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What is a Space Heater?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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When looking for a simple means of providing heat to a room or series of rooms, the space heater is a great way to achieve that end. Compact and often portable, space heaters are ideal for use as a permanent source of heat as well as a temporary one. Here are some examples of the different types of space heaters, and where you can get them.

Space heaters come in all sizes and shapes. Some of the units are small enough to fit easily under a desk and can be used as a little extra warmth for the feet on a cold day. Other space heaters are large enough to fill an open hearth in a fireplace, with the ability to easily keep a large room at a comfortable temperature. Some space heaters are meant to be portable, and are easily stored when not in use. Other kinds of space heaters may be mounted or inserted into the wall, making for a permanent fixture in the room.

The type of energy required for a space heater may vary as well. For many years, the most common type of space heater relied on natural gas as the medium of choice. Connected to a gas jet, the space heater relied on the use of heating elements called bricks in order to regulate the flow of the gas and the generation of the heat. In many homes, these types of space heaters were installed in living room fireplaces, while recessed models would be placed in bathroom walls, allowing the heat level to be adjusted at various points around the house.

Around the 1950s, electrical space heaters began to come into use. Electric heaters were manufactured that could function as both permanently fixed or temporary sources of heat. A major advantage of the electric heater is that it requires nothing more than a level spot and an electrical outlet for use. Portable heaters today are almost all made to use electricity, although portable heater options for camping may employ kerosene.

While many homes today use central heating and air systems, it is always a good idea to keep one or two portable space heaters around. A temporary malfunction of the main system during winter months can be made more comfortable by plugging in a couple of portable heater units at strategic points in the house. Also, a space heater is a great way to add a little extra heat to one room without having to adjust the thermostat for the entire house. This means that if you have someone who chills easily in your home, everyone can still be comfortable.

Space heaters can be purchased from utility companies, many home stores and some discount retail stores as well. While electric space heaters require nothing more than reading the instructions before use, it is always a good idea to have a professional handle the installation of a natural gas space heater. Often, it is a good idea to call the gas company for the installation, since the jets may need to be cleaned and the unit should be tested for leaks before regular use begins.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including HomeQuestionsAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By julies — On Aug 28, 2012

I am the type of person who is cold all the time. You will see me wearing jeans and long sleeves in the summer.

When we go camping with our tent, I always get an electric spot, if possible. Many times I will take a space heater to warm up the tent. I don't really know how safe this is, but it is sure nice to have a warm tent before you go to bed and first thing in the morning.

I don't leave it on during the night or while we are away, and really miss it if we don't have a spot with electricity.

By honeybees — On Aug 28, 2012

Certain types of space heaters can be quite dangerous. I don't think there is a winter that goes by where some local house has a fire from a space heater that fell over.

We have a baseboard heater in our sun room which is similar to a space heater, but this is safer and more effective. It heats the whole area instead of just one small area where a space heater would be.

By Mykol — On Aug 27, 2012

@sunshined-- You are lucky that your employer allows you to have a space heater under your desk. We were able have these years ago, but now they no longer let anyone have one.

It has something to do with the fire regulations. I don't know why our office has to be so cold either. I have no way of controlling the temperature at my work station and have to dress in layers since I can no longer have a space heater.

By sunshined — On Aug 26, 2012

I have a small electric space heater under my desk at work. Most people think about using this just in the winter, but I use mine all year long.

I am just as cold at my office in the summer as I am in the winter. Instead of everyone hearing me complain about how cold it is, I just turn on my space heater.

I don't know what I would do without it. It is quiet enough that it doesn't bother anybody else, and it keeps me from freezing all day long.

By starrynight — On Aug 25, 2012

@SZapper - I can understand your fear about your cat burning himself. I could totally see that happening. However, I think a fire starting because of something falling on an oil space heater is pretty unlikely.

As long as your position your space heater somewhere in the room where there isn't much clutter, you should be fine. Just take some time to clean up before you use your space heater!

By SZapper — On Aug 24, 2012

I have a propane space heater that I used for camping sometimes, but truthfully I don't really like using it. I'm always afraid I'm going to accidentally start a fire with it. The space heater gets really hot, so if something like an article of clothing fell on it in the middle of the night, a fire could start.

I'm also scared to use it at home, because of my cat. I could see my cat hopping on top of it and burning himself by accident. That's definitely not something I want to deal with!

By Pharoah — On Aug 23, 2012

@indemnifyme - That's a good point. If the power goes out, an electronic space heater is pretty useless. I think if you're concerned about this, it might make sense to have an electronic space heater for every day use, and a kerosene space heater just in case of a power outage. That way you can have all your bases covered.

By indemnifyme — On Aug 23, 2012

Space heaters are really great in the winter. I've had the same electronic Honeywell space heater for years, and I use it almost every winter. For some reason my bedroom is always cold while the rest of my apartment is comfortable.

I feel safer using an electronic space heater rather than one that uses gas, but there is one drawback: if the power goes out, you can't use it. So it's useless as a backup heater unless you have a generator or something.

By Perdido — On Aug 23, 2012

I love my radiant space heater, because it is totally silent. Most space heaters have noisy fans in them, but this one is fan-free.

It only puts out heat a few feet in front of it, but that is really all I need. I sit at a desk all day, so there is no need for me to heat up my whole room.

The only downside is that it gets really hot when I use it for hours at a time. I have to be careful not to bump into it, or I can scald my skin.

By StarJo — On Aug 22, 2012

I keep a ceramic space heater beside my desk at work. Everyone else in the office is warm while I am freezing, so I cannot adjust the thermostat to suit my needs. The space heater is my best option, because it keeps everybody happy.

It has a thermostat, so it switches off automatically whenever it reaches a certain temperature. It has four heat settings, and I usually turn it up on high when I first arrive to work, but by the end of the day, I have it on low.

By shell4life — On Aug 22, 2012

@Kristee – I had one of these space heaters out in my backyard shop. It heated the building up very well, but I did have some concerns about it.

Sometimes, when it switched on, the flames would burst forth and the gas would make a roaring sound. I would have to rush over there and turn it down. I don't know why this would happen at times, but it always alarmed me when it did.

Also, sometimes, I would detect a very strong smell of gas. I was always paranoid that there was a leak somewhere.

I finally make the switch to an electric space heater. I unplug it whenever I'm not out there to be safe, and it provides plenty of safe heat without scaring me at all.

By Kristee — On Aug 21, 2012

The most efficient space heaters are the ones that use natural gas. They produce far more warmth, and you don't wind up with a big electric bill from running a portable space heater all the time.

My parents have a large natural gas space heater in their living room. When it comes on, I can feel a rush of heat surge forth into the room.

There is a knob on the top that lets them adjust how many bricks they want to be heated at once. For milder days, they turn only two on, but on really cold days, they keep all four on.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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