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The 5 Coolest Space Heaters on the Planet

March 11, 2012 , , , , , , , ,

Space heaters used to be clunky plugins that squatted on the floor and scared the fluff off your cat. No more — these 5 space heaters are totally cool.

1. Radiant heating

This radiant heat panel — the mirror and towel bar on the left — is so integrated into this bathroom that you may not even notice it.   Image: Warmly Yours

You’ve probably heard of radiant heating for floors, created by snaking heating tubes or cables under floors. But that’s not the only application for this efficient, quiet method of heating. Manufacturers now produce radiant panels for walls, ceilings, and other locations.

Radiant heat, also known as infrared radiant heat, is especially efficient, heating solid objects such as chairs and people without heating the air. The warming effect of radiant heat is practically instantaneous, and solid objects store the heat and stay warm even after the system switches off.

(Forced-air heating does the opposite, heating the air first, which then eventually warms people and surfaces. When a forced-air system shuts off, temperatures fall rapidly.)

Radiant panels come in many sizes, from a couple of square feet to 30 square feet and larger. Because no heat is lost in air ducts (there aren’t any), radiant panels are especially energy efficient, and the use of supplemental radiant panels to selectively heat rooms helps reduce annual energy costs by 10% to 30%.

Manufacturers make panels for nearly every situation. Baseboard panels are ideal under desks or window seats. Cove panels fit at an angle at the top of the wall, and ceiling panels attach nearly flush against ceilings. Panels can be painted to blend in with room colors.To heat an 11-by-11-foot room, you’ll pay about $150 for a 2-by-2-foot, free-standing, plug-in panel; $150-$250 for a hard-wired, 47-by-6-inch cove ceiling panel with a wall-mounted thermostat. A licensed electrician to wire a panel and install the thermostat control adds another $200-$300.

2. Artistic space heating

Finding the best heating solution for a specific situation is a fine art — sometimes literally. A thin-film, infrared radiant panel made by Prestyl USA hangs on a wall and looks just like artwork, custom-printed with a design or photo you submit.

“We just need a digital high-pixel image that you have the rights to,” says the president, Thom Morrow. “So no Seattle Seahawks logos. But a portrait of the family, fine. Or dog or horse or the old family farm.”

These plug-in art panels project out from the wall just 1½ inches. Inside is a carbon-based material that absorbs energy when current passes through. The panel then releases the energy as infrared light waves.

An artistic panel isn’t cheap, but you can take into account what you might spend on equivalent artwork. Prestyl’s plain 2-by-2-foot panel, suitable for an 8-by-10-foot room, costs $352, plus $180 if you want an image, or a total of $6.65 per square foot of living space.

3. Off-peak heating systems

If you heat with electricity and live where electrical rates are lower at off-peak hours, an electrical thermal storage heater could save you money.

This kind of heater consists of a well-insulated shell filled with ceramic bricks that efficiently absorb and store heat. The bricks heat up during hours when power rates are low, then release the heat, using a blower, when the rate rises, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars a year.

Al Takle, national sales manager for Steffes Corp., says the units only make sense where rates dip for part of the day. Where’s that? He listed:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Thermal storage heaters sit on the floor and are about 12 inches deep, 24 inches high, and 30 to 60 inches long. They require only a little clearance on sides and the top, so you can easily build them into bookcases or window seats. Costs range from $1,200 (for a small bedroom or office) to $2,200 (for a 1,000-square-foot, open living room and kitchen space), or $2-$12 per square foot of living area.

4. Ductless heat pump

If you’re looking to retrofit an older home that doesn’t have ductwork, or you’re adding on and tying into your existing HVAC system is problematic, a ductless heat pump could be the answer.

Developed in Japan 30 years ago, many heating contractors in the U.S. are just now learning about this option, also known as a mini-split. There are only two main components: an outdoor compressor unit and an indoor air handler, which is typically installed high on an outside wall.

A small tube delivers conditioned air directly to the room. Because there’s no long expanse of ductwork, ductless heat pumps operate up to 50% more efficiently than traditional forced-air systems.

The installed price is around $5,000 for equipment that handles 1,100 square feet, or $5.45 per square foot of living space. Many power companies offer rebate incentives, sometimes for as much as $1,500, to customers who switch from other kinds of electrical heating.

5. The Dyson Hot fan heater

For a floor-model space heater that’s out of this world, look to Dyson — the company that seems to delight in reinventing ordinary household items.

The Dyson Hot fan heater looks like a space creature that never got around to developing a face. It generates heat like any other electrical-resistance heater, but there’s no visible whirling fan, so you don’t have to worry about whether a curious kid will stick in a finger to see what happens.

Even though you don’t see a fan, the heater does blow out a steady stream of warm air. The heater pushes air over its curved surfaces to increase output, much the same way an airplane wing accelerates air flow. The fan head oscillates, and you can tilt the device to direct the air flow.

The Hot fan costs $400 and is suitable for small to medium-size rooms, or about $4 per square foot of living space for a 10-by-10-foot room.

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