Why Personal Space Heaters Aren’t Useful in the Workplace

by | Oct 3, 2011

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Electric heat is the most efficient heat available. However, typical personal space heaters use a fan to push cooler air across an electrically heated element, considerably reducing the efficiency. Space heaters have become very common in the workplace, in the warehouse as well as the office areas. But every building has a heating system. Why isn’t it doing the job it is supposed to do, keep everyone warm?

If a buildings’ heating system is working properly and balanced, as designed, there should be no requirement for personal space heaters. As usual, you can’t please everyone all of the time. Common sense would suggest that those who are temperature intolerant should dress more appropriately to suit their personal temperature preference (or at least have a sweater on hand). Would it be a good idea that the majority wear Hawaiian shirts because one or two are uncomfortable in an acceptable room temperature?

It is important for staff to be comfortable. Therefore, a tolerance for personal space heaters has evolved. We don’t live in the time of Scrooge, with Bob Cratchit asking to put another coal on the fire. Because the best interests of the staff are paramount today, the negative aspects of space heaters, some dangerous, are often overlooked, or simply not considered. Here is some insight into space heaters in the workplace that business owners and operators should consider before creating a standard they will regret.

How can you tell if the heating system is running as it should and heating the building appropriately? This can be confirmed by simply observing staff behavior. If there are no complaints and staff wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and are not wearing coats or gloves in the office, you can be assured your heating system works as it should.

First and foremost, in an office environment, personal space heaters are safety hazards. Since the company does not provide a space heater, staff will typically bring them from home. The company is liable for this equipment and its operation. Space heaters consume a large amount of energy for only 1 or 2 people, and they are expensive to operate. For comparison purposes, consider that 20 fluorescent light fixtures with 2 lamps in each fixture cost about the same to operate per month as one space heater.

Something even more critical could be the location of the space heater. For example, if the space heater is near a thermostat, the space heater is actually changing the building temperature. The air around the thermostat is warmer and as a result will shut down the zone or building heating system prematurely. This affects the overall temperature of the building and therefore affects the comfort of everyone. Staff will complain and request turning up the thermostat, which results in higher heating costs. This is when space heaters become a greater problem that few consider. Ironically, a space heater could be the reason everyone is cold.

Solutions are: Check the heating system and if it is not performing properly, fix it. Or continue to pay the electricity costs for the space heaters and experience the above scenarios as a result.

Here’s the money: It costs about $20 per month to operate a space heater for 6 hours a day and it is linear math. If there are 10 personal space heaters, then about $200 a month. If the office thermostat is being adjusted to save money (turning it down) and space heaters are being used, there are no savings. As the space heaters multiply, this leads to higher energy costs. Imagine heating your home with a space heater in every room, but you also ran the forced air furnace. People don’t do this at home but it seems acceptable in the workplace. See the chart below for some compelling comparisons.

Business owners and leaders should ensure their heating and cooling systems are working properly and are balanced. They should consider changing the culture, encouraging staff to wear sweaters and other cold weather appropriate clothing. Ask staff the same question, would they heat a room at their home with a space heater when the furnace is running? It is a matter of pointing out the behavior of people in a manner they can understand. Culture shift can be quite easy to everyone on staff once the reason for the shift becomes a personal mission and not only the company mission. Sustainability can only be achieved by individual acts, and when everyone in the company embraces this culture, the results are overwhelming.







Iain Robertson is general manager of RePower Canada Inc.

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