What’s the Difference Between a Space Heater and a Furnace?


You have lots of options to choose from when heating your home. And the selection you make has a lot to do with the size of your home, your available utilities, and the cost of installing and running them. But before you decide on anything, it’s good to know the difference between some of your options, particularly two that people are often unsure about: space heaters and furnaces.

What is a furnace?

Many people think that any heater which runs on gas is considered a furnace, but that’s not the case. Other types of heaters, even space heaters, can operate on gas, and furnaces can also run on electricity. A home heating furnace is a unit that heats the air it takes in and distributes that heated air through ductwork. But furnaces are not just for warmth in a home or building. They can also be used for industrial purposes like treating metals and making steel. A gas furnace will have some sort of flue or system to ventilate the fumes produced during use, but an electric furnace doesn’t need to be vented.

What is a space heater?

Space heaters can be gas-powered, electric, or radiant. They’re often used for smaller spaces or areas where it doesn’t make sense to install central heat, such as garages or patio areas. They also may be used as additional heat in places where other heating units aren’t quite as effective, such as basements or poorly-vented rooms.

There are some precautions that should be taken with space heaters. For example, you should always purchase units that will shut off if they are accidentally tipped over. Also, make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors installed when using any type of space heater. Furthermore, it’s important to keep them clean and free of lint or dirt that could create a fire hazard, and keep them at least three feet away from walls or flammable surfaces. If you are injured because of a space heater mishap that was caused by another party or business’s negligence, it’s important to contact a lawyer, such as an accident attorney in Pennsylvania immediately.

Which type of heater is more energy-efficient?

Space heaters typically run between 10,000 and 40,000 Btu (British thermal units) per hour, which is true whether they are fueled by gas or electricity. Electric heaters usually cost a little more to operate than other types of heaters, but more modern electric units can be a safer option. It’s difficult to estimate the actual annual cost of running a space heater since they’re usually used for additional heat for short periods of time. However, many people who use them frequently report spikes in their utility bills.

Furnaces, on the other hand, have a much broader range and are measured on a different scale. Furnaces, along with boilers, are measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), and each unit is required by the FTC to be clearly labeled with its rating. AFUE is defined as the “ratio of annual heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by a furnace or boiler.” In other words, if a unit has a 90 percent AFUE, then 90 percent of its fuel is converted to heat and the rest is lost through the flue or ventilation system. A furnace with a 90-98.5 percent AFUE would be considered a highly efficient furnace.

Given the area that both types of units heat, they are too vastly different to compare for energy-efficiency. However, the area you’re heating should be a consideration when deciding which to choose. For example, if you need heating for a garage which you’re in for no more than a few hours a week, it wouldn’t make much sense to install a central heating unit or furnace for that area. In this case, a space heater, such as a radiant heater, would probably be the wisest choice. But if you are heating an entire home, a furnace would be much more energy-efficient than placing space heaters in each room.

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