Portable Electric Heaters - are they worth it?

I've run across an advertisement for portable electric heaters that claims they can cut your heating bill up to 50%. Wow, if only that were true, we could all enjoy a frugal living lifestyle of warmth in the winter.

I'm skeptical right from the start with the claim about heating bill reduction, and I am even more skeptical because the advertisement states in big bold print: "As heard on Paul Harvey news".

If I remember my high school and college classes well, those are propaganda techniques - name dropping, and using statistics. If you have a great product, you don't need propaganda, you just need to explain it.

Each year around the heating season, someone comes out with another great room heater that is supposed to be super efficient. Each year around spring, someone comes out with another great air cleaner.

Get the picture? It's heating season, so it's time to push the latest of the portable electric heaters through the marketplace to see how many people might be convinced to buy them.

Product Claims

Let's look at the claims of this product, which mirror many other portable electric heaters on the market. Let's see what they claim are the attributes of their room heater.

  • ...can cut your heating bill up to 50%.
  • ...can pay for itself in a matter of weeks.
  • ...will heat a room in minutes.
  • ...even heat wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

Of course, we're all wondering how can portable electric heaters save us 50% on our heating bill. They explain this in the full page advertisement. You can turn down the heat in your house to as low as 50 degrees, but the room you are occupying (with the heater in it) will be warm and comfortable.

So far, so good. I'm with my heater, and I'm warm.

They go on to explain that the heater is portable. When you move to another room, it will quickly heat that room also.

Oh, I see, we're to heat one room at a time.

Well, there you have it folks. Just carry this portable electric heater along with you from room to room, and you'll be warm. The rest of the house will get cold, but the room you're in will be warm.

I suppose that means that every member of the family will have to be in the same room the heater is in. How very inconvenient.

Or, perhaps it's expected that you'll buy one heater for each roving member of the family. Sounds like a simple approach, but not at all convenient, especially if you're planning to move about your house to any extent during the day.

Okay, I'll buy the 50% reduction in heating bills based on the idea that you sit the heater right where you are, and move it from room to room as you move from room to room. Not a great approach, but it is feasible for some.

More Product Claims

How about the claim that it will heat a room in minutes. I suppose that's a realistic claim, since there are many minutes in an hour, and even a day can be measured by minutes. They never say how many minutes, but they do say that the more expensive model heats a 1,000 square foot room. That's about 30 feet by 30 feet, an awfully large room for any of the portable electric heaters designed to operate in a home.

Given enough minutes in the day, I suppose the heater can do it.

Another claim is that the heater can pay for itself in a matter of weeks. At roughly $400 for the small model and $500 for the larger model, that could be anywhere from 2 weeks to 8 weeks of household heating, depending on where you live, what type of home you have, and what your energy costs are.

Okay, I'll buy that claim. It pays for itself in a matter of weeks - as long as you're willing to put up with the inconvenience of moving it around wherever you go for weeks and weeks.

Unbelievable Product Claims

How about ...even heat wall to wall and floor to ceiling? I'm not certain what that means, but the advertisement explains that "heat...rides the humidity in the room and provides moist, soft heat ceiling to floor, wall to wall...."

Let's review a bit of thermodynamics to see how portable electric heaters are supposed to work; if you agree that heat from one heater will act like heat from any other heater - in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics. Heat rises, so how do we get "even heat wall to wall and floor to ceiling"?

I'll tell you now that "it ain't going to happen capt'n". Not in the real world and not under the best of conditions.

Take a thermometer and measure temperature near the floor for a few minutes and then compare it with the temperature near the ceiling, also measured for a few minutes. You'll find a temperature differential of at least several degrees, perhaps as much as 10 degrees.

There isn't a special type of heat that any of the portable room heaters can provide us that isn't going to be affected by drafts, natural air currents in a room (especially that 30 foot by 30 foot room) and the effects of cooler surfaces such as windows.

It's a lovely image of soft, moist heat riding on the humidity in the room, but this claim is beginning to resemble a heaping, steaming pile of something I get from my neighbor throughout the year to fertilize my garden beds.

Great Hype with a High Price

So, as clever advertising, it gets an "A" for creativity, use of propaganda techniques, and vagueness with respect to performance. For pricing, it's an eye popper.

Other small heaters cost about 10% of the asking price of this one, and even industrial heaters for use on construction sites don't cost as much as this product. I am reminded of what an associate of mine is fond of saying: "We don't make better products, just better hype."

Such is the case with many portable electric heaters like this. They have lots of claims of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but you'll have to put up with hauling them around from room to room in order to get anywhere near the "up to" savings that they boast.

And, the savings isn't attributable to efficiency so much as it is to the inconvenience of only heating one room of your house at a time. Most of the portable electric heaters are all about the same in terms of efficiency.


In fairness to our unnamed heater manufacturer, I practiced something similar several years ago before I had a wood stove in my office. I used to seal off the office and use one of the portable electric heaters from many years ago to just heat that one area, and I left the rest of the house much cooler.

I did this when I was spending the entire day in my office.

It makes sense if you're by yourself and you spend most of your time in just one or two rooms during the day, but who lives that way for weeks on end. No one I know, not even the "me" from several years ago when I didn't have my sweetheart Ellen to be concerned about.

----end sidebar----

Product Evaluation

My view is simply that portable electric heaters like these are great for imagining efficiency and cost savings, but they don't work any better than other models that are only 10% of the cost. And, those other portable electric heaters are available locally; you don't have to send away for (and pay to send back if you don't like 'em).

For my money, I view this as a type of scam. It's not a better product, it's not appreciably more efficient, but it does have a better price - if you're the one receiving the paid orders to ship.

Stick with your plan for frugal living, and resist buying the latest gadgets just because someone says they're the "latest and greatest" in technological advancement. You'll have a much warmer feeling with more money in your pocket.

Done with Portable Electric Heaters, take me back to Money Making Scams

There certainly is a broad scope of topics here at Frugal Living Freedom. When you think about it, money permeates so very many activities in our lives, therefore, being frugal encompasses a wide range of interests, from being employed to taking a vacation, and just about everything in between. Enjoy the variety, pick up some new ideas, and start making frugality a part of your signature.

I'm a big proponent of being debt-free, and I mean entirely debt-free - no mortgage payment. It's not essential for financial freedom, but you'll love the feeling once you get there. If you didn't have a rent or mortgage payment, how much more could you do for yourself with your current level of income? I suspect plenty.

If you ever hope to see an abundance of wealth, you need to plug the hole in your boat. The wealthy don't necessarily make lots of money, instead, they know how to hang onto what they make, and make it work for them.