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Can you cut heating costs by using a space heater?

Consumer Reports News: November 28, 2011 12:18 PM

The National Weather Service predicts the Northwest will have a colder-than-average-winter and the weather could go either way in the Midwest and East, but no matter, it’s still winter. If you heat your home with oil or propane, get ready to pay more. You may be able to save some money by supplementing heat with a space heater in the room you use most and turning down the heat in the rest of the house. But if your electricity rates are especially high, you might want to do the math first.

The average household heating costs for oil and propane are projected to be the highest ever, according to the Energy Information Administration, a government agency. It estimates that heating oil will cost 10 percent more than last winter, propane, up nine percent. Natural gas and electricity will be similar to last year’s rates. Costs do differ by region, and in the Northeast, the high heating oil prices mean fewer people are locking in their oil prices with supply contracts, says the EIA.

It’s time to get serious about finding ways to lower your heating bills. Adding insulation to attics, basements, crawl spaces, ceilings, and floors can help keep warm air in and cold out. Caulk around the points where electrical and plumbing lines pass through the house, and check out Energy Star for loads of useful tips. Lowering your thermostat 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours can cut your heating bill by five to 15 percent a year.

If you’re considering using an electric space heater to save money, you’ll have to lower the heat in other rooms. As the Department of Energy points out, small space heaters can be less expensive to use, in some cases, if you’re only heating one room or supplementing heat in one room. Using space heaters to heat rooms is rarely as efficient as a central heating system, says the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. And electricity rates vary, with Connecticut and New York having among the highest rates; Washington and Idaho, the lowest. The electric space heaters tested at Consumer Reports use 1,500 watts to fully power. Since you should never use a space heater while sleeping, it would cost $2.82 a day to use a space heater 16 hours a day, based on the national average electricity rate. To figure out how much you’ll spend using one 1,500-watt space heater, use this formula:

1. Multiply 1500W by X hours of use = A.
2. Multiply A by your electricity rate per kilowatt hour = B.
3. Divide B by 1000.

Stay warm.

Kimberly Janeway

   

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