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"Quiet electric space heaters have new safety and comfort features"

Click here to see a descriptive illustration of several new designs of electric space heaters.

Dear Jim: A couple of rooms in my home are always chilly. I want to use two small efficient electric space heaters instead of turning up the thermostat. How can I determine which designs are best and safest for my children? - Sue R.

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A: Using small electric space heaters is wise. Even if you have a gas or oil furnace, using a few heaters instead of cranking up the thermostat can cut your utility bills. It can also improve your comfort because you get heat where you need it the most.

When you are shopping for one and see the myriad of electric space heater designs, styles, sizes, and prices, it can be mind boggling. There actually are significant difference in the controls, heat distribution and safety of the various designs and models so don't just buy the cheapest one on sale.

Before buying an electric space heater, think about how it will be used most often. This determines the best design and important features to consider. The basic design types are convection (fan), low-temperature radiant (oil-filled) and high-temperature focused radiant heaters.

To heat a large area, convection, baseboard or tall oil-filled radiator types of electric heaters are effective. For smaller areas or a specific spot, a high-temperature radiant heater focuses the heat more effectively.

Within the basic types are many design variations and features. Since you mentioned safety around children, some of the newer convection models use either non-glow elements or ceramic elements. These reduce the chances of a hand getting burnt or having a child ignite a piece of paper in the heater.

Ceramic heating elements are unique in that they self-regulate the heat output. As the room temperature gets warmer, the resistance of the ceramic element increases so less electricity is used and less heat is produced. The newest ceramic heaters are programmable and use digital displays.

For the most precise temperature control in a room, select one of the new convection heaters with a temperature dial. Instead of the unit just switching on and off when the temperature setting is reached, it stays on but the heat output slows. This maintains more even room temperatures.

Quartz heaters use elements that glow red to radiate heat like the sun does to target a specific area. Some models also include a tiny, quiet fan to gently circulation and mix the room air. Select one with a child-safe, snap-off grill to allow you to replace the bulbs or clean the reflectors.

Technically, all electric heating elements are 100 percent efficient, so do not let the packaging hype fool you. Check for these features - adjustable thermostat, several heat settings, automatic freeze guard, and timers.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 706 - buyer's guide of 10 electric space heaters, design types (oil-filled, convection, radiant/quartz, ceramic), heat settings, thermostats, comfort and safety features, portable electric heater safety tips, illustrations and descriptions of several models and a chart showing the savings on your utility bills.

Dear Jim: I have read a lot about radiant floor and ceiling heating using electricity or hot water. I would like to install a radiant heating system for my patio to melt snow and make it dry faster after a rain. Will it work? - Ron T.

A: Hot water radiant heat is often used under driveways to melt snow where applying salt is not an option. Using electric cable is also a possibility, but it is more expensive to use. Either way, heating the outdoors is not the best use for our energy supplies.

Heating a concrete patio would be the same as a driveway. Without tearing up the patio or cutting grooves into it, there is not a simple method to install the radiant heat.

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