Feet in bright multicolored socks near space heaters at home

When the weather starts to cool down, you may be ready to close the windows but not quite ready to turn on the furnace. Heating your home can be expensive, especially if you have an older home. There are simple things you can do to heat your home efficiently (and affordably).  Space heaters are a great option to warm one specific area of your house, especially for short periods of time, but do space heaters use a lot of electricity? Here’s what you need to know.

Do Space Heaters Use a Lot of Electricity?

Compared to baseboard heaters and central heating, space heaters offer a compact and portable heating solution. You have the ability to move the heater into any room you like, and you can run it for short periods of time without the expense of heating the whole house.

Before you fill your house with these portable heating units, however, it’s important to determine whether you’ll actually be saving electricity (and money) by doing so.

A large space heater (typically about 1,500 watts) uses about 1.5 kilowatts of power. Most electric bills are calculated in terms of kilowatt hours – the amount of energy you use per hour to run a 1-kilowatt appliance. In order to determine how much it’ll cost you to run your space heater, you’ll need to check your electric bill to see how much the electric company charges you per kilowatt hour.

Charges per kilowatt hour vary by state but generally fall somewhere between 10 cents and 28 cents per kilowatt hour. Using an average of 20 cents per kilowatt hour, it would cost you about 30 cents per hour to run a large space heater.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right? But costs can add up quickly. Running a space heater for even just 8 hours a day can add over $70 to your monthly electric bill.

How Do Space Heaters Work?

When it comes to heating your home, there are a variety of options. Older homes typically utilize baseboard heaters, either electric or forced hot water heaters, though newer homes often have central heating powered by a furnace. For smaller spaces and short-term heating, space heaters are an option.

Space heaters are typically small, portable units that are often powered by electricity. Some space heaters utilize convection, passing electricity through a heating element that becomes hot and transfers heat to the air in the room. Infrared space heaters pass electricity through a conductive wire, heating a solid surface rather than the air in the room.

Some space heaters are powered by the combustion of some kind of flammable fuel, usually natural gas, kerosene, propane, or wood.

Things to Keep in Mind

No one wants to spend the winter shivering, but neither do you want to wind up with a $300 heating bill every month. Using space heaters could be a sound financial choice, but there are a few things you should consider before taking the plunge.

First and foremost, do your research. The potential cost savings of using a space heater depends on the cost of electricity in your area.

States that use renewable energy sources like hydroelectric and wind power tend to be a little cheaper. This is the case in both Idaho and Washington where the average cost per kilowatt hour is under 10 cents. Power that comes from natural gas or oil is more expensive. Hawaii, where oil must be imported to power generators, has an average cost over 28 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity.

You should also think about your home’s footprint. If you have a small, single-story home it might save you money to use a space heater. In larger, multi-story homes, however, you’ll have to purchase and run several units which will increase not only your upfront investment but your operational costs as well.

Tips for Using a Space Heater Safely

Before you buy a space heater, and certainly before you start running one every day, you should do some simple math to get an idea how much it will cost. Compare that cost to your monthly heating bill to see whether it’s really worth the effort.

Here are some other tips for using a space heater safely (and efficiently):

  • Don’t leave your space heater unattended. Not only is it dangerous to leave a freestanding heating unit on when you’re out of the room, but it makes no sense to pay to heat a room you aren’t occupying.
  • Monitor room temperature on your own. Most space heaters don’t come equipped with thermostats or adjustable temperature controls – even if they do, they’re rarely accurate. Use a separate thermometer to track the temperature in your room to avoid overheating it.
  • Use space heaters in small, enclosed spaces. It probably isn’t very efficient to run a space heater in a giant living room with lofted ceilings – the heat will dissipate too quickly. Instead, use them in small areas that can be closed off to retain heat.
  • Know what you’re buying. Some space heaters warm the air while others heat the surfaces directly in front of them. Decide where and how you’re going to use a space heater and buy the best option for that application.
  • Don’t double up on heating costs. If you’re using a space heater because your bedroom is too cold at night, consider turning down the thermostat on your central heating overnight so you’re not doubling up on heating costs.

If you’re having trouble keeping your home warm in the winter, take the time to consider more permanent fixes for heat conservation before you buy an army of space heaters. Something as simple as weatherstripping or changing your furnace filter more regularly can increase energy efficiency.  If you’ve looked through your options and want to buy a space heater, see our best space heaters guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Do space heaters save money?

It depends how you use them. If you just want to heat a particular room for a few hours or warm a drafty area without increasing your whole-home temperature, it could work. Space heaters generally aren’t cost-effective for long-term or whole-home heating, however.

How long can space heaters be left on?

Space heaters should never be left on unattended and should really only be used for short periods of time. While you may be able to get away with 8 to 10 hour stretches or overnight, fire safety specialists recommend using space heaters for 2 to 3 hours at night and turning it off when you go to sleep.

Are space heaters dangerous?

They can be, if used incorrectly. According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, space heaters are responsible for 43% of home heating fires each year. More shockingly, 81% of home heating fire deaths involve portable or stationary space heaters.

Are space heaters expensive to run? 

It depends. The cost to run a space heater depends on what your electric company charges per kilowatt hour and how long/how often you use the space heater. At 20 cents per kilowatt hour, it could cost upwards of $70 per month to run a single space heater for 8 hours a day.