Revolutionary heaters? Not so much

Every few years, a new heating device that is a "guaranteed breakthrough in heating" comes along. Back in the 1960s, a "new breakthrough in the dynamic viscosity of hydraulics" was the latest heating "discovery." This device, which as I remember ...

Every few years, a new heating device that is a "guaranteed breakthrough in heating" comes along.

Back in the 1960s, a "new breakthrough in the dynamic viscosity of hydraulics" was the latest heating "discovery." This device, which as I remember weighed quite a bit, like around 30 or 40 pounds, bragged about how, while Joe the Inventor was playing around with oil pumps and electric motors, he happened upon the nearly miraculous ability of the two when put together to put out more heat than ever before seen by such a device. It seemed too good to be true, and in fact was, but that didn't stop people from paying a high price for it.

Then came the oil embargo of the 70s. The Arab countries restricted their oil output, and folks here went into near panic. The resulting over-reaction triggered a stock-piling by the consumer that caused the gas shortage to worsen and heating fuel prices to soar. An unvented oil heater that had up until then been sold only to folks who lived on boats hit the market. A lot of you will remember the brand name Kerosun. "100 percent efficient," said the marketing literature, quite truthfully, I might add.

This "new breakthrough in home heating efficiency" was kind of a breakthrough, in a way, if one was referring to marketing a device that had up until then been used primarily on boats, due to the fact that when they came out in the 1930s, these unvented oil heaters stunk and sooted home owners out of their house.

Kerosun tweaked up the burning temperature, got rid of the smell, and made a fortune. You could heat one room of your house, the furnace didn't run, it truthfully did put 100 percent of its output into your home, and up to the point where at the end of the winter you took a picture off the wall and found out your walls were definitely covered with soot, everyone was happy.


Now, years later, with energy costs on everyone's minds, along come a couple of different electric heaters, which may or may not use quartz elements to emit infrared heat, may or may not combine some sort of air filtration in with the device, and across the board, absolutely may tout these heating devices as the best thing since sliced bread.

"NO CARBON MONOXIDE," says the literature. Of course not. Carbon monoxide only comes from burning fossil fuels, such as natural gas, LP or oil.

"THIS ADVANCED HEATER WAS DISCOVERED BY 'JOE' THE INVENTOR," says the literature. Of course it was. Someone put this particular combination together. If that's inventing, well, then that's the truth.

"USES LESS ENERGY TO CREATE HEAT THAN OTHER SOURCES," says the literature. What other sources? In which part of the world? This is an electric device. You pay the electric company eight cents or so a kilowatt, you get 100 percent of the energy that flows out of your outlet. Is your electricity cheaper than other sources? Maybe cheaper than some, but definitely not cheaper than all of them.

One of these devices states that "cured copper" is the real reason this thing works so well. Cured copper? I thought they said it used quartz crystals, which when excited by electricity, emit heat? Cured copper? You can anneal copper, but that doesn't do anything except make it softer. You can't do much else with it. Plus this particular heater they're talking about here only weighs 11 pounds. In any case, that's not much of anything.

You want a great source of infrared heat? Put a couple of bricks in the oven and warm them up. Do they feel warm to the touch? You bet. That's heat by conduction. Can you feel the heat they're putting out if you put your face close to them? Sure. That's infrared and ultraviolet heat, a form of radiant heat, same as the sun. If a fan blows over them, does the air feel warm? Sure, that's heating by convection, or air.

No matter what electrical device you plug into your outlet, you will never get more heat out of it than you pay for. (Not to confuse the issue here, but heat pumps and heat pumps alone are the exception to this rule. They don't make heat; they move it.) Electricity is the movement of electrons, which flow through high lines along the road from the generating facility into your home. They flow not because someone is making them, but because someone is causing them to bump one another along.

Generating facilities do this by using a form of magnetic pressure to excite those electrons, which causes them to appear to "flow." They really don't flow very far, just far enough to bang into the ones next to them, which bang into some more, and so on, around and around a circuit that extends to your house and back again to the power generation facility, kind of like multiple billiard balls in a row crashing one into another into another. The sweet thing about electricity is that there are more electrons than we can almost count.


Can you save money with an electric heater? Sure. Heat the room you're in and let the other rooms get colder.

Any electric heater will do that, at any cost.

Better yet, fill everyone a hot water bottle, and put their feet on it while they're watching TV. Just about nothing stores heat better than water. (An odd fact: potatoes store more.)

If it sounds too good to be true, well ...

Alan Linda is a resident of New York Mills, columnist, and HVAC instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College -- Wadena.

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