My friend Jim Cartwright and I worked together on this article. Jim is a certified Energy Manager.
Electric space heaters can be a valuable tool to maintain comfort and conserve energy. They can also be costly devices that waste energy, cost money, and tie up maintenance time. It all depends on how you use them and when you use them. This article may help you understand when it is okay to use them and when you should avoid them.
Let’s look at the benefits and advantages.
At home, you may want to consider using an electric heater in a room that you occupy most. This might be the living room or your TV room. That way you can keep that room a little warmer and dial down the thermostat on your furnace for the rest of the house. Your furnace will run less, you will save money, and you will be more comfortable. This works well if the house thermostat is not in the room where the space heater is being used.
A similar situation may happen at work. When the days start getting cooler in the fall, it may be cheaper to use electric heaters in isolated areas, such as offices, rather than firing up the central heating system. The longer that you can avoid running big heating equipment, the more energy and money you will save.
If an office temperature gets cold in the fall before the boiler is on, then electric heaters can be used to bring the temperature up for comfort without turning a boiler on. An electric heater is 100% efficient, which means that all of the energy it uses goes directly into the area it is heating. In mild weather, boilers are about 65% efficient, meaning that we lose a lot of the energy in the conversion and distribution process. Under the conditions we experience before the central heat is on, electric heaters provide an economic alternative.
Okay, so what are the problems?
First, a typical electric space heater uses 1,500 Watts of power. That ties up more that 83 percent of a standard 15 Amp circuit. That leaves very little capacity to run computers, printers, copy machines and other office or household appliances. This makes it very easy to overload a circuit and trip a breaker. When that happens an electrician must spend time to determine what caused the breaker to trip and to reset the breaker.
It also affects your productivity because your office is dark or your equipment is not working. Not only is an overloaded circuit a nuisance, but it is a potential hazard.
Continually overloading a circuit and tripping the breaker will weaken the breaker and the wiring. Permanent replacement may be needed and there is a risk of fire from an overloaded circuit.
Secondly, electric heaters are sometimes used when it is not economical. They are left on when homes or offices are vacant. They also are used to raise the temperature above what is really needed. This wastes energy.
Here are some recommendations for the use of electric heaters.
At work, use them only in the early fall and late spring, when the central heating system is off. Use them to bring the temperature up just to the comfort level. If it is already warm and you feel cool, dress more appropriately. Keep a sweater handy to put on when you feel cool.
Never leave a heater running during a period of extended absence, such as overnight or over the weekend.
Do not use space heaters during times when other equipment is running to avoid overloading a circuit and tripping a breaker.
Under no circumstances should we be using electric heaters during air conditioning season.
When you buy an electric space heater, make sure it has a safety switch that will shut it off if it is tipped over. When a space heater is tipped over the airflow can be blocked. This may make it overheat and cause a fire. You don’t want a house fire because your cat knocked the heater over. Like wise never put a blanket or towel over a space heater.
Here is a money saving luxury idea for you.
If everyone in your home gets up and leaves for the day, you can save by keeping your home thermostat set low until after the workday. Pre-heat just the bathroom and kitchen with a pair of electric space heaters using 15 Amp appliance timer.
Set the timers to have the heaters come on an hour before your alarm goes off. Think about the pleasure of a warm bathroom for showering and shaving and a warm kitchen for a quick breakfast.
Plan ahead and put tomorrow’s clothes in the bathroom to preheat.
Set the appliance timers so the two electric heaters go off before you go out the door.
Set your digital house thermostat to pre-heat the house an hour before your return from work. You will know where the savings comes from when you count the hours that your central heat thermostat is at the low temperature setting. Overnight plus the workday equals 16 hours or more.
Tell me about your creative ways to use appliance timers.
Click here for a selection of electric space heaters
Click here for 15 Amp appliance timers.