Space heaters are a great way to warm up a cold room or provide some supplemental heat to your house. However, while undoubtedly convenient, a space heater can also be dangerous. In fact according to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), supplemental heating equipment such as electrical and kerosene heaters are the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February. So if you're thinking about getting a space heater or you already have one, keep these ideas in mind and make sure you that extra warmth safely. As well, as part of an overall home fire safety plan, not just because you have a space heater, be sure to equip your home with at least one smoke detector and alarm on each floor and outside all sleeping areas.
Considerations for All Space Heaters
- Whatever type of space heater you decide to buy (electric, kerosene, propane) be sure it is certified and approved by a national testing laboratory such as Underwriters laboratory and has the UL symbol on it.
- Ensure the model you choose has a "tip switch" that will shut it off if it is knocked over or falls. All models should have this safety feature built in to their design.
- Keep in mind that space heaters are designed to provide small amounts of warm air. They aren't bed warmers, cookers or clothes dryers, so never try to use them for anything other than helping warm a room.
- A space heater should never be placed closer than 3 feet to any curtains, bedding or furniture.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you're leaving a room or going to sleep, and don't let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
- Ensure there is a guard around the heating element or flame area, so little fingers can't get burned.
- Make sure you put your heater only on a hard, level non-flammable surface. Never on carpets or a rug that could catch fire.
Electrical Space Heaters
If you already have an electrical space heater, check all the wiring and insulation to be sure it's in good working condition. Replace any frayed or damaged wires.
Don't run electric cords across a high traffic area. Cords are easy to trip over. It's best to not use an extension cord with an electric space heater, but if you must, be sure to use a heavy-duty extension cord (i.e. 12 gauge wire) that can handle the current without heating up.
Liquid Fuel Heaters
Before buying a liquid fuel or kerosene heater check your local fire regulations. In some areas these heaters aren't allowed. It's also a good idea to check that your fire insurance allows you to use a fueled space heater in your home.
Only use the manufacturer recommended fuel in your space heater. Gasoline burns with more heat than kerosene so putting gas into your heater will cause it to burn much hotter than it was designed to, and could cause a fire.
When you're refueling your heater, make sure it is cool before adding fuel. Pouring combustible fuel into a hot space heater is a recipe for disaster.
There's no doubt a space heater can help make your home more comfortable during the long cold winter. However, keep in mind they're not toys and they're not multi-functional appliances. Make sure your space heater is in proper working order and follow these basic safety tips and your heater will provide years of warmth for your family. Ignore these ideas or fail to maintain your heater as the manufacturer recommends and you're just asking for trouble. Stay safe; don't let your home become part of those home fire statistics.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with articles published in both the United States and Canada. He has written on a wide range of topics, but specializes in home maintenance and how to's.