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Are Space Heaters Energy Efficient?

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Making cents of home heating dollars

As the weather cools down in many areas of the country, household heat becomes necessary for most families. Many consumers attempt to reduce the annual cost of running their home heating system by supplementing with space heaters. In other areas of the country where the ambient temperature never dips much below 55 degrees, space heaters are the main source of heat on chilly days.

The most common space heaters are electric, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on those.

Do space heaters save money?

The biggest factor in determining whether a space heater saves money is how many watts it draws. A 1500-watt space heater – as the name implies – draws 1500 watts. An electric space heater is 100 percent efficient, meaning that all of the watts it draws are expended in heat energy.

But while you might save in gas, home heating oil or even pellets, you’ll spend money in electricity while using an electric space heater. The formula for understanding the cost of operating a space heater is this:

Watts x Hours of Use/1000 x Cost per Kilowatt Hour = Cost of Operation

For example, if you run a 1,500-watt space heater every day for 24 hours, at a rate of 7.57 cents per kilowatt hour, your total cost to run the heater for a day would be $2.73. For a month, you’d add $81.76 to your energy cost.

What’s a Space Heater Good For?

Space heaters do an excellent job heating a very small area for a short period of time. If your intention is to provide a little bit of added comfort while you’re watching television for a few hours in your finished basement, while the central heating system is set at a cool 62 degrees, an electric space heater is a completely efficient source of heat.

But if you’re planning on running three or four space heaters while your thermostat is set at 72, you’d probably be much better off spending the money you’ll pay for a space heater, plus the cost of running it for a year, adding insulation and fixing drafts.

Safer Heating Options

The other thing to consider is that a space heater is dangerous. In fact, space heaters are the second leading cause of fire injury or death. In 2009, fire departments across the nation responded to more than 55,000 residential fires involving some sort of supplemental heating equipment, resulting in nearly 500 deaths and more than $1 billion in property damage.

Fireplaces and chimney fires still cause more home-related heating fires, but space heaters account for more than 80 percent of heating-related deaths, because so many of them are operated when occupants are asleep.

The two most common situations in which space heaters cause fires were failure to clean the heating equipment properly, and placing it too close to a combustible material.

Central heating systems and plain old blankets and sweaters are a much safer alternative to space heaters. If you really must add a space heater, always keep it at least three feet from curtains, bedding, or any other combustible material, and always select a heater that will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over or overheated. And never use a space heater when you’re asleep.

The use of a space heater in your home can provide significant energy and cost savings if used in the right way. The area where you live, and the severity of the winter weather, and your adherence to basic safety rules will help determine whether a space heater is the safest, most cost-efficent option for you and your family.

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