If you are currently heating your home with oil or natural gas, you may be looking for methods to save a few energy dollars each month. Rising energy costs have many homeowners rushing out to purchase supplemental electric heaters in the belief that lowering the thermostat and using an infrared, ceramic, or quartz heater in certain rooms will save money. Will it? And if so, would an infrared heater outperform a ceramic or quartz heater?
How They Work
All types of electric space heaters convert electrical energy into heat. Ceramic and quartz heaters distribute their heat by convection, which heats the air and circulates it around the room. Infrared heaters transfer thermal energy via electromagnetic waves, which are absorbed by people and objects in their path, creating warmth.
Infrared space heaters for the home emit long-wave infrared radiation, which strikes a solid nearby object and converts that radiation into heat. Infrared is not absorbed by the air through which it travels. With infrared heating, the warmth is directed and concentrated where it is really needed, so infrared heaters are better at targeted or focused heating. Infrared heaters are energy efficient, have no moving parts, heat very quickly, are silent, and are unaffected by drafts.
If you are sitting in one spot for a length of time, an infrared heater aimed in your direction will be a good choice.
Quartz and Ceramic Heaters
Convection heaters use electricity to warm a metal coil, a quartz tube, or a ceramic core. The air near the heater is warmed in the process and, using either natural or fan-induced convection currents, circulated throughout the room. Quartz and ceramic elements are reputed to reach higher temperatures with less input energy than their metal-coil counterparts and are thus said to be more efficient.
They work well for providing overall warmth in a (small) closed space. In all models, the warmed air circulates into the room, raising the ambient temperature to the point established by the thermostat, and then shutting off until the temperature drops.
If you are moving around in a room, or if there are several people in the room, a quartz or ceramic convection heater will be a good choice.
Are They Safe?
Space heaters, both infrared and convection, are very safe when used according to the manufacturer's guidelines. Most have safety features built in to protect against common dangers, such as overheating or tipping over. Still, they should never be left running if the homeowner is away, should never be connected to an extension cord, and should be used only in rooms equipped with smoke detectors. Always look for a heater bearing a stamp of approval from an independent testing company such as Underwriters Laboratories.
What About Those High-Efficiency Claims?
Some manufacturers claim that users of their product can cut their heating bills in half. Yes, but you'll be extremely cold in any room where the heater isn't being used. You should always be wary of exaggerated claims from space heater manufacturers that claim extraordinary savings from their product. Do some research. Some heaters are definitely more efficient than others, but none can overcome the laws of physics.
You cannot save money using an electric space heater unless you turn your central heating system down by many degrees and use a space heater to warm just a small area.
Expect prices for portable space heaters to vary considerably, depending upon features and construction. Expect to pay more for well-designed, efficient heaters and those loaded with features. Whether you pay tens of dollars or hundreds of dollars for a space heater, if it uses 1,500 watts, you will get the same amount of heat, and you will pay the same cost per hour of use. No magic there.
How to Calculate Your Energy Cost
You can use this formula to estimate a space heater's energy use:
Wattage of Heater × Hours Used Per Day ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-Hour (kWh) Consumption
Look on your electric bill to determine the cost per kilowatt hour in your area. Often there are different rates for on-peak and off-peak hours. Also remember that heaters equipped with thermostats may cycle off during part of the time.
For example: Your infrared, quartz or ceramic space heater has two settings: 750 watts and 1500 watts. You choose the higher setting and fire it up for five hours in the afternoon:
1500 watts x 5 hours per day usage ÷ 1000 = 7.5 kilowatt hours of electricity used. If your rate is eight cents per kilowatt hour, then 7.5 x .08 = .60 (60 cents for 5 hours, or 12 cents per hour). Hint: Natural gas is far less expensive.
You can save money on winter heating bills, but don't expect miracles using an infrared, quartz, or ceramic heater.