Keeping rooms warm
Before running an electric space heater, make sure your heating system is in good working orderBy Hannah McKenzie
Q: I have a baby on the way and am concerned about her room staying adequately warm. Even with our HVAC system thermostat set to 70 degrees, her bedroom is often 60 degrees on cold days. I used an electric space heater when our first child was born and was shocked to see a much higher electric bill. What should I do to not break the bank and keep the baby’s room warm?
A: It is exasperating to have a central heating system that doesn’t properly heat your home. Not only babies, but also people with health challenges and the elderly are supremely uncomfortable in cold conditions. Operating an electric space heater is an expensive Band-Aid and decent short-term solution. However, a better tactic is to improve your central heating system. Below are some often overlooked low-cost improvements.
Central heating maintenance
A clogged air filter can wreak havoc on an HVAC system’s ability to adequately heat a home. Inspect the filter monthly and change it when dirty — at least every one to three months. If you have a heat pump, keep plants at least 12 inches away from the outside compressor box.
Balancing air flow
When a forced-air heating system is running, air return vents pull a lot of air. For example, in a three-bedroom home with 12 air supply vents that blow an average rate of 100 cubic feet per minute, the home’s one air return vent will pull nearly 1,200 cubic feet per minute. When air supply vents are blocked by furniture, drapes or even closed bedroom doors, the air return will still pull the same volume of air but it will come from unsavory places like the frigid outside, attic or crawlspace. This will make for wickedly cold drafts and an overburdened central heating system. Some homes have air returns or pressure balancing grills in each bedroom. Homes that do not should keep interior doors open when possible.
Another factor is an unbalanced system. Some homes have excessive air delivered to bathrooms and closets. An HVAC repair technician can adjust the dampers at the air handler to scale back the amount of air supplied to tiny rooms and shift that air to other rooms. Closing the supply grills yourself inside a room is not recommended.
Duct leakage often accounts for 5 to 30 percent of heated air lost in a typical duct system. Having ductwork properly sealed with bucket mastic by an HVAC or home energy contractor is often the number one way to lower your electric bills and increase your home’s comfort. Consider installing new ducts or duct insulation if ductwork is not insulated and located in a vented crawlspace or attic.
Portable electric heater
In some ways, it seems easier to use an electric space heater for a few days while you get accustomed to dressing your baby in a chilly nursery. Yet, depending on a variety of factors, the cost to run a 1,500-watt heater is often $2 to $4 per day. Extreme caution should be taken when any portable space heater is being used since burns and fires are possible. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 600 residential fires each year are associated with the use of portable electric heaters. Remember that the heater should never be running while unattended or when you are asleep. Look at cpsc.gov or call (800) 638-2772 for thorough safety precautions.
It is overwhelming to ponder major heating system improvements with a baby on the way, but making plans to improve the overall heating system will help ensure you and your family will be more comfortable in all areas of your home now and into the future.