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Electric Space Heaters Not Designed For Whole House Heating

If you just bought your very first electric space heater for your home the one thing you may like to learn is that these home heaters are not to be used to heat up your entire house. Find out more about this and how to use your space heater safely here.


Electric space heaters are for "spot heating" and are not practical for whole-house heating. They're for that one family member who always needs a personal heat source so the rest of the family can be comfortable at a 65-degree furnace thermostat setting in the winter.

American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma's current kilowatt-hour fee is $0.08588, said company spokesman Ed Bettinger. A radiant electric heater running at 1,500 watts per hour for 24 hours uses 36,000 watts. A "kilowatt-hour" is the use of 1,000 watts in one hour. Dividing 1,000 watts into 36,000 watts is 36 kilowatt-hours. At 8.588 cents per kwh the heater would cost $3.09168 per day to operate - times 30 days in a month is $92.75 (a hefty bill for a little space heater).

John Staires, electrical inspections supervisor for the city of Tulsa, said most Tulsa household electrical circuits now are capable of carrying 20 amps of power. Even though they are capable of 20-amp service, by code, any one cord-connected appliance cannot exceed a maximum of 80 percent of the circuit rating - 16 amps - to avoid pushing the circuit to its maximum capacity and tripping its breaker. The maximum number of watts that can be supplied by a receptacle is determined by multiplying line voltage (120 volts in Tulsa) by the amps (16 amps) for a total of 1,920 watts. Modern-day electrical heaters run at 1,500 watts - meaning only 420 watts remain available on that circuit, once the heater is running.

However, most circuits have multiple wall receptacles, over their lengths through the house, some powering 4 wall receptacles and two ceiling lights, etc. If the ceiling light fixtures each power one 60-watt bulb (120 watts) and three of the receptacles each power a 100-watt appliance (300 watts) that would take 420 watts - meaning the circuit is right at its 80 percent usage maximum with the heater included. This underscores the need for running the electric heater as the only electrical device on that circuit.

"Ideally, the heater should be on a 20 amp circuit (one with no other power requirements) and be served by a 20 amp receptacle," Staires said. "There are still some 15 amp circuits in older Tulsa homes and these should not be used for electrical heaters, as the 80 percent permitted maximum on 15 amps is 1,440 watts - 60 watts shy of being adequate. Buy only heaters with listing marks from nationally recognized testing labs: UL, ETL or CSA - to ensure the heater was tested to conform to a safety standard." 

Read more below:

Action Line: Space heaters aren't for whole-house heating | Tulsa ...

"A Home Depot customer eyes the portable electric heaters in downtown Tulsa on Dec. ... Electric heaters do cause home fires when placed closer than 3 feet to"

Electric space heaters are generally very efficient and most people who use them find them more cost effective than using a gas heater. Most people choose a particular electric space heater compared to another type of home electric heater judging by its cost effectiveness. Quite naturally and most people don't mind the trouble and time to measure the fuel consumption and the heat being generated for their purchased heater especially if they have just bought a newer heater in the home.

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