Safe furnace options

As the autumn season gets underway, many of us return to our indoor heat after a period of dormancy since early spring.  For most, this means utilizing a central furnace of some kind, whether it’s in a fan-forced system with ductwork or a radiant hydronic system with a gas boiler.  Others turn to burning wood or oil to keep their homes warm.  

Portable heaters are another option.  Whether you live without central heat or need a supplement in places with poor central heating, space heaters are a common component in the winter toolbox.  Some are built in small and compact designs while others are larger, with a few modelled after real fireplaces. No matter what your budget is this winter season, there is a wide range of choices for portable space heaters.

Unfortunately, not all space heaters are made equally.  Some feature different heating elements, safety features, digital and remote controls, and energy efficiency ratings.  Comparing electricity usage in watts and heat production in BTUs is important as well, since some machines may vary widely in price, yet have near equal heat production in the specifications.  

This is just a handful of various space heaters available at most large department stores:

Fan-forced Heaters

Fan-forced style space heaters utilize a built-in fan that pushes air over a hot heating element, in the same manner as a hair dryer.  Since many of the smaller models utilize the same style of heating element found in many off the shelf hair dryers, heaters like the Pelonis HF-1008B are extremely affordable at $22 while still packing a walloping 1500 watt high-heat setting.  It can be utilized as a fan with the element turned off. This unit also features a safety button on the bottom that acts as a kill switch if the heater is tipped over in anyway.  This additional safety feature is absent on many larger and pricier space heaters.

There are also fan-forced heaters with oscillating fans like the Lasko Ultra Slim Electric Tower Heater that warm larger areas at a slightly higher price just under $40.  Although small, this heater offers 1,500 watts of heat with additional overheat protection to prevent fires.  Unlike the Pelonis, this Lasko does not feature a tip-over safety switch.

For industrial applications, heaters like the NewAir Garage Heater pack a massive 5600 watts of heating power for quickly warming uninsulated garages, workshops, and warehouses.  This particular unit has a variable thermostat with a range of 45 to 95 degrees, and measures in at just over 19,000 BTUs.  

Ceramic Heaters

What sets these particular heaters apart is instead of a metal rod or wire heating element, these machines utilize a heating element made from ceramic.  One huge advantage is that a small ceramic element can pack a serious punch in heating power, so now it’s possible to create tiny desk-sized space heaters like the Lasko My Heat Personal Electric Heater.  Often found below $20 retail, this small heater only utilizes 200 watts of energy-efficient power and is perfect in an office cubicle or home study.   

The Lasko Digital Ceramic Heater is great for heating full rooms, offering 1500 watts of cozy warmth.  It also has additional safety features like an 8-hour auto-off timer and a self-regulating element that shuts down the system if it detects overheating.  Its plastic shell stays cool to the touch, preventing accidental burns while handling the device.

Radiant Heaters

Radiant space heaters utilize exceptionally hot heating elements that are directionally focused with metal reflectors in the device.  The intense heat is refracted off the reflective metal, focusing it outward from the device. The closer you are to the radiant heater, the more heat you feel.  Some are unidirectional while others allow manual adjustments 

Radiant heaters are popular in part because of how effective and fast they heat single rooms or small living spaces.  The Mainstays Quartz Electric Tower Space Heater features a heating element made from quartz and easy temperature controls.  For larger spaces, traditional oil forced radiator style heaters like the Mainstays Oil Filled Electric Radiant Heater are fast and effective and also feature castors for easy mobility.

Infrared Heaters

Infrared space heaters are some of the most unique machines on the market.  They are extremely energy efficient with almost no heat loss, heating only the objects in the room and not the air itself.  This process is comparable to warmth felt from sunlight, as the infrared rays warm my skin instead of making the air around my skin warm, like a fan-forced furnace.  Another advantage of infrared space heaters is that since they’re not moving air around and heating it like a fan-forced furnace, they’re also not drying out the air excessively as well.  And because the heating elements do not need to reach the same high temperatures for comparable heating quality, they’re safer than many other styles of portable heaters.

Affordable units like the Costway Infrared Electric Quartz Heater have a near identical design to some radiant style space heaters.  The maximum room size for efficient heating is 160 square feet, making it ideal for bedrooms and bathrooms.  It has two heat settings: low heat which draws 600 watts and high heat which draws 1200 watts. This unit also features a safety tip-over switch like some of the other devices.

On the high end of portable heating devices, the Duraflame Portable Electric Infrared Quartz Heater comes in an elegant stained wood enclosure.  This 5,200 BTU heater features a digital thermostat, remote control, and built in timer.  The Duraflame can warm spaces up to 1,000 square feet, making it effective for apartments, condominiums, and small houses.  

It also comes with a safety plug feature that monitors the temperature of the electrical plug while running.  If the electrical outlet becomes hot during use, the machine will shut down. This adds another layer of fire protection during regular use.

Conclusion

Regardless of one’s budget or the size of the heating area, there are numerous options for space heaters.   Several have noticeably safer features than others, which cannot be overstated. Unfortunate people with good intentions have burnt down homes by improperly using a random store-bought space heater.  Always consult with a heating and cooling expert if you plan on using a space heater in your home, especially if you intend to on a regular basis. An experienced HVAC technician will ensure you’re using the right electrical outlet and that you have the device setup in a safe location in your home away from flammable materials.  

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