Stay warm this winter
Use space heaters to add extra warmth to a room without cranking up the central heating system.
Q: It’s cold this winter. Instead of turning up my central heat, I’m considering purchasing a space heater to help warm my living room. I saw one in the store that is 100 percent efficient. What should I consider when choosing a space heater?
A: Generally, it is best to run a space heater when you need to heat just one or two rooms or if you need temporary heat in a normally unheated area like a garage or shed. If you have a particularly cold-sensitive person in the home, it can be more efficient to use a space heater in the room rather than overheating the whole house.
However, be mindful of the efficiency hype around space heaters. Electric space heaters are all 100 percent efficient at turning electricity into heat, but an Energy Star air-source heat pump can be 300 percent efficient.
If a space heater is right for you, remember a few things to save energy and money:
• If you’re using a space heater to heat the one or two rooms you use most, turn down your central heating so you don’t heat up rooms you aren’t using.
• Close doors to rooms that are being heated to avoid heat loss.
• Turn off the heater when not in use, or get a space heater with a timer feature.
• Purchase a heater with thermostat settings, and use the lowest setting that you are comfortable with.
• Select a space heater that is the right size for the space you need to heat; most will have a sizing table on the box.
Due to safety and air-quality concerns, portable propane and kerosene space heaters are not recommended for use in a home or other unventilated area. Even when installed properly, these types of heaters can emit low levels of carbon monoxide. Instead, look for an electric space heater. There are two main types:
Infrared heaters: Radiates heat to the objects and people directly in front of it, rather than the air in the room. If you are often sitting in one place, such as at a desk, this can be a good option. Note that the surface of these heaters can get very hot.
Convection heaters: Uses convection to warm and cycle the air in a room. These heaters are relatively quiet and can be warm to the touch, but not so hot as to burn you. Some models use fans to push the air over warm coils; these heaters can warm a room faster but are usually noisier.
If you need a space heater to keep your home comfortable, this may be a sign that your home needs insulation or air sealing, both of which can be great investments and significantly reduce your energy bills. In the longer term, increasing your home’s insulation or switching to a more efficient heating system, such as a ductless heat pump, can be a more cost-effective solution. A good energy auditor can help you figure out the best measures to take to keep your home comfortable. If your co-op offers free or discounted home audits, take them up on it.
Send questions to Energy Q&A.
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