Portable Electric Space Heaters
Using a portable electric space heater can be one of the most expensive ways to heat your home. At today's prices, electric heat costs five times as much per BTU as natural gas. You will not save money using an electric space heater unless you turn your central heating system down several degrees and use a space heater to warm just a small area.
Types of heaters
Convection – Most portable electric space heaters circulate warm air with a fan to warm a room.
Radiant – Some heaters warm people and objects in their path through infrared radiation. This can make you feel more comfortable at a lower temperature than a convection heater because you can avoid heating an entire room. It is practical only if you stay in one spot during its use.
Safety is most important
All electric space heaters carry a safety risk. For your safety, please follow these guidelines:
- Turn off when not in the room or when sleeping.
- Only buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.
- Avoid contact with the heating element in an electric heater. Fabric can catch fire or you can burn your skin. Keep all materials at least 3 feet away.
- Install smoke detectors in the rooms where space heaters will be used.
- Space heaters can trip a circuit breaker or blow a fuse. If this happens repeatedly, try using a different outlet or contact your electrician.
- Never use an electric heater with an extension cord.
- Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
- Only buy Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved heaters.
Cost to use
For any electrical device, the cost per hour of use depends on the wattage of the equipment. A typical electric space heater:
- Uses 1,500 watts.
- Produces 5,120 BTUs of heat per hour.
- Costs 22¢ (at $0.144 per kilowatt-hour electric rate) to produce those 5,120 BTUs of heat.
A 90% efficient natural gas furnace will cost less than 5¢ to produce that same amount of heat (at $0.80 per therm natural gas rate).
Whether you pay $30 or $300 for a space heater, if it uses 1,500 watts, you will:
- Get the same amount of heat.
- Pay the same cost per hour of use.
Check out a portable energy meter at no charge from your local library to measure how much electricity your portable space heater uses.
Beware of claims too good to be true
Customers have called us about advertising they've seen for a "portable space heater that can cut your heating bill by up to 50%" or a "miracle fireplace that uses less energy than a coffee maker, yet produces an amazing 5,119 BTUs!"
These products sell for around $300, yet are no more efficient nor do they produce any more heat than a $30 space heater from your local hardware store. We strongly suggest that you check them out through an independent testing agency such as Consumer Reports.
For more information
- Call MGE's Home Energy Line and talk with our energy experts at (608) 252-7117
- U.S. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
- Consumer Reports, November 2008
- Consumer Reports, February 2010
- Portable Electric Space Heaters [383 kB PDF]