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Electric Heating: The cheap and eco-friendly option for small spaces

Updated on November 14, 2015

Most people think that the cheapest way for someone to keep his household warm is by using a central, gas based heating system. True, in most cases the most cost-effective method is indeed gas. This is why in most countries gas is by far the no.1 heating option. For example, more than 20 million homes in the UK use gas, compared to just 2 millions of consumers that use electric heaters.

However, if you just want to heat a single room or a small space like a conservatory then an electric radiator is probably a cheaper and more eco-friendly option! Now, let’s learn a bit more about these devices.

How does an electric radiator work?

Unlike other heating options, electric radiators are simple standalone systems. As the name suggests, these devices convert electrical energy to heat. Each electric radiator contains an electric resistor that is fitted into the radiator. Inside the radiator is a special thermodynamic fluid, which is heated up by the resistor. The fluid then expands into the entire exchange area inside the heater and brings the heat to the exterior surfaces. The fluid has high heat retaining properties, to hold the heat for as long as possible.

Advantages of using an electric heater

The main advantages of using an electric radiator are:

  • Clean, no ash splinters soot or smoke stains
  • Doesn’t require a boiler room
  • Very easy and fast installation
  • Little maintance required
  • Low investment
  • Versatile, can be used in any space and is often portable

Storage heater which uses cheap night time electricity to heat ceramic bricks. The heat is released when needed
Storage heater which uses cheap night time electricity to heat ceramic bricks. The heat is released when needed | Source

Common Features

Here is a minimum of features a modern electric heater should have:

  • Thermostat: This allows you to set the temperature output of the heater. When the right level of temperature is achieved your heater will stop consuming energy
  • Safety cut out: Even the cheapest radiators have this safety feature. If the device overheats (for whatever the reason) the power cuts to avoid any damages
  • Tilt cut off: The radiator will turn off if knocked over, preventing carpets and other flameable items from getting burnt.

Heater Types

Broadly speaking, electric heaters can be divided into two categories. Portable and non portable or fixed and non-fixed.

The difference is that you can pick up (or push) non-fixed heaters with your hands and move them with out much effort to another room.

The fixed heatersare mounted on a surface, usually a wall. Portable radiators are ideal if you want something cheap for a small space, as they tend to be “weaker “ than fixed ones

Types based on principle

There are three main types of heaters to choose from:

  • Fan Heaters
  • Convection Radiators
  • Infrared Radiators

Let’s see briefly each one of them works :

  • Fan Heaters: A fan heater consists of two parts: The fan and…the heater. The role of the fan is to create a constant air flow through the heating element. Then, this heated air warms the surrounding area. The advantage of an electric fan heater is that it can maintain a constant temperature in relatively large spaces. However, they tend to consume much more energy.
  • Convection Radiators:The functioning principle of a convection radiator is based on the premise that cold air always moves to the bottom and penetrates the radiator’s lower grid. The air that passes through the heating elements gets warmed up, becomes lighter and rises to the top of the room. Then the next cold layer gets into the radiator and the process repeats again and again.
  • Infrared Radiators: This type of radiator is fairly new and becomes more popular each passing year. What makes it stand out is that the device itself does not heat the air in the room. The heating occurs with the help of infrared waves of a certain frequency, while the radiator actually stays cold.
  • Storage Heater: Also known as heat bank, it is an electrical heater which stores thermal energy during the evening, or at night when the price for electricity is cheaper. The heat is released during the day as required.

Vertical Infrared Heater
Vertical Infrared Heater | Source

Choosing the right heater

To choose the right heater you need to take certain things under consideration. Obviously, the the room's dimensions and square surface area are the most crucial factor. For instance, are you looking at heating a large living room or just a small bathroom? Looks are another important factor. Do you want something simple for your bathroom or something elegant for your office?

The most important factor to look out for is the wattage. In general the bigger the room the more wattage you will require. A quick rule of the thumb is the following:

10 watts per square ft for ceiling 8' or lower or 1.25 watts per cubic foot for ceilings higher then 9'.

Here’s a quick practical example for a small room:

Square footage = 10'W x 15'L = 150 (standard 7 to 8 foot ceiling)

Watts per Sq Ft = 10 to 12 watts

150 sq ft x 10 watts = 1,500 watt

So this room will need a minimum heater of 1,500 wats and you should select a 1,500 to 2,000 watt heater.

Another important factor is the size and shape of the heater. They come in all sizes and can be either horizontal or vertical.

Finally, you may want to decide if you need something portable or a fixed. If your room is small then it’s always better to get a portable radiator as it gives the option of moving it to other rooms as well!

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