Space heaters and home automation help
October 12, 2013 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I have just put in a SmartThings home automation system, which is supercool. Unfortunately, our living room is also supercool - the heat there doesn't work well. I want to be able to turn on a space heater remotely and I need to figure out how to do it...

I want to turn the heater on automatically at 4am when it is below 60 degrees in that room. It is easy to program, the issue is the heater. Basically, it is very easy to find wall sockets/power cables that I can turn on or off remotely, but all of the space heaters I have seen that are meant for indoor use require an additional step after turning on the power - like pushing an "on" button. I want to trigger a heater directly from Smartthings. This means either:

1) A safe indoor heater that only has an on-off switch so that I can just cut and restore power to it
2) Some sort of home automation (z-wave, ZigBee, WiFi, whatever standard) friendly heater.

Any ideas of what might work for this?
posted by blahblahblah to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
I imagine this is more investment than you're looking to do, but we have a gas fireplace that we can control via ZigBee (Control4). I think space heaters are probably intentionally designed to be used only under supervision because they are a common cause of fires.
posted by primethyme at 9:31 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an older model of this parabolic space heaters which I did not like in part because it didn't have an on/off switch- you had to just unplug. At least one review still complains about that, so it probably meets your first criteria.

I wouldn't get this model if you have kids/pets who might move it close to something that could catch fire or might drop inflammable fabrics around in front of it, however.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2013

Does it have to interact with your SmartThings system? I have an oil-filled radiator space heater with digital controls (basically like this) that you can set to maintain a specific temperature.
posted by misskaz at 9:45 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also think the oil radiator style space heaters are safer to leave on when you're not around.
posted by misskaz at 9:46 AM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I'm understanding correctly, I think an oil radiant heater (e.g., those listed here) without digital controls may work for you: they typically have simple physical controls (like Off, On-Level 1, and On-Level 2), so you could leave it in an "On" position, and just supply or cut off power as needed. It looks like some have physically-controlled timers, but I don't think you necessarily need that.
posted by mean square error at 10:11 AM on October 12, 2013

Can you find a space heater with an internal thermostat and either no on/off switch or a mechanical one, and just use the outlet to turn it on during the correct time frame, assuming that the internal thermostat will make sure it doesn't get too hot?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:13 AM on October 12, 2013

Response by poster: Can you find a space heater with an internal thermostat and either no on/off switch or a mechanical one, and just use the outlet to turn it on during the correct time frame, assuming that the internal thermostat will make sure it doesn't get too hot?

That seems to be the best approach so far, do any of these exist?
posted by blahblahblah at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2013

This one might work, since it's not push button.
posted by pyro979 at 11:07 AM on October 12, 2013

Even if you find a way to make this technically feasible, I wouldn't recommend it.

Here is a Straight Dope discussion about the pros and cons of leaving space heaters unattended.

Some appliances need human supervision more than others. A space heater is not something I'd incorporate into a smart home setup.
posted by tel3path at 8:10 PM on October 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to concur that this just plain give me the heebie-jeebies. From a 2012 study by the National Fire Protection Association,

Stationary (fixed) and portable space heaters, excluding fireplaces, chimneys, and chimney connectors, but including wood stoves, accounted for one-third (32%) of reported 2006-2010 U.S. home heating fires, four out of five (80%) associated civilian deaths, two-thirds (67%) of associated civilian injuries, and half (52%) of associated direct property damage....

Relative to central heating units, space heaters have a risk per million effective user households that is seven times as high for reported fires, 51 times as high for civilian deaths, 33 times as high for civilian injuries, and 25 times as high for direct damage....

Among space heating equipment, risks are highest for electric-powered devices for all measures of loss except deaths, for which risks are similar for all four types of fuel or power. Portable electric devices have higher risk than fixed electric devices.

This is by the numbers. As a general rule, fire chiefs don't like you using them at all. I doubt any of them would be happy to find a space heater controlled by a remote power switch-off based on room temperature.

Here's another point -- I don't know the age of your house, but pretty much anything over 10 years old is going to be seriously out of modern code. It's not the heater itself, see, that necessarily starts the fire:

"With space heater fires and older wiring that uses fuse boxes, usually what has happened is that wiring INSIDE THE WALLS has started a fire."

I have experience with this, as my dad -- who is now in the late stages of dementia -- had very recklessly heated a cold interior space (partly over the garage) using an oil-filled heater that he left on 24/7. Yes, this started an electrical fire, but not in the heater, rather in the electrical box into which it was plugged. By sheer luck that box was not actually within the plaster and lath wall, and the fire was basically confined to the box itself. It never ignited into flames, but blackened the entire interior of the box (and the whole house smelled of electrical smoke for days). So there's that.

My alternative recommendation for your cold room problem is a mini-split. They're quite flexible and in general are going to be a lot safer than any portable space heater. I don't know if it will work into your home-control scheme, but many of them will be controllable by a high-tech thermostat such as the Nest.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Guys, thanks for the warning. I feel properly concerned enough to put off this plan for now (we have been using a space heater under safe conditions for awhile, but the electrical overload fire was something I hadn't considered.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:16 PM on October 13, 2013

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