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Be Wary of Portable Heater Claims

Some portable heater claims may be too good to be true.

Are “miracle” heaters truly a miracle?

“It is difficult to open a newspaper these days without seeing advertisements for electric heaters that are purported to be new, ‘miracle’ heating sources capable of reducing energy costs by 50 percent,” says Carl Pedersen, North Dakota State University Extension Service energy educator. “Many people are asking if these portable heaters are truly a new type of heating and if they are worth the money.”

As for being a new technology, the simple answer is no, according to Pedersen. He says the technology these heaters use is nothing revolutionary or new. Any heater that plugs into a standard wall outlet can use only a maximum of about 1,500 watts of electricity, which will produce nearly 5,000 British thermal units (Btu) of heat (1 watt equals 3.4 Btu). Since all heaters use the same source of energy and only a limited amount of electrical energy is available, they will produce the same amount of heat.

“The only difference in the heat they provide comes from how the heat is created and the way that heat is distributed, not the amount,” Pedersen says.

The vast majority of electric heaters use infrared radiation (radiant) or convection to heat a space. Radiant heat provides warmth by heating the objects in front of the heater, just as a sunbeam heats whatever it touches. Radiant heat may be slightly more efficient because it can be used to heat only the objects in the line of sight of the heater, reducing the need to heat the entire room. The room temperature must be reduced to have a savings.

Convection heat relies on circulating heated air currents. Some models heat objects or liquids inside the heater that can retain the heat, reducing the need for cycling on and off. Air then is passed through the heater and the heat transfers to the air, which then is circulated throughout the room.

If you cannot see the heating element, it is convection heat regardless of the claims or how the heat is created, Pedersen says.

Whether the advertised heaters are worth the money depends on the person purchasing the heater.

“Radiant and convection space heaters can be found at any hardware store for a fraction of the hundreds of dollars of the advertised heaters and heat just as well,” Pedersen says. “Since some of the heaters come in decorative wooden boxes, homeowners need to determine if spending the money on appearance is worth it to them.”

The ads also have a common theme of huge savings potentials. While these claims are not untrue, they are at least misleading, Pedersen says. For example, many ads claim energy bill reductions of 50 percent.

“The only way they would be able to reduce heating bills by 50 percent is if homeowners used the space heater to heat the room they were in and turned down the thermostat for the home’s heating system dramatically,” Pedersen says.

According to the U. S. Department of Energy, homeowners can save up to 3 percent on their heating bill for each degree they lower their thermostat for a 24-hour period. So to achieve a 50 percent savings, homeowners would have to turn their thermostat down by 17 degrees for 24 hours a day.

Another company’s ad claims that its heater costs only 8 cents of electricity an hour to operate on the standard setting.

“While this may be true, if you add up the numbers, that would mean if the homeowner only ran the heater eight hours a day, it would cost $20 each month to add supplemental heat to that specific room,” Pedersen says. “Again the only way it would save homeowners money is if they turned their thermostat down in the rest of the house. Most homes do not have only one room that requires heat. So if you are deciding to purchase a ‘miracle’ space heater, try to remember the old adage, ‘If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.’ ”


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Carl Pedersen, (701) 231-5833, carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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