Before central and electric heating, people had to rise before the break of dawn to chop wood and light a fire to warm the family, cook food, and bathe. Today, we’re all quite fortunate to be liberated from such time-consuming labor thanks to two main forms of modern heating, central heating and space heaters. Here, we will discuss the pros and cons of each to help you decide if space heaters are better than central heating for your home and family this coming winter.
Table of Contents
- How Efficient is Central Heating?
- How Efficient are Space Heaters?
- Space Heater or Central Heating
- When is Central Heat a Better Choice?
- When is a Space Heater a Better Choice?
- Other Considerations
- The Right Heating System Depends on Your Situation
How Efficient is Central Heating?
Proper insulation and sealing are the most important factors in determining how efficient a central heating system can be. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, roughly 50% of the average household’s monthly energy expenditure is used to pay for central heating and air, and much of that money spent on heating and cooling is wasted due to insufficient insulation. Because of this, insulation can greatly impact any form of heating’s efficiency.
After that, efficiency is determined by the kind of power used to generate the heat. Natural gas and electricity are the most common energy sources, though coal is still used in some parts of the country to heat homes as well. Each offers varying levels of efficiency.
Electricity is among the most expensive and least efficient forms of energy used for central heating thanks to how 70% of the energy required to produce it is wasted. Further losses occur transmitting it from a power plant to your home. This is offset by the ease of using it and its relative safety compared to other options.
Gas-powered heating systems are significantly more efficient and affordable than electric alternatives, attaining efficiencies as high as 85-97%. Despite this, many people are not comfortable with using explosive gas to heat their homes, so they’re willing pay what is essentially a safety tax by going all-electric.
How Efficient are Space Heaters?
The efficiency of space heaters, like that of central heating units, is dependent on insulation and sealing. However, the heat space heaters generate is easy to contain within the confines of a small space, making space heaters significantly more efficient for heating small areas than central heating. This can be done, for example, simply by closing a bedroom door.
All space heaters require users to exercise more caution than that required by centralized systems. For example, most small heaters are designed to shut off automatically if tipped over, but this cannot be relied on to work properly every single time, meaning there’s always a possibility of accidental fires.
Modern space heaters benefit from technological advancements that make them more eco-friendly and energy-efficient than older models. They may utilize convection heating to warm the air around the heater, making them less prone to starting fires. Best of all, these units are generally around the same price as other types of small heaters, so you don’t have to pay a premium to enjoy their benefits.
Because they can draw as much as 1500 watts of electricity, users are advised to never use space heaters with extension cords or power strips, as this can place an extensive burden on a single outlet that increases the chance of malfunctions and fires. If an extension cord must be used, first consult an electrician to ensure the safety of your family and property.
Space Heater or Central Heating
Many people turn to space heaters intending to save money. While one space heater will use less electricity to heat the same volume of space as a central heating unit, they are not ideal for every circumstance.
The typical advice is to only use a space heater as a replacement for central heating when you have only one or two small spaces to heat. During the deep cold of winter, few space heaters can keep up with the sheer power of a central heating unit for heating a large room. Heating even a small home completely with one or even two small heaters is usually not possible in locations where freezing temperatures are common.
Where a central unit will heat a home to the desired temperature and then shut off, a space heater that is not sufficiently powerful for the size of a given space will run ceaselessly trying to keep up, which can lead to overheating and unit failure, and may pose a fire hazard. For this reason, space heaters are best used either to complement existing central heating units or in well-insulated spaces of limited size.
When is Central Heat a Better Choice?
Central heating offers many advantages in certain conditions. Those who live in areas where sub-zero temperatures are common, people with large homes and large spaces to heat, and those whose homes lack outlets with sufficient power are not advised to use space heaters. If any of these cautions apply to you, stick with central heating.
Pros of Using Central Heat
Central heat is easy to use, and generally much safer than space heaters. Vents can be opened and closed at the user’s leisure and service professionals are generally able to respond to problems in as little as 30 minutes. For large homes with equally large families, there is no substitute for a central heating unit.
Cons of Using Central Heat
Those who live in very small homes may not need a central heater to warm the entire building. Central heating can break down, and occasionally will. If a central heating unit fails, it could cost thousands of dollars to bring it back online. Also, portable units can be placed almost anywhere you need extra warmth, while the vents of a central unit cannot be repositioned at all, limiting their flexibility and usefulness.
Central Heat Installation
Installing central heating systems is a major undertaking that usually requires professional help, and the required equipment will cost thousands of dollars. This installation will have to be carefully and properly planned and executed, including placing the main unit and/or water heater in a functional yet out of the way location. Specialized tools will be needed, and you can expect much of the structure of your living space to be partially dismantled and disrupted during the process.
Central Heat Costs
The average price range for a central heating unit is usually between $2,000 and $5,000 for DIY installers, though homes smaller or larger than average will naturally fall somewhere outside this range. Homeowners who choose to work with a contracting service can expect to pay an additional $1,000 to $2,000. The extra investment can be well worth the price, however, since contractors provide guarantees and stand behind their work. Compare this to a DIY installer, who must either fix problems themselves or hire outside help if they run into problems.
Central Heat Maintenance
Taking care of a central heating unit is straightforward for the most part. Usually, the owner will only need to replace filters and monitor the performance of the thermostat. Ductwork and vents must be checked once a year. Dust and soot will need to be cleaned away from the combustion chamber, and the blower will need to be cleaned and inspected at least every three years. If and when the main unit requires more in-depth attention, you’re best procuring the services of a professional to protect your investment.
Central Heat Safety
Over time, especially during the demanding winter months, heating safety can become an issue, so you’ll want to do everything you can to maximize safety. Replace dirty filters, clean ducts and vents, and keep the area around the combustion chamber clear will be your top priorities. Also, a comprehensive safety inspection should be conducted by a professional no less than every three years. These simple precautions could save you thousands of dollars in repairs later on, and enhance your safety when using central heating.
When is a Space Heater a Better Choice?
The best space heaters offer portability, ease of care, and are readily available and inexpensive. This makes them superior to central heating systems when you need a quick and affordable way of heating small, well-insulated areas.
Using a space heater comes with a few concerns, such as safety and reliability. However, if you invest in a quality space heater and follow all of the safety instructions, it can serve you well for years.
Pros of Using a Space Heater
The portability and ease of use space heaters provide is unmatched by central units. In the right location, a space heater can save you time, money, and give you great peace of mind knowing that you can easily replace it, or even repair it, should the need arise.
Cons of Using Space Heater
The main drawbacks of space heaters include their inability to heat large spaces and their associated safety concerns. Pets or small children can burn themselves on a space heater, especially if left unsupervised. Spilled liquids can short out units, and non-electric units can spew out dangerous amounts of toxic fumes. Since they’re rarely powerful enough to meet all of your heating needs in large spaces during frigid winter conditions, they’re sadly not perfect for every situation.
Space Heater Installation
Installing a space heater is usually very simple–simply place them in a suitable location, plug them in, and turn them on. Your primary concern will be whether or not the unit will be adequate for the space you intend to heat.
Also, make sure your power outlets are capable of providing the required amount of electricity. If your heater exceeds the power capacity of the outlet and circuit, you run the risk of everything from tripping the breaker to creating potential fire hazards. These concerns mean that if you have any concerns about your building’s wiring, you should consult an electrician before utilizing a space heater in an indoor space.
Space Heater Costs
The average space heater will cost between $30 and $100, though some can cost upwards of $400. The more expensive infrared units can cost hundreds of dollars, but they also do an outstanding job of heating medium-sized spaces and sometimes even multiple rooms, making them well worth the investment.
Finding the cost of running a space heater takes a bit of figuring. A 1500 watt heater running for 24 hours will cost between $4 and $9 a day on average. Multiply that out over thirty days, and you can easily compare it to your usual central heating costs.
Space Heater Maintenance
The best space heaters are easy to keep clean and provide access to interior electronic components for inspection/replacement. These should be checked periodically for signs of heat damage and wear. If you see or smell carbon, your heater either needs to be replaced or repaired. Most of the time, with a reputable brand, you will only need to ensure the heating elements and nearby surfaces are clean and clear of dust. Aside from this, your space heater should not need any additional care or maintenance.
Space Heater Safety
There are a number of space heater safety considerations to keep in mind. Those with exposed heating elements should not be operated around small children and animals due to the risk of severe burns. Always keep the unit away from water and flammable materials to avoid the risk of electrical shocks and explosions, and never leave a space heater running unattended.
Aside from these basic concerns, keeping your heater dust-free and checking the electronics for wear or signs of burning carbon will be your only safety concerns.
Tips for Using Your Space Heater
If you don’t know how to use your space heater properly, you can end up wasting a lot of energy and money. Here are some tips to get the most out of your space heater and furnace:
- Purchase an energy-efficient and portable ceramic space heater one for maximum savings
- When using it, turn down the thermostat. You will increase your bills if you are using the space heater and another heating source
- Dress adequately. You may not need to crank up the heat at all if you wear more layers
Whether you intend to invest in central heating, space heaters — or both – it is always best to go with a reputable brand with a long track record of good customer service and reliability. New manufacturers enter the market each year, but many of them lack the experience and the dedication to produce reliable products. Read reviews and ask owners about their experiences to get an idea of what you can expect from any particular brand or model.
Tips to Save Money on Heating Costs
Whether you choose to go with a space heater or central heating for your home, there are some general tips to know to keep your system running more efficiently and keep your cost low. You first want to make sure that you have the right size unit for the room—most models will specify the space of the room. It can also be helpful to look for power-saving features such as a timer and a thermostat.
Monitor the heating system throughout the year and follow an upkeep schedule, even when you aren’t using it. Clean and replace filters, remove any corrosion or dirt from the system, and make sure heating pipes and ducts are sealed. This will help ensure that your space heater runs well and reduces the chances of it breaking down.
The Right Heating System Depends on Your Situation
There is no single, ideal heating configuration sure to work best in all homes for all seasons. You’ll need to carefully consider your needs to work out what types and combinations of heating appliances will work best for your home and the people living in it. Look for well-reviewed products from reputable brands, ensure they’re compatible with your home’s wiring, and make sure you follow all safety recommendations when operating them. Doing so will allow you to heat your home in the most efficient way possible given your circumstances, whether you use a space heater or central heating.