This guide's purpose is to differentiate the different portable heaters out on the market, so you can get a better handle on which to buy to suit your personal needs.
Whether you need to supplement your existing heater system, heat specific rooms in a house, or even provide heating for an outdoor room or patio, portable heaters offer a range of applications to suit your needs. Their convenient design allows them to be truly portable, in the sense that they require no permanent installation.
There are four main types of portable heaters: electric, combustion, radiant, and convection model portable heaters. Electric portable heaters are plugged into a wall outlet for power and have a wattage and BTU rating. These portable heaters can supply a black heat, where the heating elements has heating wire wound around the porcelain insulators, or instant heat, where the heating element utilizes a ribbon element for heating.
Combustion space heaters are either vented or unvented. Unvented combustion units are not recommended for use inside your home because of their adverse effects on air quality. Vented combustion heating units are designed to expel exhaust air outside through a gas flue. Pay special attention when installing vented heaters to avoid leakage of hazardous exhaust into your home. Combustion heaters are extremely powerful heaters, ideal for outdoor and patio use.
Radiant vs. Convection Portable Heater Models
Using a reflector panel, radiant heaters focus instant heat on a designated spot rather than the surrounding air. In this way, heat is spread from one solid object to others in the room. This type of heater is usually rated at 1500 watts. Convection heaters do not have a reflector panel, but work by warming air that rises and is then distributed around the room. This heater is usually the safest type of portable heater to use around small children because the hot heating elements are completely enclosed. Although convection heaters are the ideal type of heater for heating a whole room, they tend to take longer to heat a specific spot in a room than radiant heaters.
This is one of the main advantages of portable heaters- they can be installed in many places that other heaters cannot. However, due to the varying designs of portable heaters, it may be necessary to vent the heater or position it out of doors for your safety. Unvented combustion units, for example, are not recommended for indoor use.
Choosing a portable heater
If you've decided a portable heater is the choice for you, here are some important considerations:
- Your Wattage/BTU requirements - This is probably the first and most important consideration. Unlike other heaters, portable heaters are designed so that they can be moved from room to room easily. You should still try to get the most appropriately sized heater for the space that you will be using it in, but be mindful of all the uses that you will need the unit for when you try to estimate your required capacity. For a one-room application, ideally you want to get a unit with a capacity as closely matched to your needs as possible. A unit that is not powerful enough will run constantly and will never properly heat the room. A unit that is too powerful may create stuffiness. The ideally sized unit will run at its maximum capacity on the few coldest days of the year and run somewhat under capacity at other times.
- Your variable settings needs - Variable settings allow you to set the heat output and energy consumption on your portable heater. During warmer seasons or in smaller spaces you can turn the heater down and conserve energy while maintaining a comfortably warm temperature.
- Built-in blowers, fans, or oscillating features - Built-in blowers, fans, and oscillating heaters serve to spread heat out more evenly across a room, helping to reduce energy usage.
- Your safety requirements - Portable heaters may offer safety features such as automatic shut-offs, anti-tipping devices, and heat guards to protect from injury or fire hazard. Will your portable heater be a danger to animals, small children, or create a fire hazard? If so, it is important to carefully consider the safety features provided by each model.
Once you've decided on the above factors, you may want to think about some other features that can add to the convenience of the portable heater:
- Portability features - all models are made to be easily portable. Some offer added cool-touch handles or rolling castor wheels
- Remote control - some units can be controlled from across the room
- Manual vs. electronic controls - manual models can be simpler to use and they often offer superior timers to digital models, but digital models usually offer more advanced features
- Noise level - though many of today's portable heaters are quieter than older models, you still might want to consider their noise level. Often noise levels are given in Decibel ratings. The higher the Decibel level, the louder the unit is, and every 10 decibel increase is an increase in the sound pressure by a factor of ten (60 Decibels is 10 times louder than 50 Decibels and 100 times louder than 40 Decibels, for example)
- Timer and sleep function - a timer allows you to save energy by only running the portable heater at set times. For example, you might set the heater only run when you anticipate being at home- and not wasting energy by heating an unused or empty room. Sleep timers also help save energy by heating less after the portable heater has been running for a set time. This way, you set the heater to run while you are going to sleep and it continues running while you sleep, but at a lower level (i.e., the temperature in the room is allowed to rise a bit) while you sleep
- Portable heater physical size and appearance - some portable heaters are smaller and/or more pleasing to the eye than others.
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