MN Energy Smart

When Space Heaters Make Cents – And When They Don’t

When winter gets cold, the cold get…. space heaters.

Many people use electric, gas or radiant space heaters as a way to warm less-toasty areas in their home or business, such as basements, three-season porches or even office cubicles. The assumption is that space heating is more energy efficient (hence, more economical) than cranking up the furnace.

But while space heaters can sometimes be a practical heating solution, many people who use them end up inflating their heating bills. The reason: They’re often used for “comfort heat” on top of central heating systems and to solve heating inadequacies that can be resolved in more cost-effective ways.

So when does using space heaters make sense?

According to the Department of Energy, space heaters “can be less expensive to use if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in one room.” So it might make sense to turn down the thermostat and use a space heater to just heat one small area. (Of course you’ll want to turn off the space heater then when you’re not in the space it’s heating.)

Space heaters are not, however, more cost-effective than central heating systems when they are used beyond one or two small areas in a home or business: When used to heat a whole home or business, gas furnaces cost 43% the cost of using electric space heaters to heat the same area, the Energy Department estimates.

But before you turn to space heaters to solve heating issues, try addressing the root problems causing you to need them, such as cold air seeping into your home or a poorly functioning furnace. (Read our blog post on ways to shave winter heating bills.)

If you do need to use a space heater, do it wisely. Here are some tips:

– Purchase an energy-efficient portable one. Check out this recommendation list.

– Turn down the thermostat if you’re using it. You will drastically ramp up your bills if you’re using a space heater on top of another heating source.

– Dress adequately. The more layers you wear, the less you’ll feel the need to crank up the heat.

Also keep in mind that space heaters can be dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that space heaters spark nearly 22,000 residential fires annually, leading to about 300 deaths and thousands of burns.

Do you use a space heater? Does it help your heating bills, or cost you more?

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