When winter hits, most HVAC systems do an excellent job of keeping indoor spaces warm. But every once in a while, there is a room that has a chill. Or maybe you want to temporarily heat an area not connected to the primary heating system, like a garage or a shed. And we’re all familiar with the instance of working in a too cold office where requests for an increase in heating power go ignored.
In these cases, many of us turn to the old favorite: space heaters. These useful winter tools are fantastic for certain cases, like heating rooms that aren’t used often or taking the chill off when temperatures drop well below normal. Space heaters of the past were sometimes given a bad reputation due to fire hazards, but the heaters of today have new features that help to reduce that risk.
Nowadays, the biggest problem associated with space heaters is deciding which one is the best for your space. Let’s break down the differences in modern portable heaters and find out how to choose the one that will provide optimal heating.
Radiant vs. Convection
When making the decision about which heater to purchase, the first question you’ll encounter is, “Radiant or convection?” These heaters will both warm up a room, but work on two different principles, each with their pros and cons.
Radiant heaters provide heat in the same way as a hot water heating system, by radiating heat to surrounding objects. These heaters are suitable for heating smaller spaces, or for heating an area quickly. They do an excellent job of heating a space quickly, getting rid of a winter chill without a lot of waiting.
Convection heaters heat the air itself. They won’t heat quickly, but they will heat an entire room if given enough time. Once the air is heated, the room will stay warm if it is properly insulated Many people enjoy convection heaters thanks to their lack of maintenance requirements and their ability to operate quietly.
Types of Heating Elements
Your next decision when it comes to picking a heater is what kind of heating element will work best for your space. Give this question some thought, especially if you have small children or pets, as individual elements can pose a safety hazard.
Infrared: If your goal is to drive away the chill in your immediate area quickly, then an infrared heater might be for you. Infrared heaters work by emitting rays that heat surrounding objects, and they are very efficient at heating rapidly as long as you are standing near these rays. When it comes to heating an entire room, however, this type of heater lags behind other options.
This heater is best suited for environments like a workspace, where monitoring is not a problem. They excel at heating nearby objects – remember, as soon as the heater is turned off and the infrared rays stop flowing, the heat stops as well. The coils also get scalding, making this heating choice less safe to use in a home with children and small pets.
Ceramic: If you are looking for a heater that is efficient but not overly expensive, a ceramic element may be the way to go. These units cost more than their electric counterparts, but also offer more safety features. Ceramic heating elements stay cool to the touch, lowering the risk of burns and fires. They often come with timer features, again reducing the risk of an accidental fire if the heater is unattended.
Ceramic heaters also tend to be a little heavier, so it is harder to tip them over. This extra weight also means that they can be a bit more difficult to move from room to room, which is something to consider if portability is your primary concern.
Electric: Electric heaters are the most budget-friendly portable option, but they come with a few drawbacks. First, electric heating elements aren’t particularly efficient and the energy cost to run them can be higher than other heater choices. Second, depending on construction, they can be less safe than other options.
Electric heating elements are the ones we traditionally associate with space heaters – that glowing orange-red coil that so many of us remember from childhood. Some of us may remember getting burned by these devices! Now, electric space heaters are somewhat safer than in the past, but that risk of burns never completely goes away. If you have small children or pets, it might be best to consider another option.
Oil-Filled Radiator: Potentially the most energy-efficient model on the list, oil-filled radiators use very little energy to produce heat. Using electricity, they heat the oil inside a unit that looks a lot like old-style heater coils you see in old homes. They take a while to heat up, but once at the preferred temperature, oil-filled radiators do a great job of keeping small spaces warm. They’re also soundless, making them an excellent choice for a child’s bedroom or any space where you don’t want to hear a lot of extra racket.
While we like these heaters, the initial investment can be higher than some of the other options. If you need something that works quickly, look elsewhere… this type of heater can take a while for the initial heat-up to occur, so don’t expect instant comfort. They’re also not ideal for large spaces, or spaces that aren’t properly insulated.
Micathermic: Micathermic heaters offer the best of both radiant and convection heating. These energy-efficient portable units use coils wrapped in mica to produce heat that is 80% convection, 20% radiant. This combination of methods means they can both warm quickly and efficiently, reducing the amount of time you must wait to be comfortable.
As far as safety, micathermic heater coils can be very hot, but most units come with protective covers to protect the hands of small children. Many also have overheating protection in the form of an automatic shut-off if the temperature gets too high. Plus, they’re thin and quiet, so you may only notice the warmth they provide if not the unit itself.
Space heaters often get a bad rep for being a safety hazard. It’s true that whenever you use a space heater, you should pay attention to its location, as too much heat can ignite décor items such as drapery or bedding. But the fact is that safety issues concerning space heaters have improved drastically over the years, making they much safer to use than in the past.
When purchasing a portable heater take a look at included safety features. A space heater that has a thermostat with automatic shut-off is a definite plus, as it will prevent overheating. Many heaters now come with a tip shut-off, to ensure that power stops as soon as the heater falls over on its side. And a heater with an element that stays cool to the touch will protect little hands and paws.
It’s also important to be wary of used space heaters. Older models don’t include safety improvements and may malfunction due to their age. When it comes to these heating devices, it’s better to buy new and from a reputable brand. This way you will know exactly what you are getting and will have some assurance of quality.
You likely have a sense of which heater will work best for your needs, but what size unit will best suit your space? The usual rule of thumb is 10 watts of heating power per 1 square foot of space if your room is properly insulated. Each heater should have a wattage listing on the packaging, so finding the right size shouldn’t be a chore.