on and off. The use of diathermic oil helps retain the temperature longer even after the heater is switched off.
However, oil filled radiators do not provide heat as quick as the convection-based heaters. This is partly due to the fact that oil heats up slowly and thus it will take time before any warmth can be felt in the house. They retain heat more than ceramic heaters in that the dissipated hot air is does not stay in the heater as it is quickly forced out the moment it gains heat.
Most radiators come with additional features to help you have complete control of what and how the warmth is dissipated around the house and for how long.
These include adjustable thermostat to customize your temperature preference, programmable timers to enable you to set how long the appliance will run especially during the night so you don’t have to wake up and switch off the heater.
The absence of a fan also contributes to a great deal the reduced noise produced by this heater. Coupled with an eco-mode, this heater will ensure you can study or sleep soundly without even noticing the presence of the heater. If your heater had been flipped before use, you may hear some gurgling sounds as oil settles in the columns and it is recommended you wait for the oil to settle before you can start to use it.
While starting up the heater, it is normal to hear some cracking and popping sounds as the oil and metal body expands but this should not worry as it only last for few minutes and the heater is back to total silence.
This type of heater can go for many years without the need for maintenance as it is a sealed system. Most manufacturers won’t allow you to refill the oil in the radiator. It is also not advisable to attempt doing that when you suspect your heater is not working as expected. This is because different companies use different types of oil and changing it with another type might damage the heating element.
The power source of the space heater
There are different types of space heaters on the market. The major differences generally lie in how they work.
Electric space heaters
Electric space heaters use electric energy to turn to produce heat. The heating element that is made up of an electric current resisting material is used to convert energy into heat. The most common type of heating element for a majority of modern heaters uses a nichrome wire as the active element.
Most people get scared by the possibility of incurring huge cost while operating an electric space heater. While it is accurate that it takes quite some energy to turn electricity into heat energy, using them in a logical manner can help accomplish the goal while at the same time not incurring the dreaded huge bills.
Electric space heaters do not emit carbon dioxide which can be both a health and an environmental hazard. Make sure to use the heater only when you are inside the room and ensure the room’s doors are closed. This will ensure space is heated up faster and it will help you save on the energy cost.
These types of heaters can be a safety concern as they can start fires. Ensure you place them in a safe place far from flammable materials including wooden carpets.
Fuel-based space heaters
The kerosene space heaters
Kerosene space heaters use 1-K kerosene as fuel to produce heat energy. Basically, their mode of operation is very similar to that of a gas stove. They consist of a wick made up of fiberglass and cotton to draw kerosene from the reservoir. The wick is then ignited and the kerosene on it keeps burning as more kerosene is drawn from the reservoir through capillary action. The combustion of the kerosene produces hot gas that is used to heat the room through convection currents.
Kerosene heaters do not use electricity and they are some of the lowest in terms of cost of operation. They can use as much as half as their electric counterparts.
Maintenance should be done at least once per week to remove tar and other deposits on the wicks as they get burnt off. Wicks should also be checked to ensure they are getting burnt properly.
Safety precaution should be taken in order to prevent fire, personal injury and in some cases death. Choose a safe spot to place the heater and ensure you put it off about a half an hour before going to sleep to ensure they have totally cooled off as they take some time.
Using a kerosene space heater if you are only going to be home for an hour or two is not a smart decision.
The natural gas space heaters
Natural gas space heaters use natural gas to heat a room area. These can be of two types. The first one uses the Bunsen burner technology to produce heat. This is done by heating the air locally and then spreading it through convection currents. The second type uses a forced air system whereby air is moved into a heat exchanger heated using natural gas and then is expelled out using a fan or a blower.
They can be thermostatically controlled to ensure there is even and constant circulation of the warm air throughout the room. There is no electricity required to run this type of space heaters. Spaces heated using natural gas space heaters feel warmer as compared to electric or infrared.
Before using this type of space heater, you should ensure your house is fitted with smoke and fire detectors to ensure fire hazards are discovered early before they cause destruction or even death. You should also ensure you install carbon monoxide detectors to ensure you monitor its level to avoid poisoning as an excess of it can cause death.
Other space heaters can use wood – we will not get into this for domestic use 🙂
The energy efficiency
Different space heaters perform differently in different conditions. The ratio of the amount of energy that goes into the appliance to energy that is actually produced is known as energy efficiency. Most space heaters have an efficiency of between 80% to 100%. Electric heaters are some of the most energy efficient space heaters.
Energy efficiency is measured in Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) units. Different factors can affect the efficiency of a space heater such as space or the method being used. Space heaters with thermostat tend to be more energy efficient than those that don’t have a thermostat.
Portable space heaters : weight and size
The weight and the size of the space heaters are largely determined by the space that you are looking to heat. A 100 square feet room will require a space heater with a capacity of about 3400BTU. A small portable space heater would, therefore, be suitable for this kind of space.
Larger spaces, however, require bigger heaters and this also increases the weight of the appliance. This means that you will have to consider wisely about where you will place the heater as this can affect its performance.
Another factor that determines the size of the space heater is its type. Electricity based heaters are smaller as compared to gas and kerosene-based heaters.
You should ensure you have enough space to place the appliance away from flammable objects and surfaces.
Non portable space heaters
The case of the wall mounted space heaters
Wall mounted heaters are attached directly to walls. This makes them suitable for keeping small areas warm as they do not require much space to operate. They are the alternative to portable and baseboard heaters for apartments and small-space buildings.
They contain an insulator that covers the front side of the heater. Air enters from underneath the heater and passes through the coils and exits over the appliance as hot air through convection currents. This makes them safer as they are not exposed directly to furniture and other flammable objects.
Wall mounted space heaters provide fast and efficient sources of energy as they take less than two minutes for the occupants to start feeling the change. Even after the unit has been switched off, they continue to run as the coils take some time to cool off. Most of them have a control panel that lets you set the preferred temperature level.
These types of heaters are easy to maintain as repairs are typically minimal. If it is firmly attached to the wall, there is no much to worry about this type of space heater other than making sure no curtains touch the coils from the top part.
Other non-portable space heating solutions
Most non-portable heating systems acts as main heat sources in the house to help replace the heat lost through the shell of the house. To effectively replace the lost heat, a number of factors have to be considered before deciding on the mod to use.
This include the location of the house, the size of the house and how high the ceiling is, the efficiency of the house in terms of heat retention, and the efficiency of the heater you are looking to install.
You can’t do much about the first two, but you can try and improve the heat retention efficiency of the house. This can be done by sealing leaks, repairing the duct pipes of the heat distribution system and improving insulation especially on windows and doors.
Wood burning/ use of pellet stoves
For those endowed with wood chunks sources especially in the rural areas, it makes sense to use wood burning stove as it can be much cheaper as compared to other methods.
For this, you’re going to need a properly vented house to ensure that heat isn’t wasted and is properly distributed around the house. This can be done by ensuring proper planning and strategically placing blowers or fans in different rooms to ensure the heat is evenly distributed.
For a two or more storied house you are going to need a heater that is rated for over 2000 square feet to heat it effectively.
Radiant floor heating
Radiant heating system are of two types, electric and water-based system. Electric heating system uses resistance wires placed under the floor to produce heat. These cables can be embedded under special mats connected to thermostat controller to enable customization of the heat produced. Insulation placed under these mats can help to prevent heat from dissipating downwards.
Water based systems, on the other hand, use a network of small polythene tubing to distribute heated water under the floor. This system, also known as hydronic system, is usually a closed system and does not connect to the water used for other purposes such a laundry or drinking.
Gas fired space heaters
If you experience frequent power outages, gas fired space heaters might be a good alternative. These system uses a thermocouple that doesn’t not need electricity to light the heater. These heaters use either liquified petroleum gas, propane, or natural gas as the main fuel.
Flued gas heaters use a chimney connected to the fireplace to transfer the combustion gases outdoors. If not properly installed, flued system can draw warm energy from the house through convection especially if the flue is left open too wide.
Boiler heating systems
Boiler heating systems do not actually boil water to heat up the house. The name is rather inherited from steam boilers in the past which were very common.
Current boilers heat water to about 150 degrees by using natural gas as the source of heat. High efficiency PVC pipes are then connected to fine-tube or baseboard radiators to distribute heat throughout the room.
Most modern boiler system are just as efficient as their gas forced-air furnaces.
Your safety, your family’s and that of your pets are the first things you should consider before settling on any space heater. Small kids tend to be adventurous and this might cause burn accidents in the house or cause fires. Kerosene space heaters should never be left unattended and you should always make sure that there is enough ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Toxic fumes poisoning can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue and thus you should make sure you have detectors to alert you in case the levels reach predefined thresholds.
Most space heaters have safety features built in but you should ensure extra vigilance. Leaving a heater overnight creates a potential safety risk which should be avoided at all costs.
Space heaters should help add warmth and comfort, especially during the winter. You should use them properly to ensure they are energy efficient and safe.
Electric heaters are the better options for those who want quick heat-up. Kerosene space heaters are better for those who are looking to save on the energy bills. Portable space heaters are the safest unvented heaters for use inside the home. There are also several types of sizes to choose from.
Make sure you do a thorough research before settling on any particular space heater for safety, comfort, and efficiency according to your personality and the amount of space you need to cover.