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Space Heater Nonsense

This video will be a little bit different from most of mine.

I’m revisiting a topic from my very first YouTube days, long before this channel was

a thing.

At the end, I’ll link to a follow up discussion on my second channel where I talk about why

I’m making this again.

But for now, here’s what we’re doing.

In the Northern hemisphere, it’s winter right now.

At least, well, at least at the time of this video’s upload.

Winter means cold and cold means sadness.

But thankfully, I have a friendly space heater to keep myself warm and my spirits high.

These electric heaters are a useful, if perhaps dangerous and expensive way to heat a space.

But, there’s been something that’s annoyed me about them for years.

And to show you, we need to go shopping.

Alright, let’s see what we got here.

We have, “Medium Room”, 1,500W for $31.99.

Take a step over, and we have “Small Room”,

1,500W.

$12.79.

Thi… that… that number’s the same.

Why is that the same?

Here’s a different one.

“Medium room”, fif… fifteen hun..

Five..

Wha?

OK...

Here’s a different one, we got small…

fif… hmmm.

Well, store #2 is almost entirely out of heaters.

Ugh, this is what I get for doing this AFTER the Polar Vortex.

Hmm.

There we go.

OK, so here we have an infrared quartz radiant heater, which is being marketed as for medium

sized rooms.

Shocker of shockers; 1,500W. And also, this is a radiant heater so really the size of

the room isn’t as important as its application but let’s move on.

So here we have a personal desktop heater, 1,500W.

This one is apparently some sort of genius, um, don’t really get that

but look at that.

1,500 W.

Let’s look at this guy here.

It’s a ceramic heater.

Uh, 1,500W.

One of these 360 degree things.

Oh, it’s 1,500W.

As you no doubt noticed, at every store we visited, many of the space heaters for sale

were categorized based on the size of the room that they would be appropriate for.

And yet, they were all rated 1500 watts.

Now first let me say that there are definitely reasons to choose some heaters over another.

For instance, this infrared radiant heater will do a great job of keeping you warm even

in a cold room, because the infrared radiation it generates will directly heat your skin

and thus body from a distance.

They’re even useful outdoors because of their transmissive style of direct heating.

But if you want to heat a space, as in heat a room and keep it warm, all of these heaters

are doing the same thing.

They’re heating the air around them and are thus increasing the temperature in the

room.

With this goal in mind, literally any of these heaters will work.

And they’re gonna work just as well as any of the others, with few exceptions.

It all comes down to that 1500 watts.

Let’s take a step back and think about what heaters actually have to do.

Heat is really just energy, and the temperature of a room is a way of expressing how much

energy is currently concentrated in that room.

Now, energy always likes to spread out, and if there’s a temperature gradient between

one space and another, the more highly concentrated energy in the warm place wants to exit the

warm place and spread out into the cold place.

Once it reaches equilibrium, energy transfer stops.

And eventually, this leads to the heat death of the universe.

*sound of party blower*

Now, to keep a room warm when the outside is cold, we have to keep releasing energy

into it.

And we need to add energy at least at the same rate that it leaves through the walls

and windows, which hopefully are well insulated to slow that process as much as possible.

The amount of energy leaving the room is called the thermal load.

Now, I’m going to use the BTU, that’s British Thermal Unit, for much of this video;

I’m sorry for picking that unit, please write your complaints below.

The heater’s basic job is to replace the energy that’s leaving the room.

So if the room is losing 4,000 BTUs per hour through the walls, that’s the thermal load,

and thus we need a heater which can produce at least 4,000 BTUs in order to maintain the current

indoor temperature.

We’ll need more than that if we want to increase the temperature.

And if we can’t produce 4,000 BTUs, the room will gradually get colder until the temperature

gradient is small enough that energy leaving equals energy being added, and we hit equilibrium

once more.

You may be asking what this has to do with space heaters.

Well children, it turns out that watts and BTUs are both units of the same thing!

That’s energy!

Hold on, no.

Watts are a unit of power, and a watt-hour is a unit of energy.

BTUs makes this confusing because people often say “BTUs per hour” which I’ve already

said at least once but, anyway, it’s a mess.

Let’s continue.

1 watt equals 3.41 BTUs.

Now, all of these space heaters are labeled as using 1,500 watts.

That means they all produce 5,120 BTUs.

All of ‘em.

Some of them are even kind enough to tell you that.

So then, I put forth to you dear viewer, how is this heater more suited to a medium-sized

room if it is producing the same exact amount of heat as this heater which claims to only

be suitable for a small room?

Regardless of how much energy is leaving a given space, both of these are capable of

adding the same amount of energy back.

That’s 5,120 BTUs.

Now, we can argue as much as we want about how these two heaters distribute the heat they create.

But I do find it humorous that the one claiming to be better suited to a larger room doesn’t

have a fan to assist heat distribution.

Instead it relies solely on the convection currents that are created as the now hot,

low density air rises up through it and pulls cold, dense air from behind.

This heater has a fan blowing air past its ceramic heating elements.

Surely it’s moving more air, you can feel it.

But honestly, it doesn’t need to do much because of that little thing we call convection.

No matter where heat is released into a room, it will eventually spread out.

Using a fan just speeds that process along.

And for those who may want to point out that the fan motor in this guy is part of that

1,500 watts and therefore it must cause the unit as a whole to release less heat, I’ll

counter that in addition to the motor being a negligible part of the heater’s energy

consumption, all of that energy will eventually be released as heat anyway, either through

friction with air molecules, or through the wasted heat created in the windings of the

motor itself.

The reason why I know without a doubt that these two heaters are both doing the same

work is that they are both electric resistive heaters.

This means they’re taking the electrical energy from the wall outlet and releasing

it as heat.

This is 100% efficient.

In fact, when we talk about efficiency of various household devices like light bulbs

or laptops, we’re really talking about how much waste heat they avoid releasing as they

do their work.

An incandescent bulb releases a ton of waste heat, because it needs a lot of electrical

energy to produce a given amount of light, the vast majority of which is simply wasted.

An LED bulb releases much less heat, because LEDs are a more efficient way of turning electricity

into visible light, which means less electricity is consumed by the bulb to do the same amount

of work.

But if our goal is to create heat, in other words if the work we want to accomplish is

to take that electrical energy and spread it out into the room as heat, 100% of the

energy being consumed will be directly released into the room.

There is no such thing as a more efficient space heater.

There are better and worse applications depending on the type, such as infrared radiant versus

oil-filled convective, but simply put, energy is energy.

If this “medium” heater can’t release more energy into the room than it’s “small

room” counterpart, then those labels are nonsense.

And they are.

We don’t even need to rely on the labeling.

If we use an energy monitoring device like this Kill-A-Watt, we can see exactly how much

energy each of them is using.

And, shocker of shockers, it’s the same amount, within a small margin of error.

Well, some may argue that the margin of error isn’t quite that small, but in any case

it’s pretty humorous that the small heater is about 90 watts more powerful than the medium

heater.

Many heaters have multiple settings which will switch between different heating elements,

therefore giving you the option of a more tepid amount of heat output.

And, nearly all of them have a bimetallic thermostat, if not a digital one, allowing

you to control the temperature within a reasonable degree.

You might be asking why so many of them are rated 1,500W. It turns out that this is the

maximum amount of power a device that continuously operates is allowed to pull from a 15A circuit

according to the national electric code.

A normal 15A household circuit is technically capable of 1,800Ws, but if a device is expected

to run for a long time, like a space heater, it’s limited to using 80% of that capacity.

This creates a margin for error and protects against fires caused by not-quite-up-to-snuff

wiring, and it also helps prevent overloading in general.

But a device that’s only used intermittently, like a hair dryer, is allowed to use the full

capacity.

Since heating elements are phenomenally cheap and easy to make, pretty much all space heaters

are gonna bump right up against that 1,500W limit.

Now, not all of them do.

I’m a big fan of these little personal heaters that only use a couple hundred watts.

I keep this one on my desk and it’s a great little comfort boost on a cold day.

But most “General purpose” heaters will go ahead and push out as much heat as they’re

allowed to.

Now what was pointed out to me the last time I made this video was that heaters such as

this one store heat in the oil and thus are able to release heat even when the heating

elements aren’t turned on!

That’s great, but it doesn’t mean it’s more efficient.

It just means that the heat leaving the heater goes through a buffer.

If the heater is running at a 50% duty cycle, it more or less is constantly releasing 2,560

BTUs, when this heater would release 5,120 for 5 minutes, and then 0 for the next five

minutes.

The end result is the same, though, they both release 2,560 BTUs over 10 minutes--this one

may simply provide more consistent heat.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this video, it’s that any space

heater that claims to be more efficient than its competition is… well its lying.

I’m particularly irked by these “premium” space heaters that claim to save you money

on your energy bills because of some new technology.

One in particular rhymes with “Schmeeden Glur”.

Look, the way they save you energy is by… simply being a space heater.

That’s by turning down the temperature to your whole house, and only heating the room

that you’re in.

Compared to any other space heater, this is no more efficient and frankly, a waste of money.

What’s worse is that electric heat is almost always the most expensive kind of heat, in

fact I made a video on why in cold climates we usually burn fuels like natural gas for

heat rather than use the electric grid.

Yes, the heater itself is 100% efficient, but electricity generation is not.

At least not yet.

And that’s kind of the space heater paradox.

You can save money by using just one and lowering the temperature of your central heating.

But if you decide to buy a bunch of these supposedly miracle heaters for every room

in your house and use them instead of your furnace, you’re gonna be spending a lot

more on energy.

But, let me be clear that the only reason I know these are all the same is that we’re

talking about resistive heat.

If we venture into the land of heat pumps or gas-fired furnaces, now there are efficiency

comparisons to be made.

Some heat pumps work better than others, and condensing furnaces can release more than

95% of the energy from their heating fuel into the space, compared to only 80% for a

conventional furnace.

But any ‘ol electric heater is gonna be 100% efficient.

Whatever energy gets pulled from the wall goes straight into the room.

So, the next time you need to buy a space heater, go ahead and buy a cheap one.

Those expensive ones are… well they’re just not worth it.

This $10 wire-element heater will do just as great of a job heating a room as will a

$200 Schleeden Clure.

Now don’t get me wrong, this thing is ugly and noisy and has a primitive thermostat--that

red mark is where I like to set it--so I’m not about to say that this is objectively

as good as one of those fancy-pants heaters.

But I can say with confidence that it heats just as well, and the cost of that energy

is exactly the same.

I will add that if there’s a room that always needs supplemental heat, like a certain bedroom

in a certain house I grew up in, I prefer the oil-filled type because they’re probably

the safest.

A fan-forced heater will quickly overheat if the fan fails, and then you’ve gotta

hope that the overheat protection cutout works.

These passive ones are pretty much immune from that failure, and because the heat is

spread out over such a large surface area, nothing really gets that hot.

Plus, they’re virtually silent.

Which is nice.

But, keep in mind that they take FOREVER to get warm, so they’re really not great for

short use.

These baseboard style heaters are a nice compromise, but their surfaces do get much hotter so my

gut tells me it’s a little more dangerous.

And allow me to express my bewilderment regarding a companion product for a space heater that

doesn’t seem to exist.

As I said, pretty much all space heaters have a thermostat built-in.

But let’s be honest, they’re usually not great.

It does regulate the temperature, but it’s more of a… let it run until the room’s

as warm as you want, then slowly turn the dial down until it shuts off.

Not very precise, or consistent.

And for those “Digital” heaters, having the thermostat located within the unit itself

(like this) means it will never get a very precise temperature reading of the room.

I’m surprised that you can’t just buy a universal remote thermostat.

I can imagine something like a 10 foot long heavy-duty extension cord with a thermostat

in the middle of it, letting you put it on a table away from the heater itself, and set

an actual temperature.

You could actually build one yourself fairly easily using a thermostat for baseboard heating,

but it seems like a product that should just exist.

OK wait, it does exist.

Look at that!

An outlet thermostat.

That’s actually a really good idea.

Anyway, that’s it for now.

Dishonest marketing departments and misleading labels are some of the most annoying things

we deal with on this planet, but thankfully, with a little knowledge on how the world works,

we can see right through them.

Stick around a little longer for a few more observations regarding my recent space heater

adventures, and be sure to check out the Technology Connections 2 video about why I remade this

video.

As always, thank you to everyone who supports the channel on Patreon, especially the fine

folks that are scrolling up your screen.

With the support of people just like you, Technology Connections has gone from my hobby

to, this!

And I’m very thankful for your support.

If you would like to support the channel and get perks like early video access, occasional

behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as other Patreon-exclusive content, please check out

my Patreon page.

Thank you for your consideration, and I’ll see you next time!

♫ swelteringly smooth jazz ♫

Alright, so I was ready to buy a heater just like this one for this video, as Pelonis was

among my list of offending manufacturers who categorize based upon room size.

But, at least for oil-filled heaters, they’ve dropped that.

Now it simply says “whole room heater”.

They’re apparently not quite out of the woods yet, as this little thing is marked

“small room” even though, you guessed it, it’s 1,500 watts.

But, I will give them credit for this very handy and truthful guide to which type of

space heater is appropriate for which application.

Though there were apparently a few render bugs when it comes to the illustrations.

Comfort Zone is still happily slapping room size suggestions on their products, but notably

their oil-filled heaters, at least the ones for sale here, have gotten smaller and are

only rated 1,200 watts now.

My guess is that this was a cost-cutting measure, and if you reduce its physical size and thus surface

area you’ll need to lower heat output, too.

Both Comfort Zone and Pelonis used to rate this style as for a “large room”, but

perhaps as a result of the 300W reduction, Comfort Zone has downgraded theirs to only

a “medium sized room”.

Which is actually even more humorous, because this medium room heater produces less heat

than this small room heater.

Go figure.

I find this example particularly egregious because they’re suggesting that a physically

larger heater, using the same ceramic heating element technology, is better for a larger

room.

It’s got two heating elements!

Surely it puts out more heat!

No!

This is just yet another design that you can pick from.

And hopefully you pick the most profitable one!

Oh.

These things.

I wonder how many watts this uses.

Well, 5,127 prototypes, that’s useful I guess.

I guess I’ll have to look that one up online.