Understanding space heaters?
November 9, 2013 2:20 PM   Subscribe

We have a large (~500 sq ft) family room which is not connected to our central heat. We'd like to use a space heater (maybe 2 *) to heat it in the winter. What's the difference between the cheap little ones and the more expensive ones?

Looking at space heaters on a home improvement site, we can spend $20 or we can spend $200 or more. In many cases these are the exact same watts. The more expensive ones are rated for larger areas--but I am not sure why 1500W heats a bigger area when it's coming out of a cabinet instead of a small plastic box with a handle.

Is there some nuance I'm missing here? I don't mind spending $100 if we're getting something for the money, but not if that is basically $80 for a pretty exterior.

Any general advice on space heaters is also welcomed.

(* We have a Lasko unit that has taken to getting hot and shutting down pretty much every time it's turned on. Cleaning the filter nearly every day helps, but it's a little inconvenient. I'm toying with the idea of getting another dinky little unit and using both of them, if that doesn't trip the breaker. If there's a way to make the Lasko less finicky (safely!), that would be nice.)
posted by mattu to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would guess a lot of the difference is in the quality of the fans rather than the heating elements. A bigger fan can turn more slowly and be quieter while still moving a lot of air.
posted by jon1270 at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's related to the efficacy of different heating tech. Like "infrared quartz" supposedly give more bang for your buck than an oil radiator.
posted by feets at 2:37 PM on November 9, 2013

This recent askme thread has some interesting information about the efficiency of space heaters. - In particular you should note that engineering "efficiency" and practical "effectiveness" (does it make you feel warm) are not always the same. All (say) 2Kw heaters will be equally efficient - but the cheaper ones might not be so good at getting the heat out there.
posted by rongorongo at 2:51 PM on November 9, 2013

What kind of heater you get should depend on how you use the room. Do you need it heated all the time, or do you need it heated quickly and for somewhat shorter periods? Does the room need to be warm, or do the people in it? Will the people in the room be in one area most of the time? For example. To keep my son's room warm all night, I use a radiator-type space heater. It takes a while to warm the room, but it keeps it comfortable over several hours til morning, when we turn it off again til evening. (not to mention, I feel like it's safer than something with a more exposed element.)

In the basement, when we're spending a few hours at a time and there are two of us doing different things in a relatively large room, we use an oscillating space heater with a fan and a ceramic element. It provides instant heat for as long as we want it. Though I've had a vornado heater in the past and really liked it; when/if the space heater we have in the basement breaks, that's what we'll get again. They're very good for warming a fairly good sized space and maintaining a consistent temperature.
posted by lemniskate at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the wattage is the same (most are ~1000W) then the only difference is how much money is left in your wallet and possibly fan strength. Cheap heater + $10 box fan is much better than $100 heater in that regard.

Make sure you have two separate electrical circuits, because you can't run them both off the same breaker. Preferably also different circuits than any TVs or game consoles.
posted by flimflam at 4:29 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

flimflam has got it. wattage is power, and power is energy per unit of time, and a small 1500W unit with the element and fan puts out the same energy as the bigger oiltank.

one metric to consider is fire safety if you're going to be leaving it unsupervised. i had one of the small units catch fire on my law office desk once. it was fully engulfed by the time i got it out of the building, dangling by its cord, and i dropped it into the city's wire mesh garbage can on the sidewalk right in front of a cop, sitting in his car. he didn't do anything.
posted by bruce at 6:08 PM on November 9, 2013

In my experience the most effective - and safest - space heaters are the ones that are essentially portable radiators, with heated water in a coil.
posted by amaire at 6:16 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The more expensive ones can have built in thermostats and even timers to keep the room at a certain temperature. The cheap ones will be on low high off. Right now I'm running a cheap one and expensive one I got for what seemed like a good deal on Yelp. I really appreciate how light and portable (and store able) the cheap one is. So far I'm enjoying the temperature moderation of the more expensive one too, it doesn't get too hot and then too cold. But i don't think I would have paid anywhere close to $200, or even $100, for it.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:44 PM on November 10, 2013

Response by poster: Fire safety is a concern. We'll be in the room 90% of the time, but I don't want to gamble on something bursting into flames in the other 10%.

We'll try getting a better fan for the Lasko first. We may just get a Voronado if that doesn't cut it.

Thanks everyone.
posted by mattu at 4:25 PM on November 10, 2013

Response by poster: For the archives--

We ended up taking apart our current Lasko unit (a little tricky to actually get it open). Inside near the heater element was a radiator with fins that were totally choked with dust. We cleaned out those fins and the heater works much, much better. The built in fan does its job better and we don't have to clean the filter constantly. The need for a second heater is considerably diminished.
posted by mattu at 6:28 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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