Between skyrocketing utility bills and record-breaking cold, Coloradans are seeking ways to manage their comfort without busting the budget. One way is by turning down the central heat and using space heaters to warm smaller areas.
Work-from-home surged during the COVID pandemic and is likely to remain an option for a significant chunk of the workforce for years to come. But if you find yourself home alone during the workday, why pay to heat an entire house when you’re spending most of it in a room by yourself? That’s one way a space heater can come in handy.
Used properly, space heaters can keep you comfortable and save you money. Used wrong, they can lead to disaster. Here are some pros and cons to consider.
Space Heater Uses
Space heaters add comfort to drafty and hard-to-heat areas and can save money when used to heat individual rooms while keeping the central thermostat lower. And those savings can add up quickly in today’s work-at-home environment and high energy costs.
A space heater can warm a small space such as a home office or workroom quickly and efficiently. Some models can even be used safely in a bathroom. A small heater with a fan will usually work fine for rooms of 100 sq. ft. or so. Other models are designed to heat larger spaces. Most specify the usable square footage on the packaging.
Space Heater Types
Some space heaters have metal coils or ceramic-encased wires, and both types generally have two or more heat settings. On low, they use around 1,000 watts of power and on high, it’s about 1,500 watts. Some have two fan speeds and may also oscillate to spread the heat over a larger area.
Portable radiators can be upright designs that look like traditional steam or hot water styles. Horizontal models function like baseboard heaters. They use convectional currents to heat the air rather than a fan, so they’re quieter than other types of space heaters.
Other convection heaters can be free-standing or wall-mounted, and some are available as flat panels that can be painted to match the room.
How to Use a Space Heater Safely
The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that around 25,000 house fires and 300 deaths are caused by space heaters each year. Another 6,000 people go to emergency rooms with burns from touching a heater’s hot surface.
But used properly, space heaters can add comfort while lowering heating costs. Here are some rules for using space heaters safely:
- Only use space heaters that are top-rated by consumer safety organizations like Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Consumer Reports.
- Place the heater on a hard, level surface. Don’t put heaters on tables, desks, counters, or shelves where they can be easily tipped over.
- Keep children, pets, fabrics, and other combustible materials away from heaters.
- Never leave the heater unattended. Think of it the same as you would a stovetop burner or candle and use similar precautions. Unplug heaters when not in use for extended periods.
- Don’t leave a space heater in a child’s room at night. Besides the risk of burns from contact in the dark, a sleeping child will not react to smoke or bad smells as quickly as an adult.
- Don’t use a heater in a workshop or garage near paint, gas cans, or other flammable material.
- If using a space heater in a damp area such as a basement, garage, or bathroom, be sure it’s plugged into a GFCI-protected outlet. GFCI outlets have been required in those spaces since 1975 and are inexpensive to upgrade, but installation should left to an experienced electrician. Incorrect installation can defeat the protective circuitry in the outlet.
Better yet, also use a heater that has an appliance leakage current interrupter (ALCI) plug. ALCI plugs also monitor differences in current, adding extra protection.
- Don’t run the power cord where it can be a tripping or tipping hazard.
- Avoid using extension cords. They can overheat from a heater’s heavy load. If you must, use a heavy-duty cord and never run any heater cords under rugs or carpet.
- Check all cords for wear, damage, or being hot to the touch. Discontinue use if any of these warning signs are present.
- Put smoke alarms on every level of your home, including basements and garages, and in each bedroom and test them monthly.
Space heaters can add a considerable load to already taxed home electrical circuits. If using one causes a breaker to trip, try running it on a lower heat or fan setting. If the problem persists, a licensed electrician can help work out a solution with you. Never try replacing a breaker with one of higher amperage yourself. A pro will know if it’s possible and how to do it safely if it is.
Need Help? Call a Pro
If you think your home may have service or safety issues, don’t hesitate to contact Allstar Electrical Services. We deliver the quality solutions you expect and deserve for all your electrical needs. Just give us a call at 303.399.7420 or visit our website. Then use our handy online forms to request a free estimate or set up an appointment. We’ve served the Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the Better Business Bureau and are proud to be listed as a preferred contractor by Angie’s Home Advisor.