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Space Heater or Money Eater?

Of all home appliances the space heater is perhaps received with the most ambivalence; it’s loved for the instantaneous comfort it offers close-up, yet it’s loathed for the damage it inflicts on your electric bill. But are these generalities factual, or are they just baseless anecdotes? The truth is, well, a little bit of both.

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 a confined space. However - and this is important - before you go throttling-up that space heater make sure that your house is not hemorrhaging hot air by first addressing the root cause(s) of why you’re feeling chilly: is your home insulation up to par? Do you have energy-efficient doors and windows, and are they properly sealed? Is your furnace functioning accordingly and are those air ducts well-vented? Is your thermostat “smart” or does it pre-date the premiere of Knight Rider?

Now let’s crunch the numbers regarding space heaters. It is true that in the last decade these gadgets have become more proficient emitting hot air while simultaneously consuming less energy. Nevertheless, these indoor heaters run on electricity which is almost always more expensive than gas in most parts of the country, and considering half of American homes use gas for HVAC, it may be cost-feasible to utilize your furnace and turn up the thermostat a notch. For instance, if you run a standard 1,500-watt space heater half the day during the frigid months, the electricity employed will account for an approximate fifty-dollar uptick in your monthly electric bill. That translates into a few hundred bucks per winter for millions of citizens; not exactly chump change. And then there are the health costs associated with space heaters to calculate.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that these heaters play a significant role in almost 22,000 residential fires per year leading to 300 deaths thousands of burns. Very often these fires are due to heaters being placed within close proximity of furniture, drapes, bedding, etc., rather than the recommended three-foot buffer of open space. In addition, many of the older model heaters come unequipped with the now-mandated automatic cut-off devices which instantly turn off the device if it’s tipped over. Some people even use fuel-burning heaters indoors unaware that they could be susceptible to air pollutants, and much worse, carbon monoxide.

This post isn’t intended to portray space heaters as dollar-draining combustibles - there is a time and place where these heaters provide perfect (and practical) comfort. Just make sure that if you use one you limit it to a single room, it has the “energy star” label, and most importantly stay safe by keeping it away from furniture and turning it off when you leave the room.


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