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A portable electric heater, or space heater, is a portable heating device that is generally used when other heat sources are insufficient or when an individual is highly sensitive to low temperatures. The two main types of portable electric heaters are radiant heaters, which use infrared radiation, and convection heaters, which heat and circulate the air. Electric heaters can be expensive to operate when compared to other types of space heaters, such as kerosene, propane, or gas heaters. A key difference is that electric heaters generally are non-combustible, unlike the other types of portable heaters. Typically, a portable electric heater operates off of a 15 amp, 120-volt household circuit and comes in 400 to 1,500 watt models.
Radiant portable electric heaters are considered line-of-sight heaters because they primarily heat only objects directly in front of them. The radiant heater is commonly preferred when heat is required for a short period of time, or when a single person is in need of a heat source. Radiant heaters are manufactured as metal rod heaters, quartz heaters, and electric element heaters. Metal rod heaters use a reflector located behind a metal rod to emit heat. A quartz portable electric heater uses a quartz tube, while electric element heaters rely on metal coils to operate and use internal fans to push the heat out of the heater.
A convection portable electric heater circulates the heat in the air to warm an area. This type of heater works with the use of a transfer liquid that is stored in the unit and heated with an electric element. Since the liquid — which is usually oil — remains in the heater when the heater is in operation, the convection unit does not need to recycle constantly, thereby saving on heating costs.
One of the most significant issues associated with space heaters is their propensity to be the cause of fires. This includes both electric and other types of portable heaters. Each year, approximately 25,000 fires in the United States begin with space heaters and an estimated 300 people are killed. Roughly 6,000 individuals are treated in emergency rooms with burns received as a result of direct contact with space heaters.
To reduce the chance of fire or injury, portable electric heaters should be plugged directly into electric sockets and the use of extension cords should be avoided. When an extension cord is necessary, however, 14 gauge wire or greater typically is recommended. Additionally, some heater units are equipped with an automatic shut off mechanism that will turn off the heater if it is accidentally tipped over when in operation.