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Posted on Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 6 a.m.

Are the claims of portable heaters drastically lowering your utility bills true?

By Keith A. Paul

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Photo by: Nick Paul

Hi Keith, Just like most of the homeowners in Michigan, I was shocked at last year’s heating bill and am searching for ways to lower it. I’ve seen claims that certain space heaters can save quite a bit of money. Is it true and would you recommend purchasing one? What do I look for, and which space heater would you recommend?

—Brian E., Ann Arbor

Hi Brian,
I too have seen the claims “Save 50 percent on your heating bill, every month! or "Slash Those Heating Bills." But is it true? Can you spend $100-$400 on a portable heater and cut your heating bills in half?

Upon investigation I came up with the same answer often given. It depends.

There is no question that our rising heating costs have no end in sight. Finding ways to lower them is an endless pursuit. After all, is the money best left in your pocket or the utility company?

The best plan to lower your heating bills is completion of a home energy audit, but I’ll focus on your question of portable heaters.

This depends on your natural gas, which is measured in therms, versus your cost of electricity measured in kilowatts. Heating the same space with electricity versus gas could cost you up to two times as much based on national averages, according to Consumer Reports. So how can one make these claims?

Simple. Heating a specific room with an electric space heater can be much cheaper than heating the entire home with your furnace, also known as “zone heating”. For every degree you lower your thermostat you can save approximately 2 percent on your heating bill. Make sense?

Honeywell has a website to illustrate this example. Enter your yearly heating bill, your current temperature setting and new, (lower), setting. It will automatically calculate the cost savings by lowering your homes’ thermostat versus the yearly cost of an average space heater:

The EPA does not currently label space heaters as an ENERGY STAR qualified product; even though they evaluated a few, they have no plans to label them as an ENERGY STAR approved. Therefore your question of the recommendation is not simple. However, they referred me to, which has a list of what to look for when purchasing space heaters:

When buying and installing a small space heater, follow these guidelines:

• Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater has the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label attached to it.

• Choose thermostatically controlled heaters, since they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.

• Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.

• Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.

Honeywell HZ-817 is the Consumer Reports recommendation for electric heaters under $100. This model was reviewed by their experts and is a standard electic convection model. highest rated heater is Lasko 755320 Ceramic Tower Heater.

Remember that when choosing alternative heating sources, the number one priority is safety. For more information, visit last year’s column on heating safely during the winter.

Keep in mind, DTE and Consumer Energy both have energy efficiency programs to help Michigan homeowners. Have fun and stay warm this winter without breaking the bank.

Keith Paul is a State of Michigan Licensed Builder. Paul serves as President and founding member of Nationally franchised HandyPro Handyman Service, servicing Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Listen to Paul every Saturday at 11 a.m. on “It’s Your Business, Make It Happen” WAAM Talk 1600AM. Email questions or comments to



Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

You should definitively first check to see if any air is coming in from the windows first. If that is the case make sure to insulate it. The next thing you can do is keep your house thermostat at about 60-65. We do that and keep a couple great electric heaters to warm up the current room that we're in. There is no point in warming the every room if your not in them. As far as electric heaters, get one that will be cheap to run, warm the whole room, have safety features. It also needs to be quiet and have a thermostat. Lasko makes some really great ones. Frugal5 has a good article on getting the most out of your money at

Ann English

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Keep pets away from the heater? When I had a big dog, I would lay a big towel down in front of a heater and she would lie right down in front of it , fresh from a bath; the heater was turned on to help her dry off.


Sun, Nov 13, 2011 : 10:47 p.m.

Mmm, lightly roasted dog.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

For the average user, these things will INCREASE your energy cost and CO2 wastage, not decrease them. Consider that the same amount of heat from electricity costs ~3 times as much as from gas. The only conceivable way one of these things could save is if it led you to lower the thermostat by several degrees.

Cameron Getto

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

Space heaters have been successful for my family. After weatherizing my home (it is old), I bought a programmable thermostat that turns the heat down during the day when nobody is home and late at night when everyone is asleep. I have three efficient space heaters for each bedroom, which go on at bedtime and go off when we wake up so we stay warm in our bedrooms. This approach resulted in about a 1/3 savings off my heating bill the first year I tried it. I used to routinely get $400+ bills in the wintertime, but I haven't seen one above $300 in a very long time. The principle that seems to be operating is that although electricity is generally more expensive when used to heat, since the area is significantly smaller, and the amount of time it is used is significantly limited, the net effect is to save overall. We are only heating the parts of the house we use when we use them. We don't heat them when they aren't being used.


Fri, Nov 11, 2011 : 11:25 a.m.

A couple of years ago I significantly reduced my heating bill by sealing leaky windows and installing insulated window treatments. In the winter, I keep the thermostat at 60 during the day & 58 at night. The bedrooms are not heated and I replaced many incandescent bulbs with CFI bulbs. In the evening I use a portable heater for 2 hours to warm my TV room (about 10' x 10'). It is a very successful approach. So successful that I got a surprise visit from DTE to make sure I hadn't messed with the gas meter. The DTE employee, in my presence, reported back to DTE that the meter was fine. DTE instructed him to replace the meter anyway. Ironic, eh? The company that encourages us to save energy looks for wrong-doing if you manage to succeed.