According to the Government of Australia’s Office of Energy, portable electric heaters can use from 1 to 2 kilowatts, depending on the heater setting, while gas heaters can use the equivalent of over 6 kilowatts. The type of space heater you have should depend on your heating goal and whether the area you’d like to heat is small or large, drafty or confined. These variables will determine whether a space heater is a more energy-efficient option than central heating systems.
Central Heating Energy Consumption
According to the Department of Energy, central heating efficiency ranges from 85 to 97 percent for gas-fired heating systems, 80 to 89 percent for oil-fired systems and 45 to 60 percent for coal-fired heating systems. Electric-air or electric central heating systems are less energy-efficient than combustion systems because most electricity is generated remotely at power plants that burn fossil fuels. Up to two-thirds of the energy in the original fossil fuels is generally lost at the power station and in transmission losses.
Central Heating Variables
Central heating systems can be adjusted to turn on using a thermostat activated when the temperature reaches a certain low point. By adjusting this temperature depending on your personal tolerance for cold--or how many layers of clothing you foresee wearing around the house--you can minimize the amount of energy you use. However, when you do use your central heating system, you may waste energy if you just need to heat a single room and running the central system heats the entire house; also remember that central heating systems naturally lose energy during heat distribution.
Space Heater Variables
The U.S. State of Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources notes that additional features on space heaters, such as thermostats or different heat settings, can affect how much energy you use. Wise use of an electric portable heater in combination with your standard heating system can be an effective and energy-conscious way of heating your home, especially if your central heating system also runs on electricity. Propane, natural gas and kerosene space heaters are available.
Space Heater Types
Electric space heaters can be inexpensive to purchase (though operating costs can quickly accumulate if not used prudently) and convenient. Radiant space heaters, in contrast to space heaters that use a fan to circulate warm air in the room, heat you and your surroundings directly by using infrared radiation. Radiant heaters, however, only work if you are in a direct line of sight of the heater--otherwise you may find yourself running the heater but not getting warmer.
Space Heater Warnings
If you plan to save energy by heating a small room with a space heater, install fire detectors in rooms where space heaters will be used. Look for models that have automatic shut-off switches that would be activated if the heater accidentally tipped over, and never use an electric heater with an extension cord.