A look at some heating devices

By Tom Seymour | Oct 11, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Several types of heaters can be used inside the home.

Every year, a stark reminder of the season arrives in the form of a whiff of wood smoke, or perhaps a thin thread of smoke rising from a chimney. It’s heating season now and time for a look at the various ways we heat our homes.

Some of us use only one heating source, an oil-fired furnace, for instance. In that case, it’s just a matter of turning up the thermostat, plain and simple. Others use only wood, a bit more complicated but again, pretty straightforward. But many homes use multiple heat sources and for them, the choice of devices can be daunting.

I fall into the latter category, and while wood stands as my main source of heat, it’s not always practical to keep a wood fire going in the stove, because in autumn, daytime temperatures can rise 20 or 30 degrees from nighttime lows. The thing about woodstoves is that once lit, there is no off switch. The fire must consume all the wood before going out. And so I may start a small fire in the morning to take the chill off and then let it go out when daytime temperatures rise to comfortable levels.

Even so, keeping an even temperature inside the house requires some degree of forethought. For instance, on cool, cloudy days in October, a woodstove makes things just too hot, but on the other hand, conditions call for some kind of artificial heating. Enter the various electric and propane-fired devices:

Oil-filled radiators

Electric, oil-filled radiators fulfill a specific purpose: to warm a small area, like a bedroom, for example. These thermostat-equipped devices resemble old-fashioned steam radiators on wheels. Turn it on and the oil begins to warm and in doing so, circulates through the system, warming the fins. This is even heat and the sensitivity of the thermostat makes it easy to fine-tune.

These electric radiators aren’t meant to heat a whole house, but for bedrooms, bathrooms and similar-size spaces, they are indispensable. And while any electric device adds to already-steep electricity bills, the limited time we use oil-filled radiators each spring and fall does not add an undue amount to our monthly bills. And for the benefits we derive from them, they are worth every penny.

Soon, when the truly cold season arrives, these and other auxiliary heating devices will go out of service until the following spring. But for now, we are fortunate that technology has given us a way to fill the gap in the in-between seasons.

Propane heaters

Vented or unvented, that is the question. The former cost considerably more than the latter, though both deliver a similar supply of heat. Some people are adamantly against unvented heaters. I  think this view is unrealistic, in that unvented heaters have sensors that automatically turn the unit off in case of a malfunction.

I’ve run a wall-mounted, unvented heater since 1998 and never had a problem. I upgraded to a newer unit several years ago, and this is a highly efficient unit that is easy on fuel, but big on performance. In considering a propane heater, there are two types to look at. One uses ceramic plates. These are perforated and when operating, propane flows through the plates, causing an orange flame. But with these, dust becomes a problem. And because of the safety grate in front of the plates, cleaning them requires considerable effort.

The other style, the “blue-flame” heater, sans ceramic discs, doesn’t have dust problems, and that is the kind that I use. My heater is rated to heat both my kitchen/living room and my office, something it does admirably well. Right now, this stands as my main source of heat during the evening.

The beauty of a propane heater, especially for a house that uses wood heat as the main heating source, is that it enables the homeowner to go on overnight trips in winter without needing to worry that the house will be cold, or worse, that the pipes will have frozen upon returning home. Without such a backup device, it would be impossible to leave the house for more than a day.

Space heaters

Space heaters, those little cube-shaped boxes that you plug in and get instant heat, have their place too. While limited in their applications to small rooms, they fill a specific need.

For instance, taking a shower in a cold bathroom can be a chilling experience, more so for the elderly and those sensitive to cold. Plugging in one of these cube-shaped heaters serves to immediately warm the room.

These little heaters have built-in fail-safes. That is, if the heater is knocked over or even moved, it shuts off. Even so, it is important not to place the heater directly in front of flammable material. Such heaters are not meant to heat large spaces but for small rooms, they have no peers.

Tom’s tips

Before buying any heater, measure the cubic feet of your proposed heating space and then buy the heater that comes closest to that number in heating ability.

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