A space heater is a device used to heat a single, small area. In contrast, central heating is used to heat many connected areas, such as all the rooms in a house. Space heaters are powered either by electricity or by a burnable fuel like natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or wood pellets. Portable space heaters are usually electric because a permanent exhaust is needed for heaters that burn a fuel.
Electric space heaters fall into three main categories:
- Convection heaters pass electricity through a heating element, causing the heating element to become hot. These elements are made from either metal or ceramic, and the overall process is called Joule heating. Next, this heat is transferred to the air in the room by convection. Some heaters include a fan to increase air circulation, while other heaters do not. For example, oil-filled space heaters do not have fans.
- Infrared heaters also pass electricity through a conductive wire, causing the wire to become very hot. However, most of the heat is transferred by radiant heating, and not by convection, in this type of space heater. The hot wire emits infrared rays which transfer heat directly to a solid surface, not the surrounding air.
- Heat pumps use the same process as refrigerators and air conditioners, but in reverse. Whereas convective and infrared heaters actually make more heat from electricity, heat pumps only move the location of heat. In a refrigerator, heat is moved from inside the refrigerator to the room, cooling the food inside the refrigerator. Similarly, heat pumps move heat from outside a room to inside the room, warming it.
Many space heaters used in residential applications use convective heating. These heaters can be divided into two categories: those with a fan to help spread the warmth, and those without a fan. Convective heaters are suitable for providing constant, diffuse heat in well-insulated rooms.
Convective with a fan
Some convective heaters use a fan to help distribute hot air around the room. This is one example of a fan heater. These heaters have heating elements made from either metal or ceramic, and the elements are in direct contact with the air in the room, allowing fan heaters to warm the room more quickly than those without fans.
Convective without a fan
Convective heaters without a fan are built so that the heating element is surrounded by either oil or water. These heaters warm the room more slowly because the oil or water must be heated before the heat can reach the surrounding air. However, these heaters also produce longer-lasting heat after being turned-off because of the hot oil inside the heater.
- Safe operation
Space heaters should either be plugged directly into the wall outlet or into a heavy duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Improper extension cords can cause fires.
- Plugs and cords should be periodically checked for cracks or damage, and replaced if damaged.
- Flammable materials such as curtains, furniture, and bedding should be kept at least 3 feet away from the heater.
- Turn-off the heater when the last adult leaves the room or goes to sleep. Children or pets should be kept 3 feet away from the heater.
- Place the heater on a flat, hard, and nonflammable surface.
- Avoid using heaters near flammable materials like paint or gasoline.
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