With the variety of heaters available on the market these days, anything from gas to electric to diesel heaters, how do you know what is the best for your heating needs? One thing that you can be sure of is that no matter what your need, nor how specific is it, there is a heater designed that will suit your exact purpose and budget.
Since time began, warmth has been one of man’s basic needs. Heating was very primitive in centuries past. The method for heating homes, until very recently, was through setting a large fire in a fireplace and cooking and heating water with wood heaters or stoves. Earlier than that, before the advent of the wood stove or wood heater, man depended solely on warm clothing and fires to keep himself warm.
Those times have passed. Today, you will find that heating your home has never been simpler. No matter what type of heaters you are considering you will find a huge variety and a large price range amongst those available to purchase.
No longer does man need to depend solely on the heat generated from fires. With the variety of heaters on the market, deciding on what heaters best suit your situation is now something that has been made increasingly more complex.
Whether you’re a new homeowner just starting out, or if you’ve just decided that it’s time to reconsider how to heat your home, or perhaps you’re concerned to cut back on heating costs; whatever your current needs you should be able to find just the right heater for your home and budget.
Some of the More Common Heaters We Will Look At:
Naturally, electric heaters seem more suited to certain parts of the home over others. If you’re looking for a simple heater, that is quick to turn on and heat up a room then you may find this heater is perfect for you. With the rising costs of electricity, however, you may not want to have all heating for your home electric.
Electric wall heaters are useful items to have in rooms where you need to sometimes have additional heat, and they are particularly useful in bathrooms or in your children’s bedroom, or in anyone’s bedroom who is very sensitive to cool temperatures.
They are made to fit directly flush with the wall, usually recessed between two wall studs. First a metal frame is installed in the wall, between the two studs, or attached to one side stud. Next, the heating unit, consisting of the actual heating elements and a fan, is installed inside this metal frame. Finally a safety cover is installed over the frame and the heating unit. Controls are usually placed on the cover, and the cover is frequently louvered so that the heat coming out of the unit can be adjusted.
Electric wall heaters are usually controlled by a thermostat. Some electric wall heaters have the thermostat on the cover and while this can be very convenient it tends to not be as accurate as thermostats that are installed on the wall, as the heater’s cover will heat up when the heater is on and that will cause the thermostat to read a higher temperature.
When deciding on the size of your wall heater, there are a couple of things to take into consideration. First of all, naturally, is the size of the room that you will be heating. Figure out the square foot size of your room, and then allow 10 watts of heat per square foot for a well insulated room. If your house is older, or is not well insulated you should allow 12 watts per square foot. And for a room or home that is not insulated, with poor window placement, etc. you should up that to around 15 watts per square feet. As you can see, your room size and insulation really does make a difference when it comes to heating.
Electric wall heaters beat gas wall heaters hands-down in most situations, primarily because they are very easy and quick to install (no need for double venting, for example) and you don’t need to put in a gas run but you simply plug the electric heater in and it is ready to use. While electric wall heaters may not be as energy-efficient as installing central heating, they are certainly a more affordable option for many home owners these days. They are also great for providing that extra heating needed, quickly and at low cost.
Increasing more popular in some parts of the country, wood heaters are a good option for those who have plenty of access to this type of fuel. There are two main types or styles of wood heater. One is the radiant wood heater and the other is the convective wood heater.
How it works?
As you might determine from the term used, a radiant wood heater is one that, well, it radiates. In other words most of the heat from this type of heater comes from the fire and the flames. A common fireplace fire matches this description as does an outdoor camping fire.
Something like a pot belly stove is a combination of both. The fire heats, but the stove itself also heats up and extends warmth into the surrounding air. A combustion stove, which has an airtight firebox, is a convective wood heater. All heat derived from a combustion stove is convective. A combustion heater can also be fitted with a fan to move the heat more evenly around the room.
Good or bad?
The problem with the radiant wood heaters, especially if you’re living in a cold climate, is that you generally need to be fairly close to them in order to get warm. And they also burn a lot of wood just to give off a small amount of heat. While they do gradually heat up a room, especially if all the windows and doors are closed, they are considered fairly inefficient.
If you have ample wood available, and you’re seriously considering going with the wood heater, I would suggest you look at either the pot belly heater or combustion heater. The pot belly wood heater is better for heating up smaller rooms, such as a smallish living room, or kitchen. A combustion wood heater does well when it has to heat up a larger expanse of air.
Heat efficiency is measured in percentages. To give you an idea of how efficient each of these type of wood heaters would be in heating up your room, the open fire runs at about 5 to 10% efficiency levels, pot belly wood heaters go up to around 40% efficiency, with the newer models being more efficient. Combustion wood heaters have the best efficiency, of up to around 65 to 70%, depending on the brand of wood stove heater.
You would probably want to consult with a wood heater expert in order to know exactly what type would best suit your need. It may also depend on whether you want your wood heater to perform any other tasks such as setting up a wood hot water heater. In my first home we had an old slow combustion wood heater installed that doubled as a stove and oven, and that heated up our water!
Which one is better?
When buying wood burning furnaces, be sure to do proper research. Paying a little bit extra in investing in a slightly better wood burning heater will most likely pay off in the long run as not only will it be more efficient at heating your room but it may also use burn less wood.
You would also need to make sure you have a good dry wood source readily available. You’ll have to store up wood during the dryer summer months and stack and store it in a dry location, so that you’ll have plenty of wood to heat your home through the long winter months. There’s nothing worse than running out of wood towards the end of winter and not being able to locate a good dry source of cut wood, or finding wood but having to pay an arm and leg to get it!
If I lived in a different location, I would definitely consider wood heating. I love the rustic feel that a wood heater gives to a room, and the cheeriness it imparts. It also works well when it comes to heating water, if you have the right setup for a wood water heater.
These can be a very cost effective way to heat larger expanses of space and are often used in camping lodges, such as Alaska fishing lodges, or lodges in other sometimes inaccessible locations. Propane gas, sometimes referred to as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a popular alternative for heaters these days and propane heaters are oftentimes a cheaper alternative in many places to using electric heating.
Commonly, propane heaters have been used to heat up temporary locations such as a garage, or a tent, a patio or other workplace. They fire up quickly and heat up the surroundings quickly, depending of course on the size of the flame. People also often use a propane water heater.
How it works?
The propane space heater does just as its name suggests, heats up an enclosed space or area. It is a general term for what is normally a portable heater that can be used to heat a specific room in the house, a garage or even a greenhouse. Space heaters heat up the air in the room they are located in without the need of ducts. Some propane space heaters, particularly those being used to heat up a larger room, need to have a fan so that they can propel the heat into the entire room, thus they do use a little electricity.
Propane gas heaters are built specifically to heat up an entire, generally non-insulated, garage. Most commonly they operate off of a 100 pound gas tank and for the most part are designed to run day and night, heating up the room for an entire 24 hours. They often have a thermostat, so temperature can be regulated. Also, they vary in size with the larger units able to heat up to 700 square feet. Cost of these larger area heaters range from $200 to around $550.
A popular use for the propane heater is to heat patios. Patio propane heaters are designed to set down nicely on your patio slabs. The design of these heaters includes a large base where a propane cylinder can be nicely hidden behind a metal outer covering. Mushroom shaped, the heater element is located at the top of the heater where usually a large dome reflects the heat all around the heater in a circular fashion. They don’t have fans, so in order to benefit from the heat you do need to sit fairly close to them, especially in outside areas. They are perfect for placing near to patio tables, picnic areas or barbecue spots and do radiate a fair bit of heat. Great for outdoor activities when the weather is cooling.
Many portable heaters are propane heaters. The beauty of portable propane heaters is that they do not rely on electricity, thus they can be used even in areas where there is no electricity such as in a tent, a caravan, porches, truck caps, etc. They can also be a backup in your home, if your electricity goes out. There is even a portable golf cart heater, for you golf enthusiasts! Many portable propane heaters are suitable for the rugged outdoor life, so you don’t need to limit your portable heating to indoors only.
One warning with using the indoor propane heater in small enclosed spaces; the heater consumes oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide. Without proper ventilation, this can and has resulted in carbon monoxide deaths even in small tents or campers. So, if you’re going to use a propane gas heater make sure the room or enclosure you are using it in has adequate ventilation. Also, make sure that the propane heater you buy specifies that it can be used indoors if that’s where you intend to use it.
Natural gas heaters
Also a very cheap way to heat your home. If you have access to some sort of natural gas supply you really can’t go wrong with this type of heater. More and more people are beginning to use the natural gas heater as their primary heating source. In fact, in America natural gas heating is more common than any other type of heating, including the much more expensive electrical heating.
Consistently, when renovating, home owners are often doing away with the more expensive heating systems and converting to a natural gas system. While it does cost a little to do the initial conversion, enough savings are made by heating homes using natural gas to make it worthwhile.
Just about any kind of heater, or heating system, can be run off natural gas from home central heating to small wall or space heaters, and even ventless gas fireplaces. It is also easy to install a natural gas water heater, thus cutting back electricity costs even further.
There are many other reasons, besides the savings made from installing a natural gas heater, that people like them.
- The warm, sometimes blue, flame and glow they give off and the consistent heat makes rooms cozy and comfortable.
- They heat up fairly quickly, are practically noiseless and don’t give off any unusual odors or smells.
- Also, having a heating system independent from electricity means that even if the electricity goes off for a time your home can remain warm.
- It is said that natural gas heaters are more environmentally friendly than many other types of heating, especially wood or propane heaters.
One thing to note is that due to problems that could result from improperly installed systems, it is recommended or in some cases required that the gas heating system is installed by a gas technician. If you’re switching to a gas system from an electric system, this can usually be accomplished fairly quickly and easily, at minimum cost. It is, naturally much more expensive to install an entire system from scratch although the money saved from installing natural gas heaters over an electric system will soon make up for installation costs.
If you are only looking to install a heater in one room, then a simple natural gas wall heater, natural gas space heater or natural gas fireplace should suffice. It will give plenty of heat, enough to heat up one room comfortably. Likewise, if you’re looking into heating up your garage you will likely find that the natural gas garage heater will be perfect for what you need–simple to operate, and fast at heating up the single room or garage.
There are a few safety functions to look for when buying a natural gas heater:
- One of the first things you should make sure your gas heating unit has is an oxygen depletion sensor. This helps protect oxygen levels in the room by shutting off the heater if oxygen levels are depleted below what is healthy for you.
- If gas flow is interrupted at any time, it’s important that the pilot light is shut off. So, look for natural gas heaters that automatically shut down the pilot light whenever gas flow is cut off. Otherwise the unit may overheat and become damaged, or if the gas suddenly comes on it could even explode.
- If the gas flow into the heater is regulated you’ll find that the heat will be steady and more even, and the heater will work so much better. A well regulated gas flow also helps to conserve gas consumption.
Useful when it comes to heating up large expanses of air, as these come with very high heating capabilities depending on the type of heater you use. The diesel heater is not generally a very popular home heater, although it is quite rapidly becoming popular amongst campers and motor home owners, especially those who love to have the option of camping away from any sources of electricity.
Good or bad?
Many people feel that diesel heaters have a lot of advantages over other mobile type heaters, such as propane heaters. Obviously diesel is much more readily available than propane gas, it’s also safer to use and transport and apparently has a higher BTU output per gallon. They also beat wood heaters hands down. Wood heaters requires wood to operate, but wood is bulky, not always readily available, and it’s difficult to store in large amounts.
While the notion of burning diesel brings with it ideas of danger and harm, diesel fuel heaters these days are totally harmless, especially if installed properly. They do not need to be installed by an expert, although they aren’t that easy to add to a motor home or camper, thus you may need some help unless you are an accomplished handyman.
How it works?
They operate by drawing air into a small, totally sealed furnace from outside. This small furnace can’t be located anywhere inside as it is a completely enclosed structure. Diesel is forced into this furnace and lit to heat the air trapped in the furnace. This hot air is then sent back out into the atmosphere. Indoor air passes across the now heated furnace and is funnelled or ducted to the motor home, camper, or room that needs heating. As you can see, the dangerous fumes from the burning gas it totally sealed and does not mingle with the heated or unheated air within the area that is to be heated.
Popular brands of diesel fuel heaters include the Eberspacher diesel range, highly popular in the US and Canada, and Europe; and the Webasto range, which is more common in Europe and also available in Australia. Gradually these diesel heaters are gaining popularity, particularly when it comes to mobile homes and these two brands seem to be some of the best you can buy.
Diesel portable space heaters are commonly used in places like outdoor construction sites where they are used not only to provide warmth for construction workers, but are also used to prevent newly laid cement from freezing. Their fuel source is self-contained, and these larger units are usually supplied with wheels and handles, making them easy to operate and definitely very portable. They aren’t affected by changing temperatures either, thus can provide safe heating even when the temperature drops down to 10 degrees or lower centigrade.
Some diesel fuel heaters use an electric motor to turn the fan that pushes air firstly into the combustion chamber or furnace, and then out into the surrounding airs.
You can even buy a diesel water heater, if interested. These are structured similarly to other diesel heaters, and work on-demand. This means that they turn on when the faucet is turned on, and heat the water as it runs through, but they don’t have big storage tanks full of water that needs to be kept warm. They heat the water quickly and efficiently, and thus are also very economical to run. Of course the other pluses, such as diesel being readily available, make them a very interesting option when it comes to water heaters.
Oil filled heaters
Popular room oil filled radiator heaters that simply heat the room warmly without a lot of care needed. Many people choose the oil filled radiator over other portable radiators. An oil filled radiator is a radiant heater, meaning that the heater and parts (or the oil inside) heat up and radiate heat out into the room. With an oil filled radiator it is actually the oil inside the heater that heats up and retains its heat, thus reducing electricity consumption.
- They are very silent to operate as there is no fan, they don’t produce dust and are one of the more environmentally friendly heaters to use.
- The radiant heat heats up objects and people in the room as the warmth diffuses around the room.
- They are also safe to use, and rarely get hot enough to burn should you or anyone else in your home accidentally rub up against it.
How it works?
Common components that most oil filled radiators have include a thermostat which allows you to determine at which point the electricity or other power source to the heater will shut off; a safety cut off so that if anything happens to the heater or it malfunctions all power is cut to the heater; heat setting control so that you can determine how much wattage the heater is to use.
Most oil filled radiators are stand-alone, portable units that have wheels on the bottom so they can be easily rolled from room to room. You can also buy wall-mounted oil filled radiators as well.
If you are looking for a heater that will heat up a room quickly, then I wouldn’t suggest an oil filled radiator. These type of heaters are much better suited for more long-term, throughout the day or of an evening use. They do work very well at heating up a living room or a bedroom or study of an evening, providing you are going to be turning them on and leaving them on for some time. Once your room reaches its optimum heat (set by the use of a thermostat on the heater) the electricity is cut off from the unit, but the unit continues radiating heat for some time.
With more and more people choosing not to run their central heating systems these days, in order to cut back on electricity costs, investing in a few oil filled radiators may be the solution. You can roll them around from room to room, and just heat up one or two rooms as opposed to heating up the entire house even if there’s no one in the room.
Useful to know
Look for an oil filled heater that has a thermostat and a 24-hour timer. That way you can set the heater to come on thirty minutes before you arrive home, and you can also time it to shut off after everyone is in bed at night.
They are great heaters for using to heat up a room for a longer period of time, and they are safe, quiet and require almost no maintenance.
Radiant panel heaters produce radiant heat, as their name implies, usually via infrared rays. They are lightweight, thin heaters that usually are placed flush up against a wall. They are perfect to use in places where there is a not a lot of space, such as bathrooms or even in kitchens, or anywhere that space is limited and there is not a lot of room for bulky heaters. They are also a popular choice for heating a conservatory which is often not on the regular central heating circuit.
The most common type of panel heater works by heating a large quartz cloth surface which in turn radiates this heat out into the room. Other types of panel heaters can be made from stainless steel, ceramic or even high temperature glass. The back of the heater is usually insulated to help prevent heat from bleeding out of the back of the heater. Most panel heaters are electrically operated, with many requiring their own breaker.
The advantages to using panel heaters include the fact that they give out a slow, steady heat and thus are not as likely to overheat (though don’t allow material to cover them, as they could overheat the material and start a fire.) While they can be used in a bathroom, they must be properly grounded, and they should not come in direct contact with water.
Not all panel heaters are necessarily electric though:
- It is also possible to buy gas panel heaters which work in much the same way as the electric heaters, except they need to be hooked up to the gas supply rather than the electricity.
- Ceramic panel heaters are very quick to heat up, and they do look very nice as well. They are sometimes more expensive than the regular quartz cloth heaters, but again that all depends on the actual size of the heater you are buying.
Incidentally, when computing the size of the heater you will need to heat up your space, it’s a wise idea to buy as large a heater as you can afford. While it is always possible to turn down the heater if your room is getting too warm, it is pretty impossible to turn a heater up past its maximum and if you buy a heater that ’should be big enough’ but you get it home and find out that it isn’t hot enough that will be a problem. You will then need to either install a second heater, or take out the one you just bought and buy a new bigger heater. It’s better to calculate so that you have plenty of heat rather than skimping and then finding out your heater doesn’t output enough heat.
If you are trying to determine what size electric heater to install in your room there are some simple guidelines to follow in figuring this out. First of all, you need to figure out how big your room is, and then based on the square feet size of your room you should be able to determine what wattage heater to buy.
There are, however, a few different things to take into consideration that may affect the outcome of your calculations:
The first thing to figure out is how energy efficient the room is. For example, a modern building that is fully insulated will require about 10 watts of heat per square foot. If, however you have little insulation and your home was not built to be energy efficient, chances are that you may need to up that amount to 12 watts per square foot. For an older home that has no insulation, where the windows are quite drafty and not well placed you may need to count on 15 watts per square foot.
Another thing to take into consideration is the height of your rooms too. Regular ceiling height is around eight feet. If your ceiling is higher, however, for example in a conservatory or in an older styled home you need to increase the wattage of the heater by 25 percent for every two feet of height over the regular height of 8 feet.
Likewise in rooms with a lot of glass windows, again the conservatory comes to mind, or even a living room with big wall to wall windows, or sliding glass doors that lead to an outside patio, you also need to increase the wattage of the heater by 25 percent or more, depending on the amount of glass in your room.
If you find that your heating needs are over 2000 watts, it might be best and more efficient to buy two heaters, rather than just getting one big one. This will distribute the heat more evenly around the room, thus saving you money in the long run because the heaters will be better regulated and will operate at a lower temperature. Just using one heater to heat up a big room may not be that effective. You may find the end of the room away from the heater will be quite cool still and the heater will be forced to run all the time as the thermostat will never turn off.
- Heating a 12 x 10 foot room, in a modern day, energy efficient room: You would need to get a heater that is at least 1200 watts.
- Heating a 12 x 10 foot room, with 10 feet high ceilings: You would need 1200 + 25% or a 1500 watt heater.
- Heating a 12 x 10 foot room in an older house that is not insulated: You would need 1800 watt heater.
- Heating a 22 x 15 foot room in a house that has large glass windows all along one side: The room is 330 square feet so you would need a heater that is 3300 plus an additional 25% because of the glass windows, giving a total of 4,125 watts. In this instance you would probably want to invest in two heaters, installing them at opposite ends of the room.
When buying your heater, it is likely that you often won’t be able to find one that is the exact wattage you need. If that is the case, you should just buy the next size up. Of course ,you should also consult with a local electrician before installing your electric wall heater as they often need to be on their own breaker. In some areas, you also need to have a registered electrician install them, so be sure to find out if that is the case in your area before going ahead with a self-installation.