Money saving electric heaters have become popular ads, even sporting Bob and Amish fireplaces as perks to convince you to take the plunge. Do you save anything, or is this a con?
The answer to the practicality of money saving electric heaters as compared to less expensive electric heaters turned out to be rather simple, yet, to share this answer requires that you have some background information so that you understand why the answer is what it is, in lieu of simply taking my word for it.
To start, when looking to evaluate anything, you must have something concrete on which to base your assessment. When it comes to using electricity, that it quite simple. We refer to OHM’s Law and the formula P=ExI which translates as WATTS = VOLTAGE x CURRENT, which more simply means, the electric power you get out of something is based upon the voltage applied and the amperage used.
A standard electric space heater that runs on 120 volts generally provides an output of 1500 watts of heat. The current can be found with the formula I=P/E or CURRENT = WATTS divided by VOLTAGE, which equates to 12.5 amps = 1500 watts divided by 120 volts.
Since your power utility company charges you for watts, it doesn’t matter whether you use 120v or 240v to provide your 1500 watts of heat. If your utility company charges 14 cents per kilowatt hour, this means you pay 14 cents for every hour where you consume 1000 watts or 1KW. If you used the 1500 watt (1.5 KW) heater for one hour, that is equal to 1.5 KW x .14 = 21 cents per hour.
Next, let’s formulate the room size this 1500 watts can heat. The BTU (British Thermal Unit) is the accepted heating unit. When determining the BTU’s provided by any electrical heating source, simply multiply the watts by 3.413 and the resulting number is the BTU’s. In our case 1500 watts x 3.413 = 5119.5 BTU’s.
There is no set level of how many BTU’s are needed to heat your room. For example, if you live in a northern state, winter temperatures can easily stay in the teens or single digits for days on end. You need to add up to 60 degrees of heat to maintain a 65 to 70 degrees in the room. Alternatively, if you live in a southern state, winter temperatures can easily stay in the thirties or forties most days. You would need to add only 30 to 40 degrees of heat to the air to maintain a 65 to 70 degree room temperature.
To resolve issues with temperature variations, we’ll introduce a temperature zone multiplier of 40 for cold climates, 25 for moderate climates and 10 for warmer climates. Add 10 more if the house is poorly insulated and add 10 more if there are bad seals on the windows and doors.
To begin calculating the BTU’s required for any space, you first need to obtain its square footage by multiplying the rooms length by its width. A ceiling height of 8 feet is assumed. To compensate for taller ceilings, increase the square footage by 12% for each additional foot of ceiling height. For example, a 12 x 12 room is equal to 144 square feet. If the ceiling height were 9 feet we would multiply 144 x 1.12 for a total of 161 square feet.
Now, depending upon your temperature zone, multiply your square footage by your temperature zone multiplier. Using our example, if we were living in a northern state, we would multiply 144 square feet x 40 for a total requirement of 5760 BTUH’s for that room. This is just short of the 5120 BTU provided by a 1500 watt electric heater, but it should suffice in most instances. If the house were not insulated well and had issues with air infiltration, a larger or second heater would be necessary.
Meanwhile, any claim by an electric heater manufacturer that says their heater will heat 300 to 1000 square feet means nothing if there is no reference to the outside temperature or condition of the room. The newest version of the money saving electric heater claims to be able to heat 1000 square feet, but it uses only 1483 watts. Our previous example shows how this could be marginal even for a 144 square foot room, let alone 1000 square feet. Using our same example, a 1000 square foot room at 40 BTUH per square foot would require approx 40,000 BTU of heat. To determine the watts, we divide that by 3.413 to get 11720 watts, which is almost eight times greater in size than the wattage provided by the money saving heater.
OK, so now we know how and why a 1500 watt electric heater will heat an average room size of 12 x 12 by providing 5120 BTU’s of heat energy using approx 6.25 amps while plugged into a 120 volt outlet.
If your $400 to $600 heater says it provides 1500 watts, it will do absolutely nothing different than what a $60 heater can do by providing the same 1500 watts. If you set either heater in the room that also includes the thermostat for your whole house heating system, you will reduce your houses overall fuel consumption because the thermostat will not sense the need to activate the heating system. This can save money, but the rest of the rooms in your home could freeze.
Just for the fun of it, let’s say we ran a $60 1500 watt electric heater 16 hours a day, for 4 months straight, what would this cost? 16 hours x 7 days x 4.25 weeks per month x 4 months = 1904 hours x 1.5 KW per hour = 2856 KWH. At 14 cents per KWH, the total cost for power would be $400 plus another $60 for the heater for a total of $460 in all.
Now, let’s say we ran a $500 1500 watt electric heater 16 hours a day, for 4 months straight, what would this cost? 16 hours x 7 days x 4.25 weeks per month x 4 months = 1904 hours x 1.5 KW per hour = 2856 KWH. At 14 cents per KWH, your total cost for power would be $400 plus another $500 for the heater for a total of $900 in all.
Here’s the simple answer…
If you take the $900 spent to heat a room with a ‘money saving’ heater and then minus the $460 you really only needed to spend by using a typical heater, you were overcharged by $440 which you have unknowingly donated to Amish farmers or to Bob and his sponsors. It’s an American tradition to make donations, but if you are going to make a donation, you should be informed that it is a donation.
What Else Could You Do With $440.00 Dollars?
If you purchase a basic $60 portable electric heater instead of a ‘money saving’ electric heater, what could you do with your extra money?
- Buy 170 gallons of fuel oil at $2.60 per gallon and heat your house for 30 days
- Buy 21890 cu ft of natural gas at $2.01 per ccf and heat your house for 30 days
- Buy 3 tons of coal at $146 per ton and heat your entire house for 3 months
- Buy a second $60 1500 watt heater and heat an another room for 4 months
- Hire a company to insulate and weatherize your home, saving 15% to 25% on all heating and cooling costs forever
Electricity is already 100% efficient. By combing electricity with heat pump technology, you could extract heat from the ground or air and use electricity to gather heat from these other sources, but the electricity itself cannot mutate into more than what it is. There is no magic way to make pure electrical power provide more watts than what the laws of physics allow.
For now, the best thing you can do to conserve energy is to spend your money on insulating and sealing your home so that the energy you do consume is used more effectively. A couple hundred dollars spent on home weatherization can save thousands of dollars as the years pass, regardless of what method you use to heat and cool your home. Be smart, be green and conserve what you are already using and you’ll save more energy and money than any money saving heater sponsor can ever hope to convince you of otherwise.