Stay Warm and Safe This Winter with Space Heaters

small space heater in a room with wood floors

Space heaters are a popular addition to many living spaces during the winter months. They're convenient, inexpensive and some are easily portable from room to room. They are also very dangerous if left unattended. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 25,000 fires are caused each year by space heaters in American homes. That's not to say that all space heaters are bad. Unfortunately, it's usually homeowner negligence that is more or less responsible for the majority of accidents.

Space heaters are valuable heating solutions when they are used properly. Problems arise when they are left untended or set in an area where there is flammable material nearby. Another problem is consumer education. There are a lot of off-shoot companies looking to cash in on the winter chill. It's important to know what you're looking for before buying a space heater. Simply buying the lowest-priced unit isn't always the wisest decision in this area.

Some Things to Look For In a Space Heater

Automatic shutoff control - The heater will automatically turn itself off if it gets overturned.

Look for the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) seal on the box.

Thermostat control - A heater with its own thermostat control is important for energy conservation, and it prevents overheating.

Check the rating on the box - Most heaters are rated for a certain size room. Check the size of your room and then buy a size-appropriate heater.

Know whether you're buying a vented or non-vented heater.

Now let's take a look at the different kinds of space heaters that are available so you can better determine what type would be best for you.

Electric Space Heaters

Electric space heaters are generally inexpensive to buy but can increase your electric bill dramatically if you don't watch it. Electric space heaters are convenient because they are generally portable and they don't require ventilation. They heat more of a generalized area than an entire room. They're great for warming the legs when you're at your desk, but they don't do that well at warming the entire living room.

There are two types of electric heaters: coil and liquid-filled. The electric heater that uses a coil has a visible metal coil that glows fiery red when it heats up. Some coil heaters even have a small fan that pushes air across the coil to help spread the heat. The liquid-filled electric heaters are filled with a heat transfer liquid like oil. They look like the radiators of yesteryear. Inside the unit is also a coil that heats the oil, allowing a more constant source of heat. They also heat up gradually, rather than instantly.

A safety concern with electric heaters is that they can draw a lot of amperage, so they need to be on a circuit that can handle the load. Likewise, avoid using an extension cord with a space heater. The cord may not be rated to handle the high amperage and could eventually melt from the heat pulsing through its wires.

Kerosene Heaters

There are a few very important things you need to know when using a kerosene heater. For starters, never fill the heater's tank above the fill line. As the unit heats, the kerosene expands so it needs a little room to grow, so to speak. If it's overfilled, it could build up the pressure within - and don't forget that it is a flammable liquid.

Another thing to remember is to always use 1-K grade kerosene. Never use 2-K grade or gasoline. Those are two totally different flammable liquids that can be dangerous if added to a kerosene heater. Along those same lines, never use a gas can to hold your kerosene. Even the smallest amount of gasoline can be seriously dangerous! Kerosene cans are usually colored blue, so make sure to get a new can especially for kerosene and have it marked noticeably on the side.

Never try to move the heater while it's hot and always refill the unit outdoors. Always refill it when it’s completely cooled off.

Wood and Pellet Burning Heaters

Wood and pellet-burning heaters are usually fixed in one location because they do need to be vented. They are some of the more beautiful and extravagant heaters since they resemble real fireplaces in many cases. They need to be on a fire-resistant floor or on an approved floor protector.

Just like a real fireplace, their chimneys or stove pipes need to be checked and cleaned routinely to prevent the build-up of creosote. An unclean ventilation route can result in carbon monoxide being released into the home.

Before buying a wood or pellet heater, consult with your township's building codes regarding installation. The EPA has special guidelines regarding emission standards, so make sure you choose a heater that falls within the EPA's standards. Learn more about pellet stoves here.


Is the key word when dealing with heaters of any size or fuel. Go over all safety techniques with every family member including escape routes, proper respect of the heating source and what to do in the event of a fire.

Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed and operating inside your home, especially if you own a vented heater. Also have a fire and smoke detector installed on every floor and outside every bedroom. Never store flammable items within the heater's proximity.

A space heater can be a very helpful and trusted friend on those long and cold nights, but it's important to know how to use it. It can literally mean the difference between comfort and disaster.