What Is Space Heating? (Types Of Space Heaters)

Q: What is space heating?

A: Space heating refers to the use of space heaters to heat a space such as a room, an enclosed porch, or a cabin.

These heaters are typically used for spot heating when you need additional warmth. For example, they may be used to supplement an existing heat source on exceptionally cold days or to help heat a room that lacks insulation.

The main difference between space heating and central heating is that you are heating a single space instead of an entire property. Instead of using a furnace or heating system that connects to air ducts, the space heater allows people to instantly add heat to any room.

There are two primary power sources for space heaters. They either rely on electricity to generate heat or the combustion of flammable fuels such as propane, natural gas, or wood pellets.

Combustion space heaters require an exhaust to expel the fumes from burning fuel, which makes them less portable and more difficult to set up. Most modern space heaters use electricity and simply need to be plugged into a grounded electrical outlet.

Types of Space Heaters

There are also several different types of electric space heaters. Each type uses a different method to heat a room, offering a variety of advantages and disadvantages, depending on the intended use. The main three types of electric space heaters are as follows:

  • Heat pumps
  • Convection heaters
  • Infrared heaters

All three options are available in different sizes and with various features, including temperature control, safety features, and other details that impact its overall performance. Before choosing a space heater, it is important to understand how these types of systems work.

Heat Pumps

The heat pumps use the same process as a standard air conditioner but in reverse. They transfer heat from outside to the indoors. Unlike convection heaters and infrared heaters, these systems typically require installation.

A typical heat pump system includes many of the same components found in an AC system. The heat pump includes a condenser, evaporator, and compressor. However, unlike an AC system, the outdoor unit acts as the evaporator, while the indoor unit acts as the condenser.

The refrigerant is passed to the outdoor evaporator coil. This coil absorbs thermal energy from the outdoors, even during cold temperatures. The hot refrigerant is then passed to the indoor condenser unit, which disperses the heat into the house. The cooled refrigerant then continues its cycle back to the evaporator.

Many heat pumps are reversible, providing heating and cooling. During the warmer months, the heat pump is used in reverse, acting as an air conditioning unit.

Whether the heat pump is cooling or heating the house, they transfer cool or warm air through air ducts and an air handler. With most setups, the air is transferred by a small fan that helps direct the air to the duct system.

Convection Heaters

Convection heaters are most commonly used for spot heating, as they are typically the most portable type of space heaters available.

The average convection heater is housed in a compact unit that can be placed anywhere in a room. They may require about two feet by two feet of floor space and stand two to three feet tall.

Inside this unit is a heating element, such as a ceramic or metal coil. This element is then heated by the passage of electrical current. As the heating element heats up, the heat is transferred into the room due to convection heating.

Some convection heaters include a fan, while others do not. The space heaters with fans are sometimes called fan heaters and they tend to help circulate heat through the room quicker than the fan-less heaters.

Fan-less heaters often contain an oil or water that surrounds the heating element. As the heating element warms up, the oil or water warms up.

These heaters take longer to heat a room but provide longer-lasting results after the unit is turned off. With a fan heater, the heating element begins to cool instantly when the heater is turned off, while the oil or water in a fan-less heater remains heated for a while.

Infrared Heaters

While convection heaters transfer heat through convection, infrared heaters rely on radiant heating. Instead of heating the air in the room, these heaters heat objects and people.

Like convection heaters, infrared heaters use electricity to heat a heating element. With infrared heaters, this heating element is a conductive wire. Infrared rays emitted by the conductive wire then help heat objects and people in the room, instead of warming the air.

These heaters are available in a variety of sizes. You can find small, portable units made to fit on desks. These smaller units are often called heat lamps. There are also infrared heating systems that are mounted on the wall or near the floorboards and used in place of a central heating furnace.

Infrared heaters take longer to heat a room, as they do not heat the air. However, your body is likely to warm up much quicker with an infrared heater. When your body, clothing, furniture, and other fabrics begin to heat up, you and the other objects in the room begin to pass your warmth to cooler objects. During this process, the air does begin to slowly heat up.

When the room reaches the desired temperature, these heaters can efficiently maintain a warm temperature while using less electricity than a convection heater.

Which Type of Heater Is Most Effective for Space Heating?

Each type of heater has its own advantages and disadvantages. While the infrared heaters may take longer to heat a room, they often provide more efficient heating over a longer period of time. They are also suitable for use in rooms with poor insulation, as they are heating people and objects instead of the air. In fact, you can even use these heaters outdoors.

Convection heaters are great for spot heating when you simply need to warm up quickly. They also do not require complicated installation. You simply plug them into an outlet. The fan-less convection heaters take a little longer compared to the fan heaters but can continue to heat a room after being turned off.

Unlike the infrared heaters, convection heaters should not be used outdoors. They heat the air, which works best when the room is enclosed and well-insulated.

Heat pumps are also effective options for space heating. However, they are often expensive and require professional installation. The main advantage of these heaters is that they are more efficient in the long run, even when compared to a standard furnace. You can even purchase reversible heat pumps that provide heating and cooling.

How to Choose the Best Space Heater

If you want to use one of these heaters to keep warm during the colder months, there are several features that you need to consider. The main details to examine include the following:

  • Heating technology
  • Heating capacity
  • Safety features
  • Special features
  • Noise level

You should first consider the heating technology. Remember the convection works best in insulated rooms, while infrared offers direct heating and is suitable for poorly insulated rooms.

The heating capacity refers to the recommended square footage. Most manufacturers include this recommendation. If a maximum room size is not provided, you can estimate the heating capacity based on the wattage of the unit. Typically, you need 10 watts of power per square foot. For a 200 square foot room, you will need a 2,000-watt heater.

Space heaters are often equipped with safety features. Heaters that are placed on the ground or desk should include an automatic shut off, in case the unit is knocked over. All heaters should have overheat protection, which automatically shuts the unit off if the internal components become too hot.

You may also want to consider any special features that you want, such as a 24-hour timer, digital thermostat, an LCD display, or remote control. These features are becoming more and more common. However, they may not be included with every space heater.

The final consideration is the noise level of the appliance. Convection heaters with fans tend to produce the most noise. Depending on the unit, they can be as loud as a window air conditioner unit. If you prefer quieter operation, infrared heaters and fan-less convection heaters produce the least noise.

Why Should You Consider Using Space Heating?

Space heating provides a convenient option for warming a room that lacks proper heating. This may occur for several reasons. You may have a room in your house that is difficult to heat. You may also have a cabin without a furnace. A space heater can help you deal with these issues.

Space heating is an effective way to stay warm if you choose the right type of space heater. Convection heaters are best suited for well-insulated rooms that you need to quickly warm up. Infrared heaters provide greater heating efficiency but take longer to heat up a room. Consider where you plan to use the heater to select the right option.

You should also examine the features before choosing a space heater. While special features such as a remote control or digital thermostat can be useful, the most important details include the safety features. Ensure that the space heater that you choose includes automatic shut off for overheating.