Do-It-Yourself

Do-It-Yourself: Selecting the right space heater

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By Gene Austin
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Q: Our dining room, which isn't very large, never seems to get enough heat from our central heater. We'd like to get an electric space heater to help heat it but are baffled by the different types of heaters available. Which is best for our purpose? --Andy

A: Understanding the two basic types of space heaters -- convection and radiant -- should help you decide. Convection heaters warm the air in a room, eventually making the entire space warmer. They are somewhat slower to achieve a comfortable temperature than radiant heaters, which quickly warm objects near them. In short, if you want overall comfort and don't mind waiting a little while for it, choose a convection heater. If you want quick heat in certain spots, such as around your dining-room table, a radiant heater could be your best choice.

Convection heaters include baseboard heaters, oil-filled heaters such as the popular DeLonghi models and some ceramic heaters. Some convection heaters are equipped with fans to speed up circulation of the heat. You can buy an excellent convection heater for about $50.

Radiant heaters generally have glowing metal or quartz heating elements. Some are fan-equipped, and spot-heat production is almost instant when the heater is turned on. Prices are comparable with those for convection heaters.

Virtually all electric space heaters draw a maximum of 1,500 watts of electricity. Many have switches so the power consumption (and heat production) can be cut approximately in half. Radiant heaters often have adjustable knobs to control the heat output. I have used both types of space heaters and have always felt safer when using a convection heater without exposed heating elements.

Q: Two bedrooms in my house never seem to get enough heat. I have heard of a ductless heat pump that can supply both heating and cooling. Would this be practical for my situation? Can a ductless heat pump be installed by a do-it-yourselfer? --Maria

A: Ductless heat pumps, or split-system heat pumps, use compact tubing to deliver refrigerant from an outside unit to individual air handlers mounted in various rooms. The bulky ducts typical to conventional heat pumps are not needed. Systems are available that can be used for both heating and cooling, but most are designed to provide cooling in place of a central air conditioner. I don't think this is a good do-it-yourself project. If you are interested, you should contact heat-pump experts in your area and get a couple of professional appraisals of your situation, as well as the costs.

You don't say what kind of heating system you have, but I think your first step should be to have an experienced technician tune up and check the system. It is quite possible that this will result in better heating in the bedrooms. It might also be possible to make modifications, at much less cost than that for a ductless heat pump, to improve performance. You could also cool these bedrooms with window air conditioners, at a modest cost, unless you live in a development where they are prohibited.

Q: I used a kerosene heater to heat my vacation cabin years ago and have been looking for one to use in my home. Stores in my area don't carry them anymore. How come? --S. Martinez

A: Kerosene heaters were wildly popular about 35 years ago but were involved in so many accidents that many municipalities banned them. The accidents, including house fires, were often the result of misuse of the heaters -- using the wrong fuel, refueling hot heaters, failing to provide ventilation and putting heaters too close to flammable objects. In addition, kerosene became quite expensive and often difficult to find. I believe kerosene heaters are useful for emergencies, such as power failures, but they must be used properly to ensure safety. They can still be bought in some areas and are available on the Internet. Use a search engine and the words "Kerosene Heaters" for sources. Before buying, make sure there is a source of pure kerosene in your area.

Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422


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