It’s chilly outside and you may be casting around for some practical ideas for warming up an individual room or two. One solution might be to add a built-in electric wall heater.

A typical electric wall heater consists of three components – a large metal rough-in can that mounts inside the wall; a heating unit that mounts inside the can, which includes the heating elements and a small fan that blows air across the elements and out into the room; and a decorative safety cover that prevents direct contact with the heating elements and includes louvers to help direct the heated air.

In addition, there is a thermostat that is used to control the heating cycles to meet the needs of the occupants. Depending on the type of installation and the desired amount of accuracy and control, the thermostat may be on the heater itself, or it may be mounted remotely on a different wall. In larger rooms, one thermostat may be used to control more than one wall heater.

All wall heaters are sized according to wattage, and when choosing one you want to match the heat output of the heater to the type of room the heater will be used in. To properly size a wall heater for efficient operation, you need to consider both the size of the room and the amount of heat loss that you will be fighting in order to keep that room comfortably warm.

First, determine the square footage of the room. Simply measure the length and width of the room, and multiply the two numbers. For example, if your room measures 10 feet by 14 feet, it would be 140 square feet.

Next, look at the general insulation levels of the room. Insulation levels in newer houses are typically quite good – R-19 in the walls, R-38 in the ceiling, and R-25 in the floor; windows have double pane glass; and doors and windows have good weather stripping and caulking. Houses built between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s that have not been weatherized will typically have lower amounts of insulation – R-11 in the walls and R-19 in the attic, with no floor insulation – and windows that are not as energy efficient. And for older houses that were built prior to the mid-1960s, insulation might be very light or even non-existent, with single-pane windows and little in the way of protection against air infiltration.

Now, armed with the size of the room and the relative level of energy efficiency, you can make some choices regarding heater sizes. A typical rule of thumb is to allow 10 watts of heat per square foot if the room has high levels of insulation and generally good energy efficiency; 12 watts per square foot for rooms with more moderate efficiency; and 15 watts per square foot for those older, colder rooms.

So, for a 140-square-foot room with moderate energy efficiency, you would want a heater that’s capable of putting out approximately 1,680 watts (140 x 12). Chances are you won’t find a heater with exactly that wattage, so always choose the next highest one – in this case, it would probably be either 1,750 or 2,000 watts.

These examples assume a room with a standard 8-foot ceiling and an average amount of glass in it. Of course, not all rooms are created equal, so there are a few other sizing adjustments you may wish to make as well:

  • Increase the wattage of the heater by 25 percent for every 2 feet of ceiling height over 8 feet;

  • If your room has a large amount of glass in it, increase the wattage by 25 percent to 50 percent;

  • If you have calculated that your room will require more than 2,000 watts, divide the required wattage in half and utilize two heaters. For example, a room needing 3,000 watts should have two 1,500-watt heaters rather than one of 3,000 watts;

  • Because of the demand for faster heating and the amount of humidity present, bathrooms typically should have a minimum of 1,000 watts of heat.

    These are just some general guidelines – for more specific information on sizing a wall heater to meet your specific needs, talk to your heating retailer, your electric utility company or your electrician. Also, remember that adding a wall heater requires a separate electrical circuit, and in most jurisdictions it also requires an electrical permit. Always consult with a licensed electrician if you have any questions about safe and proper installation.


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