Types of Space Heaters: What You Need to Know

Space heaters are great ways to keep your space extra warm. Even with a furnace, sometimes there are rooms that always seem to be colder than others. Why is that? As aggravating as it may be, there is a solution.

If you’re struggling to heat your space, it’s important to understand the different types and technologies so you can choose the right one for your space.

What is a Space Heater?

Space heaters do just what their name suggests: they heat spaces. While there are many different sizes to choose from, they’re generally used to heat rooms and areas smaller than entire houses.

Space heaters are not effective at heating many connected rooms, but depending on their size, they can heat small to large rooms, or you can use multiple heaters at the same time to heat a larger area.

Main Categories of Space Heaters

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Space heaters use electricity or fuel for their power. Electric space heaters are more portable because they don’t need a permanent way for exhaust to escape like fuel burning space heaters do.

Electric

Electric space heaters plug into the wall and draw energy to make heat from your electrical system. They’re easy to unplug and move around. These are perfect for homes because you can use them in any room you choose and put them away when they’re not in use.

You don’t have to worry about exhaust, and they’re generally lightweight enough to pick up and carry on your own.

Ideally, these types of space heaters are used in the winter or when you need a little extra heat. They can be used in the living room, bedroom, or office.

Be careful when using them in the bathroom or a child’s room. While some have protection around the heating element, others don’t and they can get hot to the touch.

Electric heaters work to heat the air in a space, so when you’re occupying the space, it feels warm. Newer models plug into a two-prong outlet, while older models use a three-prong model.

Fuel-based

Fuel-based space heaters run off of gasoline, propane or some sort of oil. They’re generally very bulky and heavy, so they’re not nearly as portable as electric space heaters.

If you have an outdoor patio space that you heat regularly and need a heater there all the time, a fuel-based space heater is a good option.

Fuel-based space heaters also have to have a permanent way to release exhaust, much like a car that runs off of gasoline. Using them outdoors is much safer than indoors.

While you can use them indoors, you have to have a window open to release exhaust, this means you waste more energy and more heat, making them much less efficient.

Maintenance on a gas heater is a bit more involved, because you have to refill the fuel it uses for burning and ensure that it has the proper exhaust in place.

If you’re ecologically-minded, you may also want to consider the emissions that go along with a fuel-based space heater. The amount of emissions you have will depend on how often you use it.

One of the benefits of a gas space heater is that it’s generally quieter than an electric space heater and surprisingly safe around children. They can also be very efficient and generate a lot more heat more quickly.

Space Heater Technology

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There are several different types of space heater technology. Whether your space heater is electric or gas, it uses this type of technology to circulate heat throughout the room.

Convection heaters

Convection heating is the process by which water or air molecules come in contact with the heating element, causing the molecules to warm up and expand. As these molecules warm up and expand, they rise.

When these warm molecules rise through the air, they displace the cold molecules, forcing them down toward the heating element, where it heats up and expands, and rises to the top. This cycle creates a continuous circulation of warm air through the room.

This convection current is exactly what happens when you boil a pot of water on the stove. Air is not a very good heat conductor, so convection heaters are slow to heat, but once the air in the room is warm, it maintains a consistent temperature easily.

There are several different types of convection heaters. They work using the same convection principles, but distribute heat differently.

  1. An oil-filled heater has heating fins filled with oil. When the resistor receives energy, it generates heat that is then absorbed by the oil in the fins and warms the air around it.
  2. Ceramic heaters run electricity through metal coils attached to ceramic plates. The heat running through the coils is absorbed by the plates and warms the air. These are more compact than oil-filled heaters.
  3. Water heaters have a water-filled tube containing an electric heating element. The heating element warms up and turns the water into steam. These are similar to oil-filled heaters, but they work faster.
  4. Fan heaters enhance a convection heater’s effectiveness. They force the air over the heating elements and blow it into the room, which increases the speed of heat distribution. They’re noisier than most other types of heaters.
  5. Furnace heaters like that in your central heating system are also types of convection heaters. They generate heat using fuel and use ducts to distribute it.

Radiant heaters

Radiant heaters heat using infrared radiation, which is absorbed almost immediately by clothing and skin. Radiant heaters are best for outdoors or poorly insulated spaces. They work in much the same way as a campfire.

Radiant heat is different from convection because it’s not affected by the water or air it’s traveling through. It travels farther without losing heat and the waves travel in a straight line, directly to your skin or clothes.

They work very quickly and there are several different types.

  1. Electric radiant heaters run electricity through the metal coils and this is a common type of heating used in space heaters.
  2. Gas radiant heat burns gas and uses warm air to heat up the radiant tubing. This spreads heat as it rises in temperature.
  3. Floor radiant heat warms a series of tubing installed under your flooring. These tubes are filled with water, air, or electric cables. These tubes transfer heat to the floor, which heats the room.
  4. Radiant panels heat water tubing or electric cables that are connected to aluminum panelling in the floor or ceiling.

Micathermic heaters

Micathermic heaters use a combination of convection and radiant heat. They have heating elements, but they do not have a fan. Using the best of both of these methods of heat makes these types of heaters extremely efficient.

The heating element in micathermic heaters is, you guessed it, mica. These sheets of mica are fantastic heat conductors. The mica is heated to your desired temperature, at which point it generates electromagnetic rays that it emits into the room.

These rays heat the room, much like sunlight streaming in your windows. This heat is fast, efficient, and relaxing. It heats up elements in the room like furniture, clothing, and skin, and as it does, the ambient air gets warm as well. The warm air pushes cold air toward the heater to create the same convection current as a convection heater.

The heating element works much like radiant heat while the convection current eliminates the need for a fan, meaning it’s not only efficient, but quiet.

Other benefits of a micathermic heater are that it’s safer, economical, and keeps the air in the room from getting dry. They’re also compact, so they take up very little space while still working to heat large areas.

Styles and Types of Space Heaters

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From tower heaters to tabletop heaters and fan heaters to panel heaters, there are many different styles of heater out there. Here are some styles you have to choose from and when they work best:

  • Tower heaters are shaped like towers. They’re tall and skinny. The main benefit to tower heaters is that they’re compact and fit nicely in the corner of the room without being in the way. They generally oscillate, which can help with heat distribution.
  • Heaters with fans come in all shapes and sizes, but the fan helps distribute heat more quickly and evenly. Fan heaters are noisy, but work well for generating heat and providing white noise, which some people prefer.
  • Fanless heaters are quieter, so they’re perfect for heating a room without the background noise of a heater with a fan.
  • Indoor heaters are generally electric, although you can install fuel-based indoor heaters or use portable propane or kerosene versions. Electric heaters are more convenient because they don’t need a permanent exhaust and they’re more portable. You can carry them from room to room with ease.
  • Outdoor or patio heaters can be electric or fuel-based. Because they need to heat a larger space more efficiently, radiant heaters generally work better for these purposes.
  • Tabletop heaters are much smaller and more compact than many other types of heaters. They sit on your tabletop and are meant to heat a very small space, like your cubicle at work.
  • Panel heaters are great solutions for mounting on the wall. They work well to heat your space, but aren’t portable. They also have to work a lot harder to heat the space, so they work better in small rooms. Mounting them in large spaces could reduce their lifespan.

Types of space heaters are just as plentiful. Here are some of the most common:

  • Ceramic heaters heat space quickly and efficiently while remaining safe to use. While the ceramic plates inside get hot, the plastic casing remains cool to the touch.
  • Infrared, aka radiant, heaters heat the contents of a room rather than the air. The heat is absorbed directly into your clothing, furniture, and skin, making you feel warmer faster.
  • Oil-filled electric heaters use oil-coated fins to heat the room.
  • Propane space heaters use propane as fuel to heat your space. They need a way for the exhaust to escape, so they’re generally bulkier and more permanent than electric space heaters. Although there are several excellent portable propane heating options out there too.
  • Kerosene heaters use kerosene as gasoline, but function in much the same way as propane space heaters. They create carbon monoxide gas that needs a way to escape.
  • Wall and ceiling mounted space heaters are generally called panel heaters. They use panels connected to electrical wires to heat the room. The heat radiates from the panels to heat the room.
  • Baseboard and floor heaters use a series of tubes beneath the baseboard or floor to fill the room with heat. These tubes are usually filled with water, air, or electrical components that heat up.
  • Electric fireplaces are elegant ways of getting heat into your room. They’re ornate and sit against any wall you choose. If you don’t have a fireplace in your home, this is a great decor accent that’s also functional.

Other Considerations

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It’s important to remember that there are plenty of other considerations when shopping for the right space heater for you. For example, you want to make sure your heater is safe, energy efficient, and sized appropriately for your space.

Safety

Safety is an important consideration for all types of heaters, but starting in 1995, UL standards began regulating how space heaters should function to reduce the risk of fire.

Improper use is one of the most common causes of fire, so always make sure you plug your heater directly into a wall outlet or use a heavy-duty extension cord. Keep them away from flammable materials, turn them off when you leave the room, and don’t ever use them while you’re sleeping.

Many electric and fuel-based heaters have safety features such as tip-over sensors, that work to shut the unit off if it’s not sitting upright. They may also turn off if the heating element gets too hot or if something is blocking the airflow sensors or the exhaust.

Energy efficiency

Some space heaters have energy star ratings, so if you want a solution that’s more energy efficient, look for these sorts of labels. Gas space heaters have more emissions than electric space heaters, so keep that in mind.

Some of the most energy efficient space heaters available today are listed here. They come in all shapes and sizes so you’re likely to find one that will work for you.

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Wattage and room size

A typical space heater has about 1500 watts and can heat a 144 square-foot room. That’s a medium-large bedroom. For larger rooms, choose higher wattage or use multiple space heaters.

You need roughly 10 watts per square foot, so you can calculate the wattage you need based on your room size pretty easily.

If the space heater you’re looking at is measured in BTUs, you can calculate that, too. One watt is equivalent to 3.41 BTUs.

However, if your room has a lot of windows, it may be more drafty, so you’ll need a more powerful space heater. You also need a stronger heater for high ceilings because you lose a lot of heat in lofted spaces.

Tile floors make rooms feel colder, so you may want more heat, but carpet is a fantastic insulator, so if your room has carpet and lacks windows, you can get away with a smaller space heater.

Technology

Consider the type of technology you want in your space heater. Some heaters have remote thermostats so you can control it without getting up. Safety features like auto shut off are great for people who tend to be forgetful. Some also come with timers so you can set it to turn off after a couple of hours.

Digital displays keep you apprised of exactly what’s going on with your heater. Set and monitor your temperature, adjust fan speed, set the timer, and turn oscillation on or off.

Other Resources

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Image by Mike Mozart via Flickr

Your local hardware store likely has heaters either on display or on the shelf. Shopping in person gives you a better idea of size, style, color, and more. The store staff is always will to help.

If you’d rather shop online, one of the best sources of information is Amazon. They have plenty of space heaters you can buy and the customer reviews give you first hand knowledge of how the heater actually works.

A quick Google search will also give you a more in depth understanding of heater technology so you know which is best for your specific needs.

Space heaters are useful devices for many different situations, so if you understand the differences and choose wisely, your space heater will work perfectly for you.

Space heaters have evolved over the years to become a complex product with many different variations from which to choose. Forget the different features that are available – there are several different types of space heater designs that force you into making a choice for your home. Make the right choice and you’ll be nice and comfortable, but make the wrong choice…

Let’s avoid that scenario altogether by taking a look at the different types of space heater designs that are available right now so you can make the decision that is right for you.

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