January 17, 2017

Our tips for buying and using portable electric space heaters

Graphic of electric space heater

 

During winter many people use portable heaters to add warmth to selected areas in their homes rather than increase thermostat settings. To help ensure efficiency and safety, Otter Tail Power Company offers these tips for buying and using portable electric space heaters.

  • Don't believe claims of added efficiency on overpriced electric space heaters. All electric space heaters operate at 100 percent efficiency. Because they convert all of the electricity they use to heat, they all are equally efficient. “Don’t fall victim to a scam,” says Senior Market Planning Specialist Theresa Drexler. “Electric room heaters that sell for several hundred dollars are not more energy efficient. Portable heaters of equal wattage will cost the same to operate whether the unit is $20 or $200.”
  • The only feature of an electric heater that affects the amount of heat the unit can generate is wattage. A 1,000-watt heater uses 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity per hour of operation no matter what type of heater it is. “To best manage your costs, operate the lowest total wattage possible to keep you comfortable,” says Drexler.
  • Select a portable electric heater that has a thermostat so it doesn't run all the time. A unit with a thermostat can help maintain a constant temperature and not overheat an area. “Even with this feature, it’s not safe to leave a portable heater running when no one is monitoring it,” adds Safety Services Manager Eric Hamm.
  • Don’t overload your electrical wiring and create a fire safety issue. Portable electric heaters come in a variety of wattages. The most common are 1,000-watt and 1,500-watt units. “Don’t be tempted to buy a higher-wattage unit because of the additional heat it can deliver unless you know you have adequate capacity in your home wiring,” says Hamm.
    • Signs of an overloaded circuit include blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.
    • If the outlet, or the wall surrounding it, becomes warm after the heater has operated for a while, the wiring is overloaded. Discontinue using that outlet for your heater or consider a lower-wattage heater.
  • Only use portable electric heaters that automatically shut off if tipped over. Also, consider your need for a protective casing over the heating element to avoid the potential for burns. This is particularly important if you have small children or pets.
  • Keep portable electric space heaters away from flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, and newspapers.
  • Never use a portable electric space heater or any electrical appliance near wet areas such as bathtubs and sinks.
  • Avoid using an extension cord but, if one is needed, be sure it has at least 12-gauge wire.

If you have questions about energy conservation or about how an electric space heater might affect your electric service bill, call Otter Tail Power Company’s Idea Center at 800-493-3299.