Electric heaters can heat everything from small parts of a house to an entire building. Some function on less power than others, which in turn saves money on utility bills, but all electric heaters turn the unit's electrical power into heat. The efficiency varies with how much power it takes to operate the unit.
Forced-air heat pumps are the most energy-efficient electric heaters. These systems use about 50 percent less power than any other type of resistance heating unit to produce heat for the home (see References 1). Forced-air heat pumps are built to pull warmth from the outdoor air to heat the inside of a building. Heat pumps generally work best in climates that do not drop into extremely cold temperatures for long periods of time; these units struggle when the outside temperature drops below freezing, although some newer systems correct this issue. (See References 4)
Electric Panel Heaters
Electric panel heaters are mounted on a wall near an outlet to heat individual rooms. They use less electrical power than other space heaters, requiring only 160 watts to operate (see References 3). By turning one on and lowering the main furnace settings a couple of degrees, you can maintain comfort for yourself and conserve energy.
When you are trying to heat a small, inadequately insulated space, radiative heaters might be the least expensive option. These heaters do not send out heat to warm the air in the room, but instead use a heated element and reflective plate to direct infrared radiation into the room (see References 5). This harmless radiation bounces off solid objects and heats whatever it comes in contact with, instead of heating the air. When the radiation hits you, your body warms, even though the air surrounding you is cool. In this case, leaks do not waste the heat the unit creates. You stay warm, and you can turn the heater off when you are comfortable.
Ceramic heaters are convection heaters with a ceramic insulated heating element. These units use minimal electric power to warm a larger ceramic core, which stores the heat and transfers it to aluminum plates. A fan then blows the heat from the metal plates into the room (see Resources 1). Ceramic heaters warm up quickly and produce a significant amount of heat from a relatively small amount of energy, which makes them more energy efficient and less expensive to operate than conventional heating-element space heaters (see References 6).
- U.S. Department of Energy: Electric Resistance Heating
- Missouri Department of Natural Resources: Residential Energy Efficiency -- Space Heaters
- University of New South Wales; Safety and Energy Strategy; 2009
- U.S. Department of Energy: Heat Pump Systems
- University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension; Space Heater Safety: Using Kerosene or Propane; Sonja Koukel; April 2008
- University of Sydney; Policy and Guidelines for Room Heaters; January 2005
Tara Dooley has written for various websites since 2008. She has worked as an accountant, after-school director and retail manager in various locations. Dooley holds a Bachelor of Science in business management and finance.