November 7, 2010 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Are standalone Heater-Fans/Oil-Filled heaters more efficient (electricity wise) than electric baseboards?

First time paying for electricity in an apartment with electric baseboards. Are standalone heat fans or oil filled heaters more efficient at heating over the standard electric baseboards?

Also, I got a small air mover during the summer as a fan/air-conditioner dispersant. It says on the box that it's good for aiming at heat sources to more efficiently heat a room - is that true? It seems to make my AC cool the room faster, and since the heater is drawing the same amount of wattage whether it's being blown on or not, would it help heat the apartment more efficiently or does any evaporation/moving-air discount any savings in electricity?

Any other tips you'd care to share?

posted by porpoise to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Any electric heater is nearly 100% efficient: almost all the electricity you're paying for is turned into heat. Of course, given the losses inherent in electrical generation and transmission, only about 30% of the energy of the coal or natural gas that was burned to generate the electricity is used. Actually burning natural gas in your house is more efficient even considering the energy expended to get it here. But assuming that you're stuck with the electric baseboard heat, no, there is not a lot you can do.

Now, radiant heat that heats you, rather than the air, can reduce your heating bills by allowing you to keep the overall temperature lower. I know people who have the HeatDish heaters who like them quite a bit.
posted by kindall at 9:36 AM on November 7, 2010

What kindall says is true, electric heaters are 100% efficient in a pure heat:electricity sense. In addition, since what you care about is your own perceived temperature and not the average temperature of the room, it's quite possible that a fan near the heater would help you. I would imagine that using your fan you already own with the baseboard heater would be a reasonable approximation of the heater fan, for heating the whole room. The major downside of electric baseboard heaters is that sometimes they're behind furniture and it's harder for the air to circulate and a fan would help with that.

However, looking at space heaters might be a good idea to avoid heating a lot of space that you're not actually occupying. Or, if you're sitting near the baseboard heater most of the day, maybe you don't want to use the fan because you want that area to be warmer than the rest of the apartment - it depends on your situation.
posted by Lady Li at 10:09 AM on November 7, 2010

An electric heating pad that heats you, rather than all the air in the room, will save you a lot of money. Try putting one in the bed with you, or on the couch when watching TV or reading, or against the back of your desk chair while you work. The room can be much colder and you'll still feel warm.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

One difference is that the oil heater will take longer to warm up, but stay warm longer after the power is off. This is similar to the water filled radiators in most houses. residual heat.
posted by Gungho at 11:23 AM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: Regardless of what you decide, you should figure out your goal. Is it to keep the room warm, or yourself? If you've got delicate plants, pets, children, what have you, then focusing on keeping the whole room comfortable is the way to go. But if it's just you and another adult, then that could change your tactics - if a little heater blowing just on you kept on low will do the job, do that instead of keeping the whole room warm.
posted by lemniskate at 12:13 PM on November 7, 2010

A small heater directed toward you (presuming you're staying in one place) is likely to make you feel more comfortable and use less electric. If you're moving around the place then the baseboard heaters are likely to do a better job.

But do not rule out taking steps to better insulate the place. Find and seal ALL leaks (windows, doors, electrical outlets, etc). Put up insulated curtains (lots cheaper than a whopping electric bill). If you're on the top floor ask about (or check yourself) what the attic insulation is like. Just because it's an apartment doesn't mean you shouldn't take steps to avoid heat loss. You're the one paying the energy bill. If the place has it's own thermostat then make sure it's one that you can program. If not they're brain-dead simple to replace. Avoid having it heat the place when you're not around. That right there will save a bunch of money.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: Great points, kindall, Lady Li, pseudostrabismus, wkearney99, especially lemniskate, and thanks for the clarification Gungho!

It's a 3rd (top) level apartment in a concrete building. It's a high ceiling flat-top so virtually no insulation. Unless I replace the vertical venetians covering the wall-wall/wall-ceiling window/patio-door, there's no way to hang up more substantial curtains on the flimsy rails.

There are three analogue non-programmable manual thermostats - one for the bathroom, bedroom, and living room. I actually prefer sleeping cold, only turn on the bathroom right before showers, and use the living area baseboards at need only when I'm home; it takes a pretty long time to warm up the living area and when its really windy out, I can't make the inside heat break 20'C. If there's no real efficiency difference, I'll just stick with baseboards, then. I return home in the evening at unpredictable times so installing a programmable thermostat might not be worthwhile.

How effective are those blow-dry-on plastic sheets? Would they be cost effective to further insulate the (already) double-paned wall-window? How ugly are they, and how easy are they to remove?

Sounds like my best bet is to get a radiant heater as kindall mentioned or an electric blanket as pseudostrabismus did. I have a great pair of warm slippers, but I guess I just miss being able to be half-nekkid at home year-round. Or I could use it as an excuse to do more baking/slow cooking...
posted by porpoise at 2:06 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: If wind outside is taking your warmth away, find the leaks and seal them. The heat losses through the walls will vary with wind, of course, but not that much. You heat is leaking out somewhere. Can you feel drafts? Do you have a chimney? Block all cracks and holes, use draft-sealing strips on doors.

Modern well-made double-pane windows won't be much improved by plastic sheets. But if they're leaking air then sealing plastic sheets will help cut that out. I've never plastic sheets so no idea about looks or ease of removal.
posted by anadem at 4:47 PM on November 7, 2010

Think fleece. - fleece jacket, fleece pants and fleece socks, they are extremely comfortable and light. With flannel pants layered under fleece pants and I can work comfortably in 58-60 degree temp in an unheated basement.
posted by any major dude at 5:17 PM on November 7, 2010

That plastic sheeting is the best thing ever. It can be annoying to apply (protip: don't try to get it super duper tight, or it will inevitably pull off the window frame). I grew up in Alaska, where everyone swears by it. Like, the stores often literally sell out of it in late summer/early fall.

They are very ugly. But they remove really easily. (Too easily sometimes; see above note.)

Heat rises, so if you have high ceilings there's going to be a lot of heat hanging out up there. Where it won't be keeping you warm! That's when you want to use a fan to start some air circulation. Point the fan up towards the ceiling, if you can, to get that air circulating down to floor level.
posted by ErikaB at 5:55 PM on November 7, 2010

I use a clear plastic shower curtain on the windows I want to have really good visibility out of, and painters sheeting for the rest - you can pick the thickness you want. Some windows I can just use packing tape to go over the places where I feel cold air coming in. And don't just wear socks, wear shoes that get your feet off the cold floor. It helps a lot. Also, the heating pad idea, oh man, yes. I sit on heating pad in the living room, and I've got a heated mattress pad in the bedroom. Wonderful :)
posted by lemniskate at 6:01 PM on November 7, 2010

I have a Edenpure portable infrared heater, I can honestly say my electric bill has come down drastically using this instead of my electric furnace.
posted by sandyp at 6:30 PM on November 7, 2010

i just posted this in another thread. covering your windows with something like this would really help you.
posted by lester at 8:04 PM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all!

The window seems to be fine, the draft is coming from the stove hood vent and the automatic ceiling vent in the bathroom; they're straight pipes up to the roof. Seems like a lousy design.

I guess I just need to stop being a student and get a real job.
posted by porpoise at 7:10 AM on November 9, 2010

Those drafty vents should have dampers on them to avoid drafts. It's possible that these are stuck.
posted by kindall at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: Good call, kindall - but looking up the vent with a flashlight, I can't see a hinge along the diameter and it looks like, from the reflection from the mirrored window on the medical building across the street, the vents terminate in a mushroom cap so probably not a edge-hinged damper.

Lousy (cheap) design, I guess.
posted by porpoise at 6:40 PM on November 11, 2010

Wow, yeah, that seems a little crazy to me! But perhaps it's intended to provide a little airflow in an otherwise tightly-sealed building. Here in the Seattle area, all the houses have fans on timers to make sure mold doesn't grow. The house we bought this past summer actually has tiny vents built into certain windows to help with that. So it could be the same sort of thing.

You might be able to add a damper, though. I am not enough of a handyman to know.
posted by kindall at 7:47 AM on November 12, 2010

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