We’ve previously looked closely at energy savings during the winter. One question that lingers with our clients is whether or not to use a space heater in lieu of turning on central heat. With a cold house it can be tempting to crank up the thermostat, but is it better to only heat the area of your home that you are currently using?
Generally, using gas instead of electricity for your home is far less expensive. The average cost of running a gas heater varies so widely it doesn’t make sense to compare to that of an electric space heater. For this example, we will compare the cost of an electric heater with the cost of running an electric space heater. Running a 1,000-watt heater will cost you around 10 cents per hour to operate, where as central electric heating will cost you around 20 cents per hour. For your own heating device, you can use the US Department of Energy’s calculator here.
You must consider some other factors that could influence the effectiveness of your central heat: How warm is it outside? How efficient is your central heat? How well is your home insulated? Space heaters lose energy at a lesser rate than central heating, but there is more risk for accidents and fire hazards.
If you are turning off the heat in the whole house, it can cause your space heater to work harder to warm up a room. The most effective strategy would be to keep the central heat on a low temperature in the whole house and warm up the room you are in with a space heater. This doesn’t overwork the space heater and keeps a nice, even temperature throughout the rest of the home.
In short, every situation has several mitigating factors. All other things being equal (square footage, insulation quality in the home, outside temperature) it is actually less expensive to operate a small space heater. However, make sure you use it in an enclosed room, use it sparingly and lower the central heat rather than turning it completely off. Like many things in life, doing things in moderation will be most effective.