good, small, inexpensive, energy-efficient space heater?
September 23, 2004 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What is a good, small, inexpensive, energy-efficient space heater? Living in a leaky old house, we're starting to dread the approach of our first winter here. All we have is one crappy gas wall heater, this electricity-sucking system on the roof that pumps down solar-heated air, and a fireplace in the bedroom. We need more. (We're already going to seal the windows with plastic where we can.)
posted by gottabefunky to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
I've used those little ceramic disk heaters with reasonable success, at least in mid-sized rooms.

If possible, I'd recommend spending a couple weekends touring the house with a caulking gun & some weather-strip, sealing up every nook & cranny you can find (not just the windows, but electrical outlets, baseboards, floor cracks, and around pretty much anything that goes through any kind of wall or floor). Start with the rooms you most frequently occupy, and then move to less-used rooms. This made a truly surprising difference in my old place.

If you have any incense or a firework-lighting punk, you can use the smoke stream to find drafts.
posted by aramaic at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2004

If you have COSTCO in your area, they sell a ceramic heater that is inexpensice, quiet, and small. Not sure of the name or any details, but they usually only sell one small ceramic heater. It works well and comes with a remote, which is helpful if you like to turn it off before you go to sleep.
posted by cell divide at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2004

Here's a big second on weatherizing. $30 worth of materials and an afternoon's time saved me at least $250 in heating costs last year alone, and the entire apartment stayed warm and toasty instead of just the lukewarm 3-foot radius around the space heater. Even if you do still need the space heater after weatherizing, it'll be a lot cheaper to run because more of its heat will be retained.

Anyone with a screwdriver and a pair of scissors can do it. No skill necessary. There are thin styrofoam cutouts you can insert behind the outlet and lightswitch covers, and adhesive weatherstrip is ridiculously easy to apply to window/door frames--just clean the surface with rubbing alcohol, then cut, peel, and stick. The hardware store offers a lot of different sizes and types (J-channel, D-channel, V-channel, ridged...). Simple plastic V-channel is the most versatile, especially in a older house where settling has created a lot of variable-width gaps. (BTW, putting plastic over the windows didn't work out that well for me. Your mileage may vary, but if you do see poor results from the plastic try combining it with weatherstrip and other tactics. Give the cold air multiple barriers to get through.)

Call the power company first, by the way. Usually they offer some free or cheap service where they send someone out to inspect the house and identify the most cost-effective weatherizing opportunities. Your home may even be eligible for rebates or discounts to get the work done. Ditto for new heaters or improving the wall/roof heat systems.

Oh, as for space heaters: two thumbs up for sealed oil. DeLonghi makes good, though pricey ($60-90), ones with features like thermostat and/or timer.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

You definitely want to go with the sealed oil heaters; not as much wasted energy going towards fans or glowing elements. The only problem with them is that you need to have them on all the time. Then again, by the time you warm up a ceramic heater, you'll probably be ready for bed. If you have bare floors, cover them with rugs (you'll feel warmer).
posted by Avogadro at 3:16 PM on September 23, 2004

The more you invest time and effort in plugging the leaks in the house, the less the heater itself matters. If you spend a couple of weekends casually puttering around and filling in gaps, any crappy old heater will serve you well enough and cheaply.

Having said that, I like the little dinky ceramic heaters you can get at hardware stores, Costco, Walgreens, Target. Even with a concerted effort to weatherize year after year, I never managed to get the house plugged up enough to the point that a sealed oil radiator did any damn good at all. I think you need to have very little air movement indeed before a radiator can do the deed.

We do have a hot water radiator system in our new place, which is not at all drafty compared to the old house, and it does work -- but then, there are 8 converted steam radiators running from a brand new hot water pump so it had better work!
posted by majick at 3:51 PM on September 23, 2004

Most heaters are close to 100% efficient, BUT:

- Electric heaters generally use energy that costs more
- Some heaters don't radiate energy efficiently

If your heater radiates energy towards just you, you are feeling 100% of the effects, rather than, say, 1% of the effects and 99% just heating up the ambient air.

Something to think about...
posted by shepd at 3:57 PM on September 23, 2004

I like those little teeny heaters also, especially for a "quick warm up this room so I can get dressed and go to work" effect. Other things that help make a house warmer...

- rugs on any surface you're likely to put your feet on. hassocks if you spend a lot of time on a couch or chair with a cold floor
- electric mattress pad warmer for bedtime. This is good for right before you sleep and also you can sit in bed and read and feel okay. Warms the BED not just you and you turn it off before you go to sleep.
-insulated curtains. get good -- if you aren't already -- at working with passive solar gain. Make sure you have heavy curtains [preferably even with blinds] for nighttime, crank them open during the daytime. Even in Vermont in the winter some days the sun would get the house up to 60 if it wasn't windy, I was amazed.
- close off a smaller space to heat if you use a space heater that is away from huge windows/doors etc. Anything that keeps the heat closer to you and not just dissipating is going to help. in fact, close ioff parts of the house entirely if the winter is really punishing.
- make under the house part of your insulating tour. You can place hay bales around the foundation, or wrap it in plastic [remove in the spring!] to keep drafts out. put foam core in any basement windows.

Also, the best way to stay warm in the winter is to do something that isn't staying in place. This can be tough when you write for a living, but possibly finding a local [heated] place to work in the evenings when the house is getting chilly might take the edge of your leaky house chills.
posted by jessamyn at 5:26 PM on September 23, 2004

Let's not forget "wearing a sweater" and "wooly socks" as well.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:08 PM on September 23, 2004

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