Cold weather has many of the nation’s electric cooperatives bracing for calls from consumer-members concerned about higher bills. And many concede that some of those calls will come from disappointed members who expected to save money by relying on space heaters to heat their homes.

“During an energy audit, I found three 1,500-watt heaters in the home of a co-op consumer with a high bill complaint,” said Alan Raymer, an energy advisor with Access Energy Cooperative. “I did a cost analysis for him and he was shocked.”

“The salesman told him, ‘These heaters will cost you pennies a day.’ They just never said how many pennies,” said Raymer. “They are efficient, but not very cost-effective. No matter how you slice it, a watt is a watt.”

“Space heaters are often far less effective than air source and ground source heat pumps,” said Raymer, “and are not the ideal solution for heating homes. For every unit of electricity that is consumed by these devices, they produce one unit of heat.”

The cost of operating multiple heaters is almost always significantly more than most central heating systems. Still, high-end space heaters are heavily marketed during the fall and winter through television infomercials, full-page ads in newspapers and magazines, and marketing presentations designed to resemble news articles.

It doesn’t matter what kind of heater or appliance you have. If you put 1,000 watts in, you get 3,412 British Thermal Units of heat out. Electric resistance heat is 100 percent efficient.