How Does a Space Heater Work?

by Dale Devries; Updated September 26, 2017
How Does a Space Heater Work?

Electric Space Heaters

There are many types of space heaters and any of them are a welcome convenience when the main furnace goes out on a cold night. The most common space heaters are electric, which works well when the furnace breaks down, but doesn't help at all if the electricity goes out. An electric space heater can be as simple as a heating element that heats the room. Or they can have thermostats that allow them to control the temperature. Some have fans that blow the heat out to help it reach farther into the room.

All electric space heaters need to be plugged into an electrical outlet and you should not use an extension cord unless you absolutely have too. If you do, make sure the cord is rated for heavy duty use. Another type of electric space heater is a radiant heater. In this heater the electric element is encased by a quartz or metal sheath. There is a reflector panel placed behind the element that will direct the heat out. These heaters do not have thermostats but normally have a sensor that will shut the heater off if it is accidentally knocked over.

Kerosene Space Heaters

A residential kerosene space heater works by placing K-1 clear kerosene in a well in the unit. It is burned by using a wick and many models now come with an electronic ignitor so you don't have to reach in with a match or other type of open flame. Most of these heaters are surrounded by a grate to prevent accidental burning and they also come with an automatic shut-off if the unit is knocked over or jarred too hard. These heaters work very well but the operator must use care to use only K-1 clear kerosene. Even with the proper fuel the room should be well ventilated.

Gas Space Heaters

Gas space heaters have come a long in safety and efficiency in the past decade, causing them to grow in popularity. You can get them in various BTUs to manage the size of room you will be using your machine in, and they come in a vented and unvented style. These heaters can run on natural gas or liquid propane. The gas enters through a small copper pipe and is lit electronically. Most are controlled by thermostat. As the gas lights the burner it heats a radiant plaque and the heat is blown out into the room by a fan. These units can be hung on a wall or free standing. If the heater is unvented there is a risk of carbon monoxide buildup in the room and therefor extreme care should be take to properly ventilate the room.

Photo Credits

  • David Ritter