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Evaluate claims before choosing heater

K-State Research and Extension offices around the state are getting calls and questions about advertising claims for infrared space heaters and savings on energy costs, said Bruce Snead, director of engineering Extension at Kansas State University.

"An infrared heater uses nonvisible light, rather than electric resistance to produce heat," said Snead, who explained that infrared heaters are typically space heaters.

"A space heater can take the chill off a room, but rarely can be used as a sole--or continuous--heating source," said Snead, who noted that using these heaters can reduce the relative humidity in the room.

If choosing a space heater, he advised looking for Consumer Reports evaluations and Underwriter's Laboratory seal of approval before buying, and also recommended using one with an automatic shut-off feature if the heater is tipped over or otherwise displaced.

Fancier versions advertised with furniture- or fireplace-like finishes will not produce more heat--or yield a greater savings on heating costs--than equivalent capacity, less expensive, box-like space heaters, the residential energy specialist said.

Snead recommended being present when a space heater is in use; plugging the heater directly into a wall socket, rather than using an extension cord, which can increase fire and tripping hazards; positioning a space heater well away from combustibles such as newspapers, toys, household upholstery or window treatments; and using utmost caution with children, pets and older adults present.

Using a space heater in a child's room, for example, is not recommended, Snead said.

To reduce home energy costs without using a space heater, Snead's tips include:

--Inspect, clean or replace the furnace filter regularly (at least quarterly).

--Have furnace serviced regularly (annually is preferred, and at least every two to three years) to check control settings, operation and heat exchanger for optimum performance.

--Lower the thermostat by at least one degree to reduce energy costs; lowering a thermostat by three to five degrees can yield greater savings, often without disrupting the comfort level.

--Install a programmable thermostat to adjust temperatures for comfort of those in the home, and reduce heating costs when the family is away from the home (at work or school, for example).

--Caulk the home to seal interior cracks and openings and reduce air-leaks; check weather stripping on doors and windows.

--Consider heat-shrink protective plastic on the inside of windows to reduce drafts.

--Close draperies and blinds, particularly on northern exposures.

--Open draperies and blinds to southern exposures to take advantage of radiant heat from the sun.

--Resist the urge to close too many ducts or vents in lesser-used rooms; closing ducts or vents to 30 percent or more of a home can increase condensation, or affect furnace operation.

--Consider a home energy audit to identify and prioritize needed home repairs or improvements to reduce energy use and lower heating and cooling costs.

For more information, Snead recommended checking with your utility provider to see what services are offered. Westar Energy has, for example, made a $100 energy audit service available to its customers. More information can be found at www.westarenergy.com/wcm.nsf/content/efficiencyworks.

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