Friday, January 11, 2013

Tips for buying & using portable electric space heaters

Fergus Falls, MN – Many people use supplemental heaters to add comfort to selected areas in their homes rather than raise overall indoor temperatures. To help ensure efficiency and safety, Otter Tail Power Company offers these tips for buying and using portable electric space heaters.

  • Don't fall for claims of added efficiency on overpriced electric space heaters. “All electric space heaters operate at 100 percent efficiency. Because they convert all of the electricity they use to heat, they all are equally efficient. So, don’t fall victim to a scam,” says Theresa Drexler, Senior Market Planning Specialist at Otter Tail Power Company. “Electric room heaters that sell for several hundred dollars are not more energy efficient. Portable heaters of equal wattage will cost the same to operate whether the unit’s purchase price is $40 or $400.”
  • The only feature of an electric heater that affects the amount of heat the unit can generate is wattage. “A 1,000-watt heater uses 1 kilowatt-hour per hour of operation no matter what type of heater it is,” says Drexler. She adds that heat pumps are the only option that can claim greater efficiency because these units capture free heat from the environment. “Remember, to best manage your costs, operate the lowest total wattage possible to keep you comfortable,” she says.
Low-wattage radiant heaters, some rated at just a few hundred watts, also are available for supplemental heat in small spaces such as office workstations. While still hot to the touch, these units do not have fans so they heat only directly in front of them.
  • The type of heater you choose can help you feel more comfortable. “For example, an electric heater that distributes warmth from a greater surface area, such as a portable baseboard or a radiator-shaped heater, can increase comfort by distributing heat more evenly,” Drexler says. “A small fan-forced heater of the same wattage will produce the same amount of heat but at a higher intensity and be more localized. But either will heat your room.”
  • Select a portable electric heater that has a thermostat so it doesn't run all the time. “A unit with a thermostat can help maintain a constant temperature and not overheat an area. If using a heater without a thermostat, consider operating it on a timer to avoid wasting energy,” says Drexler.
“A thermostat also may help avoid safety issues should the heater be left on when no one is home or attending it,” adds Otter Tail Power Company Safety Services Manager Eric Hamm, who offers this additional safety advice.
  • Select the proper wattage for a portable electric space heater so it doesn’t overload your electrical wiring and create a fire safety issue. “Portable electric heaters come in a variety of wattages. The most common are 1,000-watt and 1,500-watt units, and some have low, medium, and high settings. Don’t be tempted to buy a higher-wattage unit because of the additional heat it can deliver unless you know you have adequate capacity in your home wiring,” says Hamm. “The smaller the wattage the less likely it will overload your wiring.”
    • One sign of an overloaded circuit is blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.
    • If the outlet, or the wall surrounding it, becomes warm after the heater has operated for a while, the wiring is overloaded. Discontinue using that outlet for your heater or consider a lower-wattage heater.
    • Do not plug your heater into an electrical circuit that has several other items already served on it.
  • Look for a portable electric heater that automatically shuts off if tipped over and that has protective casing over the heating element to avoid the potential for burns.
  • Keep portable electric space heaters away from flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, newspapers, etc.
  • Make sure that the outlet where you plug in your portable electric space heater is tight fitting.
  • Never use a portable electric space heater or any electric appliance near wet areas such as bathtubs and sinks.
  • Avoid using an extension cord but, if one is needed, be sure it has at least 12-gauge wire.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure a portable electric space heater is UL labeled.
If you have questions about electrical safety, energy conservation, energy prices, or about how an electric space heater might affect your electric service bill, call Otter Tail Power Company’s Idea Center at 800-493-3299. Also check our web page:
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Otter Tail Power Company, a subsidiary of Otter Tail Corporation (NASDAQ Global Select Market: OTTR), is headquartered in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. It provides electricity and energy services to more than a quarter million people in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. To learn more about Otter Tail Power Company visit To learn more about Otter Tail Corporation visit