In preparations for the colder months, I am looking into ways to reduce heating costs in my apartment. I just moved to it in July, so I am not sure how well it handles the colder months. One of the central issues is using space heaters vs a central unit.

I have done research on the topic. The problem is that, in a nutshell, it seems the opinion is that space heaters work for a few small rooms, while central heating is best for large areas and many rooms. However, the set up of my apartment is somewhat unusual. There is a very large living area ( I would estimate it is at least 20 x 20 feet), with approximately 14 ft. high ceilings. This is the room I spend most of my time in, so keeping it warm is important. However, there is also a bedroom that my sister uses - it probably is about 12 x 12 feet - that we also need to keep warm. Additionally, these is a kitchen and bathroom. We would like to keep these warm, but they are secondary to the bedroom and living space.

With this scenario, which option would likely prove more efficient, space heating or central? What form of space heaters would you recommend.


  • What type of heat source for the central system? Gas? Electric? Is it forced air or radiant? And are the space heaters electric? And where are you located? In my area natural gas prices are low and heating with gas furnaces and gas fireplace is MUCH less expensive than any electric space heater.
    – Tyson
    Sep 18 '16 at 15:19
  • Are you asking whether you should install a central unit in a rented apt or whether you should use a central system that already exists? If the former, I doubt it would be practical or that the landlord would pay for it. If the latter, what type of central unit exists?
    – topshot
    Sep 18 '16 at 16:35
  • Thanks for the replies; I apologize for the lack of detail. I am asking whether or not using an existing unit, using space heaters, or perhaps even discussing with the landlord about installing a different central unit (such as gas). It is currently electric and I live in Missouri. The apartment is more of a stand-alone loft unit than the more typical apartment complex space. Thanks.
    – KellyM
    Sep 18 '16 at 17:46

Confirm the existing central heating system is a heat pump, and not an electric furnace. (Which is more rare.) If there is an outdoor compressor unit, it is a heat pump.

The heat pump will certainly be more efficient unless it is very cold outside. The downside is it will supply heat to the entire apartment, when you may only need it in a bedroom. If you can find the outdoor unit, it may tell you on the sticker how efficient it is or how many watts it consumes when running. Turn the thermostat down before you go to bed to save energy.

If you do get a space heater, get one that shuts off automatically if it gets too hot for safety reasons. Space heaters are tricky because it is easy to blow a fuse or circuit breaker with other electric devices. For example, you run the heater and the vacuum using the same circuit. The same is true for coffee makers and hair dryers. Most times you can't tell which receptacles are on which circuit.

With space heaters it is easy to get a good idea of how much it is going to cost. Check your power bill for your cost per KWH. (The US average is 10 cents.) A typical space heater consumes 1500 Watts on its "high" setting, so it will cost about 15 cents per hour, assuming you pay about 10 cents per KWH. The "low" setting is usually 750 or 1000 Watts, so that will be 7-10 cents per hour.

  • Note that electric rates are highly regional so it's best to look up your own rates before drawing any conclusions about price.
    – Hank
    Oct 10 '16 at 18:23
  • For this example, I used the average for Missouri, the home state of the OP. Oct 10 '16 at 18:56

It depends on the type of central heat you have. Gas is usually cheaper for heat. A heat pump is more efficient until real cold weather then it starts using electric makeup coils. Space heating is less safe than central there are fires every year where a space heater gets moved two close to combustible materials like curtains and furniture. A small room or space can be heated by a space heater and reduce cost but with the larger rooms and keeping the majority of rooms warm I would use the central system even if it is straight electric for the safety.

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