Space heaters are effective at warming up small spaces. You can stay warm and cozy by running one in a bedroom or living room. But when you look at the cost per running one or more units, can you save compared to operating a central HVAC system? It’s not unreasonable for some people to ponder this question. To help answer it, we’ll look at whether using space heaters instead of central heat can be a cost-saving decision.

The Cost of Running a Space Heater

According to CNET, a space heater can cost from $20 to $300 depending on its size.1 Some models are powerful enough to heat large rooms. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t evaluate space heaters as part of its Energy Star program. Therefore, you’ll have to trust manufacturers’ claims regarding any given product’s efficiency rating.

That being said, your local electricity rates will determine how much it costs to run a space heater per hour. An average space heater costs 20 cents per hour to operate (assuming a 1,500-watt model used in a standard room). If used for eight hours per day, the unit will cost about $50 per month to run.

Comparative Heating Costs 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projected average heating costs in the U.S. for the 2023-2023 winter season. For central HVAC systems using the most common fuel types, the predictions were as follows:

  • Natural Gas: $1,096 per household, averaging out to $6.05 per day and $0.25 per hour.
  • Electricity: $1,482 per household, averaging out to $8.16 per day and $0.34 per hour.
  • Propane: $2,157, averaging out to $11.90 per day and $0.50 per hour.
  • Heating Oil: $2,605, averaging out to $14.39 per day and $0.60 per hour.

The estimated cost of running a space heater may look appealing. But it does not fully substitute a whole-home heating system. You might find opportunities to save by using a space heater in the bedroom at night when the rest of your home doesn’t need to be heated. However, that depends on the size of your household and where all its occupants sleep (if that involves multiple rooms, your central heater will still be needed, so a space heater will just add to your home’s energy demand).

How Space Heaters Really Compare

If you look at the costs to heat large apartments, freestanding homes, and properties in colder climates, a space heater may look cheaper to run on paper. Heating is more expensive in colder areas like the Northeast, Upper Midwest, or northern Great Plains. But to understand if using a space heater instead of central heat can help you save, think about its settings as well.

Most space heaters can be run on low, medium, or high. The lowest setting can cut energy consumption in half but the unit’s heating ability will be significantly limited. You can set the unit to high to provide additional heat and run it on low to maintain warmth. Still, most models aren’t nearly as effective as central heating systems at maintaining indoor temperatures.

What Types of Space Heaters Can I Save With the Most?

Space heaters are available in convection models that use heating coils to heat the air; a built-in fan pushes heated air into the room. Meanwhile, radiant heaters emit infrared radiation to heat an area. They’re fast and focused, but convection space heaters win when it comes to even heating. Convection models are more efficient when used over time, while radiant heaters are more efficient in small bursts.

Is a Space Heater the Most Effective Option?

If you have a gas furnace, turning on a space heater will increase energy consumption in most cases. Installing a secondary heat source usually isn’t practical or necessary. To save energy, you can:

  • Add floor, attic, basement, or crawlspace insulation
  • Turn the thermostat down a few degrees
  • Seal gaps around windows and doors
  • Install weatherstripping
  • Close the flue when the fireplace isn’t in use.

Or, you can opt to update your home with a heat pump, which can be switched between heating and cooling and use renewable energy resources.

Using Space Heaters Instead of Central Heat May Not Be the Best Deal

Grasshopper Heating & Cooling can provide you with additional advice if you’re still looking for ways to save. Our NATE-certified technicians deliver top-quality heating services in Clifton Park, NY. Specializing in heat pump and ductless HVAC installation and repair, they can help explore ways to improve energy efficiency. For more information or to schedule service, contact us online or call 518-241-4399 today.

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