Here's How Much a Space Heater Can Save You on Heating Costs

Author: Marina

Mar. 07, 2024

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Tags: Home Appliances

Using a space heater to target rooms you're using instead of heating the entire house is a surefire way to trim money off of your monthly energy spend. Space heaters cost about 20 cents per hour to operate, give or take, which is a whole lot cheaper than central heat for a home of almost any size. Bigger homes and those in colder climates cost even more to heat, and the net savings you'll see using a space heater is even greater. In short: The higher your typical monthly heating bill is, the more you can save by smartly dispatching a space heater this winter. 

To find out exactly how much you can save using a space heater this winter, we did the math. While there are loads of variables -- fuel cost in your region, climate, house size, preferred temperature -- we relied on some national averages, and it turns out you can save hundreds, even into the thousands if you're heating a bigger home with pricey oil.

For more ways to save money this winter, check out five tips to save money on your heating bill, where you should move your thermostat to cut down heating costs and the best energy-saving smart gadgets that will help you cut down your bills.

How much does it cost to run a space heater? 

The cost to run a space heater depends on the type of heater that you've got, including its size and wattage. A small personal heater can be purchased as cheaply as $20, whereas a full-room heater can run you up to $300, depending on the model and heating capacity. Larger heaters cover more area and are more effective (while smaller heaters in big spaces are inefficient), but also cost more to run. 

You'll want to consider energy efficiency. This is tricky when it comes to space heaters because they are not currently evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar program. As a result, you'll have to take the word of the manufacturer. 

Finally, you'll need to take into account your state or municipality's electricity rates. This will determine the cost per hour that you can expect to incur by running your space heater. These prices might also dictate how long you'd like to run your space heater. 

On average, you can expect to pay about 20 cents per hour to run an average space heater that's 1,500 watts and can heat a standard room. If you run it for eight hours per day, you'll pay about $1.60 per day. That comes out to just under $50 per month. 

How much does it cost to heat the average home?

Comparatively, the cost to heat a house varies widely, based largely on home size and fuel type. Below is what the US Energy Information Association predicts US households will spend on heating this winter, from Oct. 1 through March 31 or 181 days. The chart of anticipated costs for various fuel types to heat a home in a climate 10% colder than the national average for winter 2022-23.

Projected US heating costs for winter 2022-23


Cost per US household (Oct. '22 - Mar. '23)Average price per dayAverage price per hourIncrease from previous year Natural gas $1,096$6.05$0.2528%Heating oil $2,605$14.39$0.6027%Electricity $1,482$8.16$0.3410%Propane $2,157$11.90$0.505%

Can you save on heating by using a space heater?

This chimney-style space heater adds warmth and ambiance. 

While $50 per month sounds like a steal for heating, a space heater is not a full substitute for heating an entire home. But there are plenty of ways to save money using a space heater to supplement your monthly warming and slash your utility bill. If you think about it, home heating isn't efficient since you're not in all rooms at all times. A natural foil for a bloated heating bill is to crank the thermostat down and use a space heater to warm a room you know you'll be in for an extended period such as your home office during the day or living room in the evening. For this exercise, we'll calculate how much you could save using a space heater for a third of the day, or eight hours. 

Using the figures in the first chart, I've calculated the average cost of running a space heater for eight hours versus the cost of running the heat for the entire home using each of the four most popular fuel types. I then multiplied the cost of each eight-hour total by 181 days (Oct. 1 to Mar. 31). From that, you can get a snapshot of the delta between the cost of running a space heater versus central heat, along with potential savings for using a space heater for a portion of the day.

How much you'll save using a space heater


Cost per 8 hoursSavings using space heater, 8 hoursSavings with space heater, Oct-Mar Natural gas $2.00$0.40$72Heating oil $4.80$2.80$506Electricity $2.72$0.72$130Propane $4.00$2.00$434

For those using oil or propane as fuel, the savings are significant: $434 for propane and $506 for oil just through the winter season alone. Those with natural gas and electric heat save less -- $72 and $130, respectively -- but, as you'll see in the next section, these numbers don't tell the entire story. Space heater savings are much greater for those with large apartments or freestanding homes and those who live in colder parts of the country. 

Folks with larger homes save more with a space heater

One big caveat to these numbers for estimated heating costs is that they account for all homes and home types in the US including smaller apartments and condos. To heat an average freestanding home with natural gas, for instance, with a 75,000-BTU furnace, you're probably looking at a number closer to 40 cents an hour, according to PickHvac's heating cost calculator. And this is a yearly average; zeroing in on the winter season only would bounce that hourly cost more. The larger your home, the more it costs to heat and the greater your savings will be if you employ a space heater.

Those in colder climates will also save more, on average

Keeping the thermostat set at or below 68 degrees in winter is another way to trim costs from your energy bill.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The figures provided by the Energy Information Association are based on climates just 10% colder than the national average. The EIA numbers represent something of a rough estimate of US heating costs, but ask anyone in North Dakota, Maine or New Hampshire, and they'll tell you these numbers are decidedly low. Anecdotally, we spoke with Deb Barber from Wakefield, Rhode Island, who uses oil to heat a 2,000-square-foot home and reported monthly winter heating bills regularly over $400.

If we use a lowball estimate of 60 cents per hour for heating a freestanding home of about 2,000 square feet with natural gas during the winter months in a colder climate, the savings for using a space heater for eight hours in place of central heat would jump to over $500 for the season. Swap in more expensive oil or propane and prorate for the same scenario above (a larger home or apartment and colder climate) and you're talking about savings well into the thousands. 

If you're looking to add a space heater to cut energy costs, we've done some digging to find the best space heaters for 2023, including a budget pick, compact models and the best space heater for large rooms.

How do costs vary based on space heater settings?

The cost to run a space heater varies depending on its size and power.

Honeywell

On most space heaters, you'll see an option to adjust the level of heat that the appliance provides. Most have some form of a "low," "medium" and "high" setting. Typically what these settings translate to is the amount of the wattage capacity that is in use to heat your room. 

Let's say you have a space heater that can produce up to 1,500 watts and you place it on the "low" setting, it may only use 750 watts of its capacity. This does have an impact on the overall energy consumption that your space heater will require. It can cut the daily cost in half. However, it may limit the heating ability of the space heater. It might be best to use the low setting to maintain warmth and only use the medium or high settings to provide additional heat to save on cost.

Space heaters are handy appliances to have, especially as the weather outside gets frightful and you need to start layering your clothes. But you'll want to prepare yourself for the cost of using a space heater. An additional $50 per month of utility costs can significantly impact your budget if you aren't prepared for it. Consider how to best balance your budget and your heating needs to make it through the winter in comfort and without breaking the bank.

How to pick the right space heater

If you're looking for some extra heat in the winter or to warm up your cubicle in a particularly cold office building, a space heater can be an excellent option. But not all space heaters are made the same. You'll want to take into account the amount of space that you're trying to heat, the way they heat the space, and the amount of energy they consume to perform the task.

For most people, a standard space heater that covers an average room will do the job. These cover about 200 square feet and are usually around 1,500 watts. If you're looking to heat under a desk or a smaller space, a personal space heater with about 400 or 500 watts will do the job. 

Most space heaters fall into one of two types when it comes to generating heat. There are convection heaters, which work by heating coils that help to heat the air and spread it through the room with a fan. Then there are radiant heaters, which emit infrared radiation to help heat an area. Radiant heaters are faster but more focused, whereas a convection heater provides more even heat throughout an area. In small bursts, radiant heaters are more efficient -- but in a space that needs to be heated for an extended period, convection can prove to be more effective.

Further reading:
Benefits of PVC Skirting Boards
Whole House Fan worth it? : r/HomeImprovement
What is Process Heating?

Whichever space heater you choose, make sure to check out our space heater safety guide.

If your utility relies on a time-of-use plan, learn more about peak and off-peak hours to save money. For more, check out the small home upgrade you can make that will save you big money on heating costs, and more easy ways to save money around the house. 

Understanding the cost of using electric heaters vs radiators is essential if you want to stay warm while keeping costs down.

Fortunately, heating prices are expected to remain relatively flat or decrease for many households this winter, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast. But with winter well underway, we all want ways to cut our energy bills even further.

In our ongoing bid to save you money — we compare electric heaters and radiators to see which one is the cheapest heating method.

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To help answer this important question of electric heaters vs radiators, we’ve sought help from our expert friends at The Money Edit to give you that all-important information. 

But first, consider our other articles about home energy savings:

Electric heaters: Cost of use

According to the EIA’s Electric Power Monthly report, the average cost of electricity in the U.S. is 16.21 cents per kilowatt hour or kWh. However, an electric heater for a home may use up to 4.5kWh per hour, depending on variables like space heated and time operated, according to Better Homes and Gardens. 

The Missouri Division of Energy reports that you can calculate the cost to operate a space heater with the formula kilowatts multiplied by the rate you pay for electricity multiplied by the length of time the appliance runs. Divide watts by 1,000 to get kilowatts per hour. If your electric company charges you 10 cents per kilowatt hour and you run a 1,500-watt space heater for 10 hours, that will cost $1.50.

And while prices for electric heaters can vary depending on the size and type of heater, as well as where you live, the major plus point is that it can be far cheaper than turning on the whole heating system. Electric heaters, which are usually all portable enough to carry around the house, can be handy if you just need a quick burst of heat and you’re the only one in the house.

But if you get to the point where you’re plugging in electric heaters in every room, then the cost may outweigh the cost of central heating. Heating individual rooms using portable electric heaters may seem convenient, but the cost of running electric heating is usually higher than the cost of the gas equivalent. As a rough comparison — if you use an electric heater in four rooms of the house it could be more expensive than using the central heating — especially if you have a smaller home.

Another downside is that when you unplug your electric heater the heat is quickly lost. On the other hand, heat from your radiators isn’t lost instantly when the heating switches off. Plus, it can be harder to pre-set electric heaters to come on at fixed times of day — unless you buy a timer plug which you can pick up at most DIY stores.

Keep in mind that while electric heaters can be used for heating a single room, they shouldn’t be used to dry clothes directly or close by. Never power a heater from an extension lead as they can easily be overloaded and cause fires. It’s also worth registering your new electric heater with the manufacturer as well as any new electrical appliance you buy. It’s free to do this and means you’ll be contacted in the event of any safety issues with the product or recalls. In most cases details on how to do this with the manufacturer should be in the original box.

Radiators: Cost of use

Setting your central heating to come on at regular intervals so your house is toasty warm when you get up in the morning or when you come home after work is a luxury — compared with having to crawl out of a warm bed to switch on an electric heater or come home to a cold house.

If you’ve got radiators in every room, there’s no need to worry about some rooms being left cold, as every room in your house should be evenly heated. And if you’re not using your spare bedroom or any other room, you can easily turn off radiators you don’t use with smart heating controls and timers on thermostats. 

By only heating the rooms you need in the house, you could save you a fair amount of money each year.

When it comes to the cost factor, Dr. Steve Buckley, head of data science at Loop says: “While gas central heating is less efficient in absolute terms, gas is significantly cheaper than electricity”.

This means if you want some extra heat in the lounge while watching TV or working in your upstairs office — flicking on the heating for an extra hour is an expensive way to keep warm.

Temperature is also key to saving money. The US Department of Energy recommends US households set their winter home temperature at around 68°F during daytime — and a few degrees lower while you sleep or leave the home — to save on energy costs.

The verdict

It all comes down to whether you're heating a single room or an entire house. 

If you’re just using one room — for example working from your home office — and need a quick burst of heat, using an electric heater can be a money saver compared with firing up the central radiator heating system.

And electric heaters come out on top for ease of use, low maintenance and easy installation (all you have to do is plug it in). 

But if you try to heat your entire home with electric heaters in each room instead of radiators — it will cost much more and won't give the same level of warmth.

If you are heating your whole house or multiple rooms in it, and are therefore using the radiators, you can still cut costs by doing small things:

  •  Get a home energy audit to identify fixes to optimize efficiency and comfort.
  •  Insulate your home with the help of energy efficiency tax credits to keep the heat in.  

Don’t own an electric heater and don’t want to invest in one right now? There are other things you can do to only heat specific rooms in your home with central heating, which could save you money.

Radiators and other space heaters approach 100 percent efficiency in their use of electricity, but you can achieve greater functional efficiency based on your heating needs. For instance, a small parlor or reading room might be warmed effectively using a radiator's 600-watt heating element, but a family of three spread out on a basement couch might make better use of a higher wattage oscillating heater. The true energy savings come from reducing the use of your whole-house furnace when spot heating is all you really want.

Related Content

Here's How Much a Space Heater Can Save You on Heating Costs

Electric Heaters vs Radiators: Which Is Cheapest for Home Heating?

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