Are quartz heaters just hype eaters?
January 20, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Do these newfangled quartz infared "Amish" space heaters actually do anything new and better? Or is it all just hype?

I have an apartment with a gas heater in the main room--but the heat doesn't quite reach the bedroom very well, and I don't want to heat the whole apartment on high all night just to get ineffective heat in the bedroom. So I want to buy a little heater for the night, but I've heard conflicting reports on these quartz heaters. Some say they're more cost effective than gas and they're the most efficient ever, using less electricity than a coffee maker, but other say that they heat a room about as much as a coffee maker heats your kitchen and they're expensive to run.

Where can I find a scientific, balanced, and educated evaluation of their effectiveness as compared with other types of heating?

Oh, and what is the association with Amish? I don't get that at all.
posted by brenton to Technology (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, they don't do anything that can't be done as well by a much less expensive heater.

Their primary feature is that the heat source (a halogen lamp) is hidden deep inside a box and that the exterior of the heater doesn't get very hot. Not a feature that's worth the price.

Suggest an electric blanked for the bedroom; there's no reason at all to heat up the whole room.
posted by kindall at 12:07 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and what is the association with Amish? I don't get that at all.

I believe the wood mantel surrounding the actual heater is made by some (supposedly) Amish workshop somewhere. "Amish" seems to be a pretty loose term anymore, seeing as how we have "Amish" construction crews around here that travel around in crew vans, use power tools, etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:15 PM on January 20, 2012

"Amish" seems to be a pretty loose term anymore, seeing as how we have "Amish" construction crews around here that travel around in crew vans, use power tools, etc.

There are different Amish sects. Not all Amish refuse to drive cars, and even the ones who won't drive a car will ride in one if a non-Amish person is driving; some people in Amish country run businesses driving the Amish around. Also, the Amish are not opposed to powered items and many use batteries to, say, run milking machines. Perhaps these power tools also run on batteries. What they are generally opposed to is being hooked up to the electrical grid.
posted by not that girl at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think the only thing differentiating those heaters from a regular quartz heater is the way they look. I think the "Amish" connection is meant to imply some kind of old-fashioned "hand-crafted", "built-to-last" kind of connotation, so it seemed fancier than "we just put a space heater in a pretty-looking box."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's a good post on the "Amish" heaters, and exactly what makes them "Amish". (spoiler: not much)
posted by epj at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2012

I am going to strongly second getting an electric blanket, presumably the item you want to keep warm in your bedroom is yourself, and you can do that MUCH more efficiently with an electric blanket.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:35 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Slight derail: there's an interesting short documentary on the Amish on Netflix (at least, in Canada). It's fairly old, but it explains the "how can Amish people use power tools?!" dilemma quite well.
posted by AmandaA at 12:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

They're calling them Amish now? That's funny.

Unlike gas heaters which vary considerably in their efficiency depending on how well they extract heat from exhaust gasses before sending them out of the building, electric heaters are all virtually 100% efficient. You can't beat 100%, so any simple claim that one electric heater is more efficient than another is bunk. Some designs may be more suited to certain situations, e.g. radiant heat in a place that's only occasionally occupied for short periods of time, and some designs may be more pleasant (quieter, less breezy), but they all convert all the electricity that reaches them into heat, and the price of electricity per unit of heat remains the same.

So yes, there's a lot of hype here, but such a heater might work fine for your situation and might be cheaper to run than it would be to heat the whole place. If saving money is the priority, you'd probably be just as happy with a cheaper, less decorative electric heater.

More reading, via epj's linked post.
posted by jon1270 at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2012

yeah, the LA Times says the mantles are Amish-made. the heaters, not so much.
also these women are sure not Amish
posted by changeling at 12:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Second'ing jon1270 above. All electric heaters are perfectly efficient, but that doesn't mean they're cheaper per btu than other heat sources. (Also note that when discussing heating/cooling, you can get above 100% "efficiency" with a heat pump. The term is wrong, but that's how HVAC people sometimes talk. To clarify: you can make a larger degrees-per-watt difference in your house with a heat pump than you can with an electric heater, sometimes up to 4 times larger difference, depending on the outside temperature.)
posted by introp at 12:58 PM on January 20, 2012

I keep my heat down at fifty five at night. I layer blankets with a heating blanket in the middle like jam in a sandwich. You stay warm, and the heat from the heating blanket does not escape into the air as it would if it was the top blanket, but it isn't too hot like it would be if it was the blanket next to your body.
posted by winna at 1:06 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What you need to know is the BTU, and the rough square footage of your room. Remember that the numbers they give you are a bit on the exaggerated side, I wouldn't trust a 50,000 BTU heater to do more than 800 square feet myself.

An electric heater is an electric heater, those give you the same output per watt as anything else. (Unless I'm gravely misunderstanding something here.)

Side note, I'd be uncomfortable running an electric heater that I wasn't watching. Way too many fires are caused by unattended heaters, and if you're asleep the thing is officially unattended.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:01 PM on January 20, 2012

I am going to strongly second getting an electric blanket

Better yet, an electric mattress pad. Heat goes up, right? Why let half of it rise from the side you're not using? Also, it's my impression that they suffer less abuse than a blanket and will thus last longer before becoming inoperative or creating a risk of low-voltage shock (which is something that happened to me at least once as a kid).

As for space heaters, the ones I like are the oil-filled ones that look like wheeled radiators. If you can't get a room warm with your existing installed HVAC, this is ideal. I'm told that generally, it's not saving you much money to replace gas heat with one of these, unless you really manage to close off a lot of the house.

As Stagger Lee notes, safety is a concern with unattended space heaters. Even a "safe" oil-filled one can eventually wear out and/or overheat its cord or receptacle if used continuously.
posted by dhartung at 2:36 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Electric blankets are great, but maybe the OP wants the air to be warm in the morning to make it less unpleasant getting up to go to the bathroom/kick off the covers/sit up and read for a while.

We have an oil-filled radiator for our unheated laundry room. For a small room, it's terrific and pretty efficient.
posted by elizeh at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2012

Yeah, dhartung beat me to it, but I've got to agreed that the solution is an electric mattress pad, even more than an electric blanket --- but either one would be better than a space heater.

A space heater heats --- surprise! --- space, including all the airspace in your bedroom: kind of wasteful while you're in your bed. An electric blanket focuses its heat on the bed, but since heat *rises*, and the blanket is ON TOP of you, again (some of the) heat is wasted. But an electric mattress pad is below you, so the heat rises TO you, plus the blankets on top of it & you act as a bit of insulation, and help to keep that heat in.

I've got a coldish bedroom too, and have happily used a mattress pad for a while now: very cozy!
posted by easily confused at 3:55 PM on January 20, 2012

Best answer: All electric heaters are already basically 100% efficient, in that all the electricity you purchase and put in them is released as heat in your home (or becomes heat, such as sound and light). So no electric heater can get you more heat for less money than any other electric heater. The only difference that heater design can makes is the area in which the heat is released.

The only way to get more than 100% efficiency is with a heat pump or air conditioner - a system that uses the electricity to transport heat from one section of the device to another, and can thus be used to transport ambient heat energy from outside an area and move it into the area to be warmed.

The amish heater just converts electricity into heat, so the amount of electricity it draws is exactly the same as the amount of heat it outputs and exactly the same as the amount of money it costs, same as any other heater.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:43 PM on January 20, 2012

Best answer: They're not newfangled - or at least, only the "Amish" part is newfangled. Quartz heaters date back to around the 50s, or at least my parents had one that old sitting around. I very much doubt that these machines are much different from the ones you got back then. It's not a complicated design.
posted by Strudel at 7:06 AM on January 21, 2012

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