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Using a space heater this winter? Consider this.

Gas prices are skyrocketing right now, and it looks like these high prices will continue through the winter. CUB’s Consumer Advocacy Department has already received some calls: Consumers want to know if it’s better to turn down their thermostat and turn on a space heater.

The short answer: If you drop your thermostat a few degrees and supplement the heat with a space heater, you could save money, but there’s no guarantee. This is most practical for people who spend most of the day in one room of their home, like an office. 

The long answer: How much you’ll save depends on how you use your space heater (and how old it is), the size of the room you’re trying to heat, and how divided the room is from the rest of your house. 

If your space heater has an accurate thermostat and you aren’t blasting the heat all day, you’ll probably save money. Some space heaters are equipped with thermostats that automate the heater’s operation, so you don’t have to turn the heater on and off manually to maintain a comfortable temperature. Most newer space heaters include built-in fans, which help distribute the heat throughout the room. It also helps heat up a room faster.

If you’re looking to buy a space heater, consider options that offer thermostats, built-in fans, tip-over switches (this automatically shuts off the heater if it is knocked over), and long, heavy-duty cords.

Also think about the room you’ll be heating. Smaller rooms that are more closed off from the rest of the home are quicker and cheaper to heat with a space heater. Open rooms, such as a living room or kitchen, with hallway access to other rooms are more difficult to heat efficiently.

Do not turn off your natural gas furnace and heat your entire home with space heaters. Although electricity is cheaper than gas per unit (kilowatt-hour vs. therm), electricity is about twice as expensive as natural gas for the same amount of heating power, according to Consumer Reports. For the same cost, you can heat only half the area with electricity that you could with natural gas.

Remember that space heaters are inefficient heating sources. (The Department of Energy’s EnergyStar program doesn’t certify space heaters in the EnergyStar program for this reason.) They should be used temporarily for spot heating and not as a main heating source. 

If you do choose to use a space heater this winter, exercise caution. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that portable electric heaters are responsible for about 1,100 fires per year, which can result in death, injury and property loss. Follow the manufacturer’s directions closely and keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Keep flammable objects, such as bedding, curtains, clothes and furniture, at least 3 feet away from your space heater.
  • Do not use an extension cord with your heater.
  • Turn off your space heater when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • If you have children, teach them the dangers of space heaters. Ensure children’s toys and games are at least three feet from the heater. Never use a space heater in a child’s bedroom.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and test monthly.
  • Don’t use gas- or oil-burning space heaters indoors. These heaters should only be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated space, such as a porch.