Are Space Heaters More Efficient than Central Heating?

Those of us living in areas with cold winters are familiar with the common ways to keep our homes warm during the winter months. But have you ever stopped to wonder which of these methods is the most energy efficient? Energy efficiency is very important during the winter especially for those that need to heat their homes constantly. Below we will discuss two common heating methods–central heating and space heaters–and try to determine which one is more energy efficient.

For starters, let’s outline the purpose of each of these heating systems. Central heating, which is generally part of a HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, can heat one room or an entire home and is generally powered by a furnace. By contrast, a space heater is a mobile unit that generates heat in localized areas. While a central heating system is integrated into a home, a space heater can be taken anywhere.

So are space heaters more energy efficient than central heating? The short answer is that it depends on how much of your home you plan on heating. Generally, if you are only heating one or two rooms, space heaters are more efficient. However, if you are planning to heat an entire home, it is almost never more energy efficient to run several space heaters when compared to operating a central heating system.

According to Tom Simchak, a senior policy-research associate at the Alliance to Save Energy: “…in terms of energy per heat output, small heathers will rarely ever be as efficient as a central heating system…. There would be few situations where putting space heaters in every room and turning them all on would be more efficient than a properly-operating and relatively modern central system.”

There is also a wide variety of energy efficiency within the world of space heaters. Choose a radiant heater if you are only looking to heat one part of a room; these types of heaters emit infrared radiation that heats up things that are close to it. However, if you want to heat an entire room, go for a convection heater that warms the air of the room.

Additionally, keep in mind that space heaters are fire hazards and should never be left on and unattended. They are responsible for roughly 25,000 house fires each year, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Some older homes and apartments may also be ill-equipped to handle space heaters, as they can sometimes cause breakers to flip when they draw power. If you decide to go with a space heater, make sure you read up on general space heater safety tips.

In general, a modern central heating system should be more energy efficient than any space heater. However, if you do not have access to a central heating system or baseboard heaters, space heaters are a great alternative. Most of the time, space heaters are best used as supplements to central heating systems if you have specific heating needs for individual rooms.

Space heater or no, we hope you stay warm this winter!