Is It Better To Use Space Heaters or HVAC?

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Is it more efficient to heat your house with space heaters or with an HVAC system?

It depends how much of your house you’re trying to heat at once. If you’re just heating one or two rooms for limited periods of time—your bedroom while you’re sleeping, an office while you’re working—then it can be more efficient to run a space heater or two instead of your HVAC

But if you want to keep your whole house cozy and at a consistent temperature, your HVAC system is much more efficient. By some estimates, it’s four times the cost to heat your house with space heaters than to run a furnace.

What if you have a small house?

It’s still better to heat with your central heating system. Heating more than a room or two—and for a limited period of time—will get expensive. In fact, the only way to truly save money while using a space heater is to turn the thermostat down significantly while you’re using it.

Also, remember that your central heating system is a primary way to keep your pipes from bursting. Heating your home is about more than keeping the people warm, it’s about the equipment and inner workings of your house.

What are the risks of using space heaters?

Some space heaters, particularly older models, can be a fire risk. According to energy.gov, “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths.”

To reduce your risk:

  • Only use electric space heaters. Any model that uses gasoline or other fuel belongs outside.
  • Only use newer models.
  • Buy a heater with a tip-over safety feature so the unit turns off automatically if it falls over.
  • Plug the heater directly into a wall outlet. If you must use an extension cord, energy.gov recommends using the shortest cord possible made of 14-gauge wire or larger.
  • Only use space heaters when you’re in the room.
  • Follow all manufacturer instructions.

Is there any reason to own and use space heaters?

Sure! Space heaters can be a great way to take off the chill between seasons. In early fall, when it’s warm during the day but getting chilly at night, running a space heater in the living room while you wind down with a cup of tea can help you stay warm before you head off to bed. Using a space heater in your room while you sleep is also a good stopgap option.

They’re also helpful if you happen to have a space that isn’t connected to your HVAC system. One of our customers has a large closet converted into a workspace that they heat with a space heater since it’s not connected by ductwork to their central heating system.

Space heaters can also be useful as a backup, in case your system fails. If your system stops working for some reason—and it’s the middle of winter!—it’s great to have one or two space heaters on hand to keep a room or two comfortable while you wait for the issue to be resolved.

What kind of space heaters should you use?

There are a number of different types of electric space heaters on the market, but we generally recommend two kinds:

The first is a radiant space heater. Instead of heating the ambient air, they direct heat at a particular area. They’re perfect if you’re working at a desk, watching TV, or playing a card game. They’re also helpful if you’re trying to keep one person warm, such as an elderly family member, without overheating the rest of the house.

The second is a convection heater. These are efficient and silent and best for heating larger spaces. They’re filled with heat-transfer oil (but never need to be refilled) and operate using a thermostat to keep the room at just the right temperature.

For more on how to save money on your heating bills, check out our post on heat pumps.

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