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Home Heating > Space Heaters
  Portable Heating
  Types
  Features
  Safety
Not all situations call for a central heating system. Enclosed spaces can often be heated effectively by utilizing a portable solution, which is not only transportable, but also has a much lower cost, a decreased level of energy use, and, correspondingly, a smaller environmental footprint. In some cases, such as studio apartments, space heaters can even be used on a standalone basis and not as simply a way to extend the central heating system. 
Portable Heating
As you may know, furnaces and heat pumps are types of central heating systems, but there are also individual, standalone heating units which are known as space heaters or portable heaters. Generally, space heaters are not considered to be a practical solution for warming an entire home. Rather, they are designed to provide auxiliary heating for a specific enclosed area. However, as mentioned, in case of a small studio apartment, they can be the sole heat source and perform quite well.

Because of their small size, versatility, and standalone nature, space heaters may be used to heat a wide variety of both interior and exterior spaces. In the home, space heaters may be appropriate for garages, basements, exercise rooms, patios, outdoor sheds, extensions, and unfinished areas. In commercial settings, space heaters may be found at outdoor restaurants, in personal offices, and at work sites.

In situations where an individual prefers a warmer temperature than his or her office neighbors or fellow home residents, a space heater can provide localized climate control without affecting the rest of the office or home. Similarly, for applications such as hot yoga or aerobics, where the goal is to increase the body temperature, a space heater can provide the required level of heating.

Space heaters are incredibly versatile and can be easily moved from one area to another. For outdoor areas that have no electrical outlet nearby, it is possible to purchase space heaters which run on natural gas or oil. These can be an effective item to bring on camping trips, particularly if the availability of firewood is in question, or the area does not permit campground fires.
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Types
There are two primary types of space heaters, categorized by the heat delivery mechanism used in each. In a convective heater, also referred to as a convection heater, the heat elements warm the outside air. This may be accomplished directly or via first heating an intermediary filler which then serves to heat the air. In a radiative heater, also referred to as a radiant heater, tungsten filaments encased in heat-resistant quartz envelopes are made to radiate their energy, primarily in the infrared spectrum. This radiant heat is then directly absorbed by the people and objects in the area without having to affect the ambient air.

In addition to these two types of space heaters, a number of manufacturers, such as Soleus Air and Lasko, also offer panel heaters which combine both convective and radiative elements into a single unit. Typically, about 80% of the heat is transmitted via convection and about 20% via radiation. As a result of being able to provide both types of heat, panel heaters take less time to reach full power.

Generally, convection heaters are considered safer than radiative heaters because their surfaces do not get as hot and they are less likely to cause a fire should they inadvertently be tipped over or come in contact with a drape, an item of clothing, a room furnishing, or some other flammable material. On the other hand, radiative heaters provide heat faster, offer more efficiency, and can be controlled to heat a particular area rather than an entire space.

Some convection heaters use a fan to speed up the flow and exchange of cool and warm air and are consequently called “fan heaters”. These heaters are able to speed up the rate at which an enclosed space becomes heated. However, many models are also relatively noisy because of the fan’s operation, so there is a trade-off between heating speed and loudness.

Generally, if you are looking for a space heater that will work with maximum efficiency and heat a particular area within a room, you are better off going with a radiative heater. On the other hand, if you are looking for a space heater that will evenly warm an entire room and work in the same general way as a central heating system, then you should purchase a convection heater.
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Features
In comparing space heaters, there are a number of features which are worth noting. As a space heater is designed for portability, it is important to make sure that the model comes with a comfortable and sturdy handle. For heavier models, it may be worthwhile to ensure that there is a set of wheels, enabling safe and easy transportation from one area to another.

A number of sensors are available with space heaters. For fuel-powered models, an oxygen depletion sensor or low oxygen shutoff can prevent the release of fuel when there is no combustion. Meanwhile, a touch sensor shuts off the heater if the grille is accidentally touched, reducing the risk of burn or fire. Many space heaters come standard with a thermostat, which automatically turns the heater on or off as the temperature in the room changes. This is a useful feature as it allows the user to set the temperature once and not have to worry about manually turning the heater on or off.

An important safety feature is the extent to which the surface area of the heater rises in temperature. A number of models are available on which no outside surface ever becomes hot enough to cause a burn should there be accidental contact. This is of particular importance in situations where there may be children or pets in the vicinity of the heater.

Even with the latest features, individual space heaters are orders of magnitude less costly than a central heating system. So why is it that using them is not considered a practical way to heat the entire home? Aside from the fact that space heaters have a higher risk of combustion, there are other practical considerations.
In order to heat an entire house, it would be necessary to purchase a separate space heater for each room. These heaters would then have to each be powered, adjusted, and run independently. Given the differences in the sizes and configurations of the different rooms in the house, it would then be virtually impossible to attain an even temperature distribution throughout the home. In addition, any preferred change in temperature would require manually adjusting each space heater. Moreover, the space heaters would take up space in each room and require a separate power source for each one.

For a small apartment or a home with just a few rooms, one or two space heaters may be sufficient for the required heating needs. In that case, that may be the most cost-efficient option. However, for a larger home, a central heating system is probably the best option, with a space heater or two added for use in outlying spaces such as garages, patios, or sheds.

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Safety
The issue of safety is sufficiently important with respect to space heaters that it warrants a separate discussion. Because space heaters combine the heat generation engine and the heat distribution system in a single unit, it is not uncommon for surface areas to become so hot that they cause skin burns if touched and ignite any flammable substances with which they come in contact.

There have been many reported cases of fires that were caused as a result of a space heater being accidentally knocked over by a pet, a child, an errant adult, or another object. Specifically, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that in excess of 25,000 residential fires each year are associated with the use of space heaters. Similarly, a number of outdoor fires have happened because of space heaters being placed in an area of dry grass or twigs and then toppling over. This is a serious issue and must be considered in not only making your decision regarding purchasing a space heater, but also each time you use a space heater.

Even more common than fires are reports of people and pets being burned by accidentally touching the outer surface of a space heater when it was operational. An estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries caused by physical contact with room heaters. The saddest part of this statistic is that virtually all of these injuries would have been prevented had a space heater with the proper safety features been used.

Today, there are many models of space heaters which are specifically designed in such a way that their outer surfaces remain cool to the touch no matter how hot the inside of the heater. In addition, many heaters have automatic shutoff switches and touch sensors to immediately shut off the heater's operation if the grille comes in contact with skin or any other object. Always look for these features when purchasing a space heater. If you have an old space heater which does not have such safety features, you should strongly consider replacing it with a newer model. It will be money well spent.
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