Winter inevitably brings us damp, chilly weather. If parts of your house don't heat evenly, or you like to keep things particularly toasty in one area, a space heater is a great little invention that will keep the cold at bay. They can also reduce heating costs and keep parts of your house warm year-round.
Space heaters can present their own dangers, however. They can cause fires or nasty burns if they are used incorrectly. Never let children play with them, and always use proper caution when setting them up. If you use a gas-powered heater, make sure your space is well ventilated. Fire Safety Toolbox has more tips on space heater safety.
Buying a Heater
The one specification that applies to all space heaters is heat output, which is measured in British thermal units (Btus) or watts (W).
- Your average electric space heater will have a few settings. The lowest is usually around 500-750 W, and the highest is about 1500 W or 5000 Btus. The low setting will warm an average room, while the high setting is for large rooms of 1000 sq. ft. or more.
- Non-electric heaters can produce a lot more heat -- a large patio heater can put out as much as 45,000 Btus!
Electric heaters are really the only choice for indoor use. Other fuel types can release dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide, and there is also more of a risk of a fuel fire or explosion with other types of heaters.
Convection heaters are your best bet if you want to raise the temperature of an entire room. Convection heaters, much like convection ovens, heat and circulate warm air to heat the entire space. There are two kinds of convection heaters.
- Use the air currents in the room to circulate warm air.
- Take a little longer to warm the entire space, but are very quiet.
- The most popular convector heaters are oil-filled heaters, which are composed of a shell (which resembles an old-fashioned radiator) filled with oil, with a heating element inside.
- These heaters are the most popular because they are reliable, stable, quiet and efficient
- The outside can get warm but not hot, which reduces the chance of accidental burns.
- They can be slow to heat up, but once warm they will stay warm. They can also be heavy.
- If you opt for a heavy, oil-filled heater, make sure to get a model with casters to make it easier to move.
- One last note -- these are sealed units, the oil never needs to be changed.
- Fan heaters work on the same principle as a natural convection heater, but they use a fan to circulate warm air more rapidly.
- Can be noisy to operate, but they warm a space quickly.
- Some can also be used as fans without the heating element turned on.
- Also significantly lighter than an oil-filled heater; an oil filled heater might weigh 25 pounds, while a fan heater might weigh as little as three pounds!
- Radiant heaters heat objects instead of air. They produce infra-red light which is then absorbed by objects nearby, warming them.
- They will eventually heat a space, but this is not their primary purpose. They are usually used for small areas of the room.
- These tend to be lightweight. The downside is they can easily tip over.
- New heaters often have tip sensors that will shut the heater off if it falls over. This is an important safety feature that may not be present on older models.
- Can be noisy; may not be a problem for most rooms, but could be undesirable in the bedroom.
- Additionally, these heaters produce some light in the visible spectrum, which may be undesirable.
- Some models have fans or can oscillate from side to side to warm an area more evenly.
Heaters that use fuels other than electricity are usually only used outdoors or in areas that are not inhabited, such as a garage. Heaters that use kerosene, liquid propane or natural gas are not recommended for enclosed areas. They burn through the oxygen in the room, creating poor air quality, and can release dangerous gases like carbon monoxide.
Patio heaters are basically more attractive versions of the same. They are meant to be used outdoors on cool evenings. Wood-burning heaters are almost exclusively used as patio heaters because they are attractive and inexpensive.
- Kerosene heaters use a wick that soaks up kerosene (only K-1 kerosene) from a refillable tank.
- Double the heating capacity of an electric heater -- ideal for heating large areas like a garage or patio.
- Look for a model with an automatic shut-off feature.
- Natural gas or LP heaters work by getting hooked up to your natural gas line or propane cylinder.
- Some are wall mounted, some come with a base. Also available as patio heaters (pictured).
- Very efficient.
- Ideal for heating large garages.
- Wood-burning space heaters are an efficient source of heat, as they safely warm your entire house without running up your electricity bill.
- To install, you'll need a chimney system that extends above your roof line. If you have this, though, it may find it to be worth it.
- Much more effective than a regular fireplace.
- Almost exclusively used on patios.
When using space heaters, it's important to be aware of the risks involved and how to prevent accidents. Here are some guidelines to follow to maximise your safety:
- Select a space heater with a guard around the heating area to keep children, pets and clothing away from the heat source.
- Keep all flammable liquids away from the heater.
- Place the heater at least three feet away from bedding, furniture, curtains, or anything else that could fall on the heater and cause a fire.
- Never leave the heater unattended.
- Look for a heater that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognised testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratory. This way you can be sure that specific safety standards have been met.
- If you use a heater that burns kerosene, LP, natural gas or wood, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed on every floor of your house.
- When purchasing natural gas or LP heaters, look for a model with an oxygen depletion sensor feature. These sensors will automatically shut the heater down when it detects the air is low on oxygen.
In addition to the safety features mentioned above, here are a few other things that are nice to have.
- Thermostat -- so you don't have to wait until it's cold in the room to turn on the heater.
- 24-hour Timer -- have your heater warm up before you get out of bed in the morning and getting up won't be such a chore.
- Independent Fan -- models with fans can sometimes run the fan without the heater; this makes the appliance useful year-round.
- Mobility -- make sure that you can easily move and position the heater, especially if it is a heavy oil-filled model. Casters will help.
- Lighter models may have carrying handles.
- Freeze-guard -- auto-starts the heater if air temperature drops below freezing.