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Choose space heater for safety, economy

Those wintry temperatures and high winds on Christmas weekend reminded us that sometimes it really does get cold in Florida. Here's advice on supplemental heating systems to have on hand when the mercury drops.

Portable electric heaters are best indoors because they are the safest and most versatile. Kerosene, propane-natural gas and wood-burning heaters require venting to prevent buildup of deadly carbon monoxide. Some municipalities have rules on what can be used. So may your condo, co-op board or landlord, if you live in an apartment.

Learn the difference between convection and radiant heaters. A convection heater is designed to warm an entire room. A radiant heater directs heat at an object.

Convection-type heaters include ceramic fans and heater fans. Ceramic fans heat quickly, but their plastic casings stay cool, so they can sit on a desk or tabletop. Heater fans circulate warmth around the room.

Radiant-type heaters typically use glowing quartz crystals to generate heat.

There are also oil-filled heaters that look like radiators and baseboard heaters. Both are designed to heat larger rooms.

WHAT IT WILL COST: The average retail price of these heaters is $45. Operating costs depend on what you pay per kilowatt/hour for electricity. If you pay, say, 0.00092 cents per kwh, it will cost 13 cents to operate a 1,500-watt heater for an hour.

BE SURE TO ASK: Request a demonstration of each model. If a heater needs a grounded (three-prong) outlet and you don't have one, you'll need to call an electrician. The heater should have multiple settings (750, 1,000, and 1,500 watts), a thermostat that you can regulate and an automatic shutoff in case it tips over, so it won't cause a fire.

GOOD ADVICE: Don't use heaters to dry towels. Don't leave heaters on when you aren't home or when you are asleep. Place the heater on a level, hard, nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or draperies. Keep the heater at least 3 feet from flammable materials.

A space heater may be the right answer for a winter day or evening in Florida when you need a little something to take the chill off but don't want to fire up the heating system. A heater can make a chronically cold room comfortable. If you have inadequate insulation or leaky windows, you'll save money repairing or replacing them.

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