Gas Heater vs Electric Heater

Gas heater or electric heater? It’s a legit question which arises most of the times when someone is planning on getting a new space heater. If you are concerned about safety and effective operation it is inadvertent to dig into this topic a bit more deeply because there is no rule of a thumb answer on it. On this page we will try to cover the pros and cons of both heater types and will provide you the insights and the knowledge to be able to decide which space heater is going to be the most optimal choice for your environment.

Gas Heaters

Gas heaters utilize the heat created by burning natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. The flame heats the air up locally which spreads in the room by convection. The refractory material used (which was designed to withstand great temperatures and remain solid under those conditions) was asbestos in the old days which was later replaced with fire clay and then other more sophisticated refractory materials in modern heaters.

Modern gas heaters also developed ways to enable units to utilize radiant heating along the classic convection heating mechanism. These heaters are able to deliver the much needed heat even outdoors where the radiant heat is absorbed by objects and people in front of the heater and it is not necessary to heat large amounts of air by convection which is not effective and economical.

The biggest advance of the gas heaters against electric heaters is the heating power they can deliver. A portable gas heater like the Mr Heater MH18B is able to deliver up to 15,000 BTUs while an 1,500 Watts powered electric heater will struggle to get over 5,500 BTUs.

On the safety front gas heaters doesn’t do a great job. Multiple safety concerns may arise which are up to the designer and manufacturer to equip the heater with safety mechanisms.

The first and most important safety feature in my opinion is the carbon monoxide sensor coupled with emergency shut-off. Since carbon monoxide is an odorless yet deadly gas which is produced during incomplete burning in low-oxygen environment. Carbon monoxide binds to the red blood cell’s hemoglobin permanently on the same spot where the oxygen molecule is supposed to be bound and is not released in the lung like oxygen would. This causes low blood oxygen levels coupled with inadvertent fainting and suffocation.

Thankfully almost all modern heaters are fitted with automatic-shutdown feature when low CO levels are measured.
Other important safety feature is the tip-over protection and shutoff. A rug or a wooden floor could easily catch fire by a tipped over gas heater. Fortunately this feature is a standard in most space heaters as well.

The third big concern when buying a gas heater which also arises in many of the electric heaters is the exposed heating element which can be dangerous for children, pets and also hazardous with fire-prone materials around the heater.

Because of the above mentioned properties we don’t recommend using gas heaters for heating the living spaces, maybe the ones with safety mechanisms but in our opinion better be safe and unless there are some extreme heating power demands better stick to safer types of space heater, the electric heaters and let the gas heaters do what they are good at, for outdoor usages or in poorly insulated preferably well-vented spaces like typically garages are.

Electric Heaters

In this kind of heating the electrical energy is converted to heat by the heating element which usually is an electrical resistor. The electric current flowing through the resistor converts electrical energy into thermal energy which is then used to heat the spaces.

Often the air is not heated directly by the heating element but a material with good heat storage properties is used as a buffer (usually oil or water) while a heat pump with electric motor is used to circulate this liquid in the appliance to spread the heat on a greater surface.

Electric heaters can usually be grouped into three different groups based on the way they deliver heat:

  • Radiative heaters
  • Convection heaters
  • Fan heaters

Radiant Heaters

Usually consist of a heating element which resembles light bulb and gets up to great temperatures and well polished reflectors to direct the heating radiation into the desired direction away from the appliance.

Infrared heaters and ceramic heaters belong to this group.

The heating element emits infrared radiation which is then absorbed directly by the surfaces and people in front of the space heater without heating the room’s air. This makes the radiant electric heaters usable even for outdoors just as well as gas heaters.

Convection Heaters

The principle is to place the space heater on the ground and heat the air around the electric heater by convection. This makes cool air denser than hot air which floats up and gets replaced by more cool air which gets heated again.

Typical kind of convection heaters are oil-filled radiators which operate silently and safely. There is no fire hazard because of the lower surface temperatures compared to gas heaters or infrared heaters. Low surface temperatures which is not hot enough to make burn injuries make them optimal heater choices for homes with small children and pets.

Convection heaters aren’t recommended to use in well-vented, poorly insulated or outdoor spaces because it is not economical to heat large amounts of air which gets blown away.

Fan Heaters

Also called forced convection heaters. The heat is transferred more quickly by using an electric fan mechanism to speed up the airflow. Fan heaters are great for heating up a closed space quickly, however they use a bit more electricity to power the fan and also generate an audible noisy sound which can be uncomfortable at night unlike the convection and radiant heaters.

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