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A Quick Guide to the Gas Space Heater: FAQs Answered

No matter the method you use, warming up your home is expensive. Still, a gas space heater is an economical option for beating the winter chills without breaking the bank. Besides, they are available in a variety of sizes and will fit the needs of any space.

In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions about these small (or not so small!) units. So let’s begin.

Gas Space Heaters FAQs

How do gas space heaters work?

a white portable gas space heater
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the name suggests, a gas heater burns natural gas to generate heat. However, LPG, propane, and biogas are also used in some cases. The main components of a convection gas heater are the draft inducer, heat exchanger, burners, and vents. Let’s take a look at how these components work together.

  • The controlling element is a built-in thermostat that keeps track of room temperature. Once the temperature drops below a certain point, it opens the gas valve. This allows the gas to enter into the combustion chamber or burners.
  • As the gas enters the chamber, it mixes with cold air that is drawn from the outside by a fan or draft inducer through ducts. This air gains heat and generates the necessary volume of hot air that passes into the heat exchanger.
  • The cold air in the room is made to pass over the heat exchanger and gain heat. This air is distributed by the ductwork into the inside of the home. The process continues until the inside temperature reaches the set limit.
  • All residual combustion gases pass through the vents and are released outside. 

The other variety is a radiant heater that, like its name suggests, radiates heat directly into a room. These are efficient and work great for warming up smaller rooms for a few hours. However, for larger spaces that require extensive heating, convection heaters are better options.

Mikelann Scerbo, research manager for the Alliance to Save Energy, clears it up with his advice: “Convection space heaters are better if you want to feel comfortable within an entire room, whereas radiant space heaters can work well if you only want to heat up a specific spot in a room.”

Why does my gas space heater keep shutting off?

There’s no single reason why this happens. Unless you can summon up your inner engineer, the support of a professional may be needed to pinpoint the exact cause. 

Here are some of the major ones.

  • The first thing you can check is the airflow in the unit. Dust, lint, pet hair, and other forms of yucky grime can gum up the outflow and interior components like the gas valve.
  • The flame sensor may not detect the pilot flame. This can stop the gas supply and prevent ignitions. If the sensor cannot be repaired, replace it.
  • The safety pressure switch may have detected an issue with the outlet vents and shut off the burner. This can be due to a blocked exhaust flue or a problem with the heat exchanger. And if the gases get blocked up, the furnace will shut off within a few minutes.
  • Like everything else, the thermocouple in the heater can wear out. As a result, the pilot light will go out and the gas valve will close.
  • The gas burners can fail due to carbon buildup in them. Besides, there can be dust or rust deposits as well. In some cases, the connection with the gas line can come loose, disrupting the gas flow.

Do gas space heaters have a pilot light?

Some of them do. But if your heater has a pilot light, it might be the last survivor of its generation. The reason? Pilot lights are going extinct!

A pilot light burns constantly and lights up the gas coming out of the main burner. The advantage is, you don’t have to light the furnace with a match every time. The pilot flame is lit by a small amount of gas that comes out through a small gas tube. A thermocouple-operated valve is placed in the tube for safety. In case the pilot flame blows out, the valve stops the gas supply.

The problem is, not only do pilot lights consume extra gas and raise heating costs but they can go out in some scenarios. Modern space heaters use a piezoelectric spark or an electronic ignition system which are more reliable. 

How much space can a gas heater heat?

an older type of a gas space heater
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

That depends on the size of the heater and its wattage. In general, the larger the heater, the more area it can cover. But there is something else that you need to consider – energy efficiency. At this point, you realise that gas heaters do not carry the standard Energy Rating Label. That means you have to go by what the manufacturers mention.

The next logical question is, how to find the right heater capacity for a space?

The simplest answer – you need to do the maths. Consider factors like room dimensions, window size, insulation, etc. If the climate is colder in your area, the wattage per square metre will be higher. A rough guideline is to consider an output of 1 kWh for heating a space of 10 square metres. 

Does that sound complex? If you do not have time to gather all the data and do the maths, it is best to get professional help for calculating the right heater size.

How to service a gas space heater?

First off, let us clear up the difference between cleaning and servicing. Cleaning a gas space heater is a relatively simple task and you can do it on your own. But when it comes to maintenance, which involves checking or repairing individual components, it’s best to get professional help.

Here’s a pro tip though. If the heater flame has become small and the flame colour has turned red or yellow, it probably needs cleaning. Here are the standard steps for cleaning a gas heater.

  1. Firstly, turn off the electrical connections to the heater and valve in the gas line.
  2. If the heater has a permanent filter, take it out and wash it off. If the unit has disposable filters, periodic replacement is needed. 
  3. Remove the front panel of the heater and use a vacuum to remove the dust from the interior. Remove the dust from the pilot light area and the blower assembly below the filter.

Is it cheap to run gas space heaters?

There is no “yes” or “no” answer for that. A gas space may be cheaper for many users but not suitable for all homes.

In general, gas heaters are more cost-effective than electric heaters. Besides, gas heaters are more efficient than electric heaters as they convert most of the fuel into heat.

The debate heats up when it comes to whole-house heating versus a gas space heater. Determining which is cheaper is not so simple. A gas heater can help you save on heating costs if you want to heat a small area. However, using multiple gas heaters is not an economical choice. Plus, there is the factor of safety involved with gas heaters.

On the other hand, for warming up the whole house, central heating will be more efficient. Properly insulating the house and sealing any air leaks in the heating ducts will help in maximising the heating efficiency.

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