The Heat is On ...
So every year as the weather turns cold, we get a flurry of questions about “safe” options for supplemental heat for people with birds in the home. First, let me say that if you are comfortable without a blanket or sweater then your bird probably is too as long as it is healthy, fully feathered, and the room is not drafty. Most (healthy) birds will be comfortable in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In this case you probably don’t need any supplemental heat at all. If your bird is plucked, the room is drafty, or temps are cooler, then you may want to add something to boost the temp while the bird is sleeping.
If the chill if from drafts, then either find the source of the drafts and seal it or move the bird to a less drafty location. If that’s not possible then you can try covering the cage at night and adding a parrot heating panel near your bird’s sleep perch.
These panels provide a gentle heat source that she can move closer to or farther from to suit her needs. There are a couple on the market, just make sure the cord is not accessible. There are also heated perches but there have been reports damage to the skin from standing directly on the heat so we don't like to use those.
If you STILL feel your bird is uncomfortable then consider the following information before putting any portable heater in the bird room.
According to the Department of Energy, space heaters are typically used when the main heating system is inadequate. In some cases, small space heaters can be less expensive to use if you only want to heat one room or supplement inadequate heating in one room. Safety is a top concern when using space heaters. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, an estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
Space heater capacities generally range between 10,000 BTU and 40,000 BTU per hour, and commonly run on electricity, propane, natural gas, or kerosene. Other sources of supplemental heat are wood and pellet stoves.
VENTED AND UNVENTED COMBUSTION SPACE HEATERS - NOT SAFE FOR BIRDS
Unvented combustion units are not recommended for use inside the home, because they introduce unwanted combustion products into the living space—including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor—and deplete air in the space. Most states have banned unvented kerosene heaters for use in the home and at least five have banned the use of unvented natural gas heaters.
Vented combustion units are designed to be permanently located next to an outside wall, so that the flue vent can be installed through a ceiling or directly through the wall to the outside. These must be professionally installed and maintained. They use fuel to operate and there is a chance they can back draft and adversely affect the indoor air quality. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded then dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can enter the home causing sickness or death to your birds AND you. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of fuel used and the altitude at which it is installed. For these reasons, combustion heaters are NOT recommended especially in homes with birds.
ELECTRIC SPACE HEATERS
Electric space heaters are generally more expensive to operate than combustion space heaters, but they are the only unvented space heaters that are safe to operate inside your home. While there's no carbon monoxide risk with electric space heaters they still can be a safety hazard if used improperly. They pose burn and fire hazards and should be used with caution. Some electric space heaters can have internal components that are coated with teflon, which should never be used in a home with birds. Before purchasing any electric heater ensure the elements and internal components do not contain any teflon (PTFE) material.
There are two basic types of electric heaters: convection and radiant. Radiant heaters emit infrared radiation that directly heats objects and people within their line of sight. They are a more efficient choice when you will be in a room for only a few hours and can stay within the line of sight of the heater. Radiant heaters quickly provide heat to those closest to the heater, rather than providing heat for an entire room. An example of a radiant infrared heater is the bird panel from Avitech pictured
above. Convection heaters provide warmth by blowing or pulling air over a heated surface. These heaters are designed to heat an entire room. For convection (non-radiant) space heaters, the best types incorporate a heat transfer liquid, such as oil, in a sealed system that is heated by the electric element. The heat transfer fluid provides some heat storage, allowing the heater to cycle less and to provide a more constant heat source.
OIL-FILLED RADIANT HEATERS
Oil-filled radiator heaters are some of the most popular space heaters in the market today, thanks to their effectiveness, energy efficiency, and safety. This system transmits warmth into small areas by heating a special heat-conserving oil that never needs to be replaced. This oil is then circulated throughout the coils of the radiator, which then allows for heat to be distributed throughout the room. Oil heaters produce no fumes or flames and are usually very quiet during operation because they don’t use a fan that drives heated air into the space. They are a low maintenance choice and provide continuous warmth even after it's turned off.
Another advantage of an oil-filled radiator heater is that it doesn't dry out the air quite as much as other types of electric heating units. Still, with all heating applications, be aware that the humidity (or lack thereof) can also negatively affect your bird. Oil-filled units take longer to heat a room because they rely on natural convection, but are safe and will not burn when touched and have a very slim chance of catching fire if tipped or pushed over. This is a good choice for areas that need long-term heating. They are convenient because it is safe to leave them unattended for extended periods of time. Furthermore, a reduced level of activity and air movement and will also increase heat output as horizontal temperature layers can form and increase performance. Since the oil remains warm and still radiates heat even after the unit is shut-off they are the most energy efficient design available.
A word of caution: There have been some reports of oil-filled heaters that emit a distinct smell of oil that resulted in “severe headache.” As with any new appliance it is recommended that you “burn in” a new unit outside the living space (out doors or in the garage) for several hours and make sure that there is NO smell when you walk into the room. Be sure to inspect the exterior for damage or pinholes prior to use.
Ceramic heaters are some of the newer convection heaters on the market. A ceramic heater as a consumer product is a space heater that generates heat using a heating element of PTC (Positive Temperature Coeffient) ceramic. Ceramic heaters are usually portable and typically used for heating a room or small office. They are similar to metal-element fan heaters; these heaters have ceramic plates and aluminum baffles. When electricity passes through the ceramic, it is heated. The heat is then absorbed by the aluminum and a fan blows the hot air into your room.
Ceramic heaters are easily portable and give off a great deal of heat from a small box. These heaters tend to be more energy efficient and safer than many heaters, so even though they heat up quickly, their plastic casings stay cool. A great use for this type of fan driven heater would be in a small office or tabletop. Heater fans use a standard metal-coil element that is placed in the fan to help distribute heat to a room. These convection fans provide a minimal source of heat for a small area, but not an entire room. Ceramic heaters reportedly do NOT have teflon coated elements but make sure you confirm this by checking with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) before purchasing.
Micathermic is a new technology that combines both reflective and convection heating technologies, and provides fast heat and instant comfort where it’s needed most. As natural as sunlight, the heater distributes feel-good warmth evenly and consistently throughout the room. A micathermic heating element is a heating element that has made use of the mineral "Mica" associated with other elements. To take advantage of mica mineral, this kind of heating element can supply 99% heat to the air instantly. The main reason is that mica has wide ranges of properties such as electrical and mechanical strength and high temperature stability. The Micathermic heater also is reportedly NOT teflon coated but again, please check with the OEM to confirm prior to purchasing.
The benefits of Micathermic Heaters are they are energy efficient due to built in thermostats. They provide fast and effective heat to a space that is consistent like a convection heat source. The unit allows heat to disperse from the top and both sides to quickly raise ambient room temperatures. Units have a large surface area to fill a room with a maximum amount of heat each time and the housings are durable metal.
When buying and installing any space heater, follow these guidelines:
Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label.
Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, because they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic and from any material that could catch fire. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater and its power cord. The leading factor contributing to space heater fires in general was heating equipment placed too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding.
Electric heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords.
Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch that automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.
Original publication date November 22, 2016.