It got down to 14 degrees in northern New Jersey over the weekend, and the wind was howling through the trees—not a recipe for a toasty warm house when we keep the thermostat at 62 degrees. But upstairs in the spare bedroom where our main computer is located I was snug because of the new oil-filled electric space heater we bought for less than $60 at Home Depot.
Also, it didn't cost an arm and a leg to use the heater. Used sparingly, the heater cost us about 5.5 cents for each hour it was in use. Used injudiciously, that cost can go much higher!
I love the winter, but the cold makes it really difficult to work at a keyboard. The relative inactivity makes my body feel like it's an icicle in short order. The choice before me was to keep the whole house at a higher temperature, a waste when our daughter is in school and my husband is at the office, or to seek out a supplemental heat source.
We did some not-very-scientific research about ways to heat a room. One choice was an electric resistance heater. You turn it on and some heating elements begin to glow similar to the way an electric stove works. I didn't like the idea because it seemed that as soon as you turned the unit off, it stopped generating heat.
A better alternative to us was the oil-filled electric radiator. The power would cycle on and off, based on where you set the thermostat, but the heat output would be constant because the oil inside the unit heated the metal fins and radiated a steady heat.
The unit we bought had a timer, three heat settings, and a thermostat. I set the unit to an extravagant 68 degrees and the heater put out a nice radiant warmth that made me never want to leave the blogosphere, while the outside temperature stayed at about 38 degrees. I helped the process along by closing the door to the room so the warmth wouldn't escape out the doorway and into the hallway.
Three Power Settings
Just how much electricity does the unit use? To get the answer, we took out our handy Kill-a-Watt electrical use meter and plugged the unit into it. The unit started out at the highest setting to bring the temperature up quickly. That mode used 1,376 watts, according to our Kill-a-Watt—about the same amount used by an electric iron.
After a while the radiator automatically stepped down to the middle level, drawing 758 watts. Eventually it went to the lowest setting, drawing about 687 watts. That's still pretty significant, but I noticed that the radiator powered off and on and never went back to the higher settings to keep the room warm, so it wasn't drawing current all the time.
It wasn't long before guilt set in. Just how much does it cost to run this supplemental heating source? The answer is that it's not too bad—about 48 cents for nine hours of heating, enough for me to work on EnergyMiser 101 and on my job as a petrochemical reporter, with breaks for errands, chauffeuring, and helping our daughter with her homework.
Misers at Work
We deployed the heating unit in a pretty miserly way. Additional use brings additional costs. Leave the unit on for 24 hours and the cost jumps to $1.29. That comes to almost $39 a month, an amount that just about matches what we spend for all of our electrical usage in a month!
For supplemental heat, however, our electric radiator can't be beat. What are your experiences with supplemental heating units?