Electric space heaters can provide extra comfort during cold weather. If not used properly, however, they can also be a safety hazard. Portable heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association. With a few simple precautions, you can stay warm and safe all winter long.
Choosing a space heater
Safety starts at purchase. Select a unit certified for safe operation by UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or another nationally recognized testing organization. Look for heaters with a guard around the heating element and a tip-over shutoff.
Don't purchase a propane, natural gas or kerosene fired space heater for portable use inside your home. The combustion gasses from fuel fired heaters must be vented outdoors with an air-tight, permanently installed vent. Without proper ventilation, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Consider the size of the area you want to heat. A heater that's too small or too large for an area can waste energy without providing the extra comfort you need. Choose a thermostatically controlled heater to avoid overheating the room and wasting energy.
Keep your space heater running safely by following these simple tips:
- Keep children and pets away from space heaters — the surface can get very hot.
- Never leave a space heater running when you're asleep or when you leave the area.
- Locate the heater at least three feet away from paper, bedding, furniture, and drapes, or where towels or other fabrics could fall on it and start a fire.
- Don't place heaters in areas where they may become wet — such as a bathroom. Never touch the heater if you are wet. Corrosion or damage to heater parts can cause a fire or electric shock.
- Make sure your heater is placed on a stable, level, non-flammable surface where it won’t get knocked over — not on rugs or carpets.
- Don’t use extension cords or a power strip when plugging in space heaters. Don't hide cords under rugs or carpet. Check frequently to be sure the plug, outlet and/or faceplate does not get hot. If it does, don’t use the heater, have an electrician check the wall outlet and have the heater checked by a repair person.
- Never store flammable liquids near a space heater — they can be ignited by an electrical spark.
Maintain your heater in safe working condition. Don't attempt to operate a damaged unit in your home. Follow all manufacturer's guidelines regarding operating and storing your heater.