The Wonderful World of Space Heaters

by Matt Goering

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Space heaters are a great, cost effective solution if you've got a workshop, room, or cabin that would otherwise sit cold and unused. Of course, these handy units aren't without their disadvantages either. Before you shop around for one, it's important that you educate yourself on the styles available to you and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Style, Style, Style
The standard, no frills, stand-alone unit is far and away the most popular homeowner purchase. If you're looking for a heater that you can easily move from room to room to meet your basic heating needs, you can't beat these practical models. But don't let that color your view of these heaters as a whole. There are electric heaters out there built to look like wood burning stoves that can serve as a beautiful centerpiece to any living room. And the increasingly popular ventless gas fireplace is really just a glorified space heater in its own right. Think about what you want your heater for, and then shop around accordingly to find the right model for you.

Fuel Burning Heaters
Kerosene, propane, and natural gas heaters are all excellent heating sources, and can be more cost effective than an electric space heater in the long run. They aren't recommended without caution, however. Anytime you're dealing with petroleum fuels and flames you're risking the possibility of gas leaks (i.e. explosions) and carbon monoxide poisoning if the fumes produced are not vented properly. As a rule, don't use these products for any length of time indoors, since exhaust buildup can be deadly. And when you shop for these products, look for units equipped with oxygen sensors that will shut the unit down if the oxygen level in the room gets too low. Paying extra for this valuable feature can be the difference between life and death if you're using these heaters in enclosed areas.

Electric Space Heaters
The other type of heater that is commonly used runs off electricity. Electric heaters are far and away the most common type of heaters on the market, primarily because they don't come with as many risks of fuel burning models. These puppies are as clean burning as it gets. Of course, electric heaters aren't without risk either. They are a major source of fire danger and many are a serious burn danger to children and pets, so you still need to be careful when using them.

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Are There Any Safe Heaters out There?
The answer is yes, especially if you've got common sense and know what to look for when you make your purchase.

  • Fuel burning heaters are very functional units if you use your head and take precautions to avoid the inherent dangers mentioned above. Furthermore, installing a cheap carbon monoxide detector in any room where they are regularly used will drastically cut down on any dangers that might prevent themselves.

  • Electric space heaters can also be outfitted with a number of safety features that are worth the extra money. Look for heaters that shut off automatically when they get too hot, and that automatically shut the unit off if it is inadvertently knocked over. Both features significantly reduce fire danger. Also, there are electric models out there equipped with motion sensors that shut the heater down when children or pets get too close. Finally, purchase a unit where the coils are well-protected inside a plastic casing. If the coils can't be reached by curious little fingers, the burn danger is reduced to almost nothing.
    Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.