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Ready to Pull Out Your Space Heater? Here's How Much It'll Cost You

Spoiler: It's way cheaper than heating your whole home.

Closeup of a space heater
MihailDechev/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Winter will be here before you know it, and along with it, skyrocketing prices on electricity, natural gas and oil, just as you need to heat your house. 

Running a whole-home furnace can be costly. Some supplement central heat with a space heater to keep warm in a specific room -- and move the heater around with them as needed. But does it actually save money to use a space heater instead of another heating method? Let's take a look.

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For more ways to save money this winter, check out 5 tips to save money on your heating bill, and the best energy-saving smart gadgets that will help you cut down your bills.

First, pick the right space heater

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If you're looking for some extra heat in the winter or to warm up your cubicle in a particularly cold office building, a space heater can be an excellent option. But not all space heaters are made the same. You'll want to take into account the amount of space that you're trying to heat, the way they heat the space, and the amount of energy they consume to perform the task.

For most people, a standard space heater that covers an average room will do the job. These cover about 200 square feet and are usually around 1,500 watts. If you're looking to heat under a desk or a smaller space, a personal space heater with about 400 or 500 watts will do the job. 

Most space heaters fall into one of two types when it comes to generating heat. There are convection heaters, which work by heating coils that help to heat the air and spread it through the room with a fan. Then there are radiant heaters, which emit infrared radiation to help heat an area. Radiant heaters are faster but more focused, whereas a convection heater provides a more even heat throughout an area. In small bursts, radiant heaters are more efficient -- but in a space that needs to be heated for an extended period, convection can prove to be more effective.

Whichever space heater you choose, make sure to check out our space heater safety guide.

How much does it cost to run a space heater?

There are a number of factors at play that you'll need to consider when determining how much it will cost to run a space heater. The first is the type of heater that you've chosen, including its size and wattage. Larger heaters cover more area and are more effective (smaller heaters in big spaces are inefficient) but also cost more to run. A small personal heater can be as cheap as $20, whereas a full room heater can cost up to $300, depending on the model and heating capacity.

The second thing that you'll want to consider is energy efficiency. This is tricky when it comes to space heaters because they are not currently evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar program. As a result, you'll have to take the word of the manufacturer when it comes to energy efficiency. 

Finally, you'll need to take into account your state or municipality's electricity rates. This will determine the cost per hour that you can expect to incur by running your space heater. These prices might also dictate how long you'd like to run your space heater. While it's nice to come home to a comfortably warm room, keeping the power on all day long becomes cost prohibitive, so you may want to strategize when you'll have the heater on and when to conserve energy. 

On average, you can expect to pay about 20 cents per hour to run an average space heater that is 1,500 watts and can heat a standard room. If you run it for 8 hours per day, you'll pay about $1.60 per day. That comes out to just under $50 per month. 

Comparatively, the cost to heat a house varies widely, but the average US home spends about $180 on gas and electric bills each month, according to Move.org

How do costs vary based on space heater settings?

On most space heaters, you'll see an option to adjust the level of heat that the appliance provides. Most have some form of a "low," "medium" and "high" setting. Typically what these settings translate to is the amount of the wattage capacity that is in use to heat your room. 

Let's say you have a space heater that can produce up to 1,500 watts and you place it on the "low" setting, it may only use 750 watts of its capacity. This does have an impact on the overall energy consumption that your space heater will require. In fact, it can cut the daily cost in half. However, it may limit the heating ability of the space heater. It might be best to use the low setting to maintain warmth and only use the medium or high settings to provide additional heat in order to save on cost.

Space heaters are handy appliances to have, especially as the weather outside gets frightful and you need to start layering your clothes. But you'll want to prepare yourself for the cost of using a space heater. An additional $50 per month of utility costs can significantly impact your budget if you aren't prepared for it. Consider how to best balance your budget and your heating needs to make it through the winter in comfort and without breaking the bank.

If your utility relies on a time-of-use plan, learn more about peak and off-peak hours to save money. For more, check out the small home upgrade you can make that will save you big money on heating costs, and more easy ways to save money around the house